The Man Who Invented Christmas
Three of us went to see this movie last night. It definitely helped to be familiar with the story “A Christmas Carol” as the seeds of it are literally scattered throughout the film.
Two years after the success of Oliver Twist, Charles Dickens (Dan Stevens) is suffering financial hardship from the failure of his last three books. Rejected by his publishers, he sets out to write a new book to restore his finances. Seeing inspiration around London, most notably a rich man’s funeral that is largely unattended, he begins writing A Christmas Carol, due in six weeks in order to be published by Christmas. As Charles begins to develop his story, he interacts with the characters he is writing about, most notably Ebenezer Scrooge (Christopher Plummer). Helping Dickens is one of his servants, Tara, an Irish immigrant who is literate and able to provide advice.
While writing his book, Charles is greeted by the arrival of his farther, John Dickens (Jonathan Pryce), who he views as immature and fiscally irresponsible. Charles’s relationship with his family is increasingly strained as he struggles to finish the book in time, as he is unable to resolve Scrooge’s story. Hearing that Charles intends to let Tiny Tim die, Tara suggests a resolution for Scrooge by having him save Tiny Tim instead. Charles rejects her help, and soon sends her away from his house in a fit of rage. Additionally, Charles has a falling out with his father and sends him away upon learning that he has been selling Charles’s signature.
It is revealed that much of Charles’s animosity towards his father is from his childhood embarrassment of working in a blacking factory after his family was taken to debtor’s prison. Returning to the long-abandoned factory, Charles is forced to confront his own insecurities through Scrooge. Charles realizes that his story should be one of redemption, and races home to finish his manuscript. As he leaves to submit it to his illustrator, he encounters Tara, and invites her back. His wife suggests he do the same with his father, who is about to board a train to leave London. Reconnecting with his family, Charles submits the manuscript in time for publishing before Christmas. The film ends with the Dickens family celebrating the holidays, while a title text explains the overnight success of A Christmas Carol, and its lasting impact on the Christmas holiday. (Wikipedia)
The Time Around the Writing of A Christmas Carol
In the UK, Christmas Day became a bank holiday in 1834, Boxing Day was added in 1871.
In the early-19th century, writers imagined Tudor Christmas as a time of heartfelt celebration. In 1843, Charles Dickens wrote the novel A Christmas Carol that helped revive the “spirit” of Christmas and seasonal merriment. Its instant popularity played a major role in portraying Christmas as a holiday emphasizing family, goodwill, and compassion.
Dickens sought to construct Christmas as a family-centered festival of generosity, linking “worship and feasting, within a context of social reconciliation.” Superimposing his humanitarian vision of the holiday, in what has been termed “Carol Philosophy”, Dickens influenced many aspects of Christmas that are celebrated today in Western culture, such as family gatherings, seasonal food and drink, dancing, games, and a festive generosity of spirit. A prominent phrase from the tale, “Merry Christmas”, was popularized following the appearance of the story. This coincided with the appearance of the Oxford Movement and the growth of Anglo-Catholicism, which led a revival in traditional rituals and religious observances. (Wikipedia)
A Personal Observation about the Writing Process
“The situation comes first. The characters – always flat and unfeatured, to begin with – come next. Once these things are fixed in my mind, I begin to narrate. I often have an idea of what the outcome may be, but I have never demanded of a set of characters that they do things my way. On the contrary, I want them to do things their way. In some instances, the outcome is what I visualized. In most, however, it’s something I never expected. For a suspense novelist, this is a great thing. I am, after all, not just the novel’s creator but its first reader. And if I’m not able to guess with any accuracy how the damned thing is going to turn out, even with my inside knowledge of coming events, I can be pretty sure of keeping the reader in a state of page-turning anxiety. And why worry about the ending anyway? Why be such a control freak? Sooner or later every story comes out somewhere.” (Stephen King – On Writing)
This happened to me when I was writing a play called “Bankrupture” in 1978. Instead of inventing each of the characters and their dialogue, I acted as a secretary, taking down verbatim what they said. They revealed themselves by speaking their own words. In my experience, this was unprecedented. I was able to do this because I based the main character, Elmer, on myself. This is known as being an author surrogate.
Charles Dickens may not have invented Christmas, but he definitely put Love back into the holiday by reviving the spirits (past, present and future) of Christmas. His book is the reason why we are more charitable at this time of the year.
So in the words of Tiny Tim, “God bless us, every one.”