Dickens and Christmas by Lucinda Hawksley – Review
By Karl Hornsey
When Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol in 1843, little could he have known the impact it would have not only on his life and his immediate family, but on millions of people for many years to come. While Dickens wrote the short story due to his concern for the inequalities so clear to him on the streets of London, many of themes in the book quickly became part of the annual Christmas celebrations and his legacy lives on to this very day, marking him out as someone who has had an incredible influence on the festive period, more than 170 years on from its publication.
However, Dickens and Christmas, is about so much more than A Christmas Carol, even though its incredible initial success and its continuing popularity today means it remains the centrepiece of this book.
Lucinda Hawksley uses her exceptional knowledge of all things Dickens – after all he was her great great great grandfather – to track the part that Christmas played in his life, from his birth in 1912, through his years of writing annual Christmas stories, right up to his death in 1870.
“Takes the reader back”
This is a fascinating historical document, quite apart from what it tells us about Dickens and his family, as Hawksley uses articles from the day, excerpts from Dickens’ work, and reviews of his work to give a great authenticity to this study. The joy that Dickens gained from the Christmas period, which in his day started on Christmas Eve and ran through until the hugely important Twelfth Night, is apparent throughout, as he loved being surrounded by family and friends, even before A Christmas Carol catapulted him to even greater fame.
While it would be an exaggeration to credit Dickens with making Christmas celebrations more popular single-handedly, especially as none other than Queen Victoria and Prince Albert themselves did much to bring some of our most popular traditions into being, there is no doubt that we owe an awful lot to the publication of A Christmas Carol.
The impact on Dickens’ life is hard to imagine, but Hawksley, by detailing Dickens’ festive plans each year following its publication, takes the reader back to the time, evoking the pleasure it brought Dickens, but also the burden that writing such a popular story landed on his shoulders.
While his writing career produced many novels that are still highly influential today, the pressure was on Dickens to churn out hit after hit at Christmas. While the likes of The Chimes and The Cricket on the Hearth are excellent tales in their own right, the public and critics alike were demanding in wanting something of the scale of A Christmas Carol and its reflection of Victorian society.
This pressure took its toll on Dickens, and Hawksley doesn’t shy away from revealing the less appealing side to the author’s nature, but there is a largely positive tone throughout, linking everything back to Christmas, which, even reading this in the dank and cold of January, makes it a book I would recommend to anyone with an interest in Dickens, Christmas, or even just his superlative A Christmas Carol.
‘Dickens and Christmas’ by Lucinda Hawksley is published by Pen & Sword History, £19.99