The Man Who Invented Christmas

December 18, 2009 at 4:10 am (Biography, Classics, Literature, Non-fiction) (, , , )

The Man Who Invented Christmas by Les Standiford

The Man Who Invented Christmas: How Charles Dickens’s [sic] A Christmas Carol Rescued His Career and Revived Our Holiday Spirits byLes Standiford
Crown Publishers, 1st edition, 2008
237 pages
Genre: non-fiction, Christmas, biography

Synopsis & Review: In 1843, Charles Dickens’ popularity seemed to have plateaued and he was near bankruptcy. Rather than succumb to despair, he sat down and penned one of his most personal stories, and had it edited and published in six short weeks—just in time for the Christmas season. Though he first made little profit on A Christmas Carol, it went on to restore Dickens’ popularity, and became not only his most popular work, but one of the most widely read in the English language in the nineteenth century. Adapted myriad times for stage and screen (beginning nearly immediately; the first opened 5 February 1844), it remains one of the most enduring works of fiction, known in detail even to the many people who have not read it. Les Standiford argues that A Christmas Carol is not merely a holiday entertainment staple, but is also the “reason for the season,” and that Charles Dickens did not simply celebrate Christmas and the benevolence and goodwill it engenders, but resuscitated a dying holiday.

I’ve actually never read A Christmas Carol, and I’ve never managed Dickens. I’ve tried Great Expectations a few times, but then I wander off and read something worthwhile like a Christopher Pike book, or perhaps Gone with the Wind for the umpety billionth time. This makes me feel inadequate, as though I am lacking some fundamental Dickens appreciation spot in my brain. (I can usually assuage that feeling with the knowledge of my overlarge Zola appreciation spot, but it’s not always a comfort.) So I read this essentially on a whim, selecting it while looking for possible books for my two holiday reading challenges. I like Christmas after all, and I like books on cultural history. Unfortunately, this book didn’t really satisfy.
It’s a quick read, and Standiford’s prose is eminently easy and enjoyable, but the scholarship is lacking. Despite an extensive bibliography, there is comparatively little history of Christmas celebrations in the book, not to mention little evidence actually backing up the assertion that Dickens re-invented it. Standiford also touches very lightly on the influence of Washington Irving and American Christmas celebrations on Dickens. Most of the book is taken up with discussion of Dickens’ early career and the publishing industry, and then on his later, less successful Christmas works. Ultimately, an extensively annotated version of A Christmas Carol would be a much more successful vehicle for most of the information presented, supplemented by one of the works cited for Christmas history.

Not really worth it, even for hardcore Dickens fans. But the information presented will come in handy when I do eventually get around to reading A Christmas Carol.

Cover: Very festive.It looks as though it could be a much older edition of the novel it’s based on.

Read also: A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

There were no Christmas cards in 1843 England, no Christmas trees at royal residences or White Houses, no Christmas turkeys, no department-store Santa or his million clones, no outpouring of ‘Yuletide greetings,’ no weeklong cessation of business affairs through the New Year, no orgy of gift-giving, no ubiquitous public display of nativity scenes (or court fights regarding them), no holiday lighting extravaganzas, and no plethora of midnight services celebrating the birth of a savior. In fact, despite all of Dickens’s enthusiasms, the holiday was a relatively minor affair that ranked far below Easter, causing little more stir than Memorial Day or St. George’s Day does today. In the eyes of the relatively enlightened Anglican Church, moreover, the entire enterprise of celebrating Christmas smacked vaguely of paganism, and were there Puritans still around, acknowledging the holiday might have landed one in the stocks.

08 December – 13 December

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3 Comments

  1. A Yuletide Universe: Sixteen Fantastical Tales « the stacks my destination said,

    […] recounting an unpleasant Santa alternate from the mind of an unlikable man. And relating to The Man Who Invented Christmas is Howard Waldrop’s odd “Household Words; Or, the Powers-That-Be,” an alternate universe’s […]

  2. Jenny said,

    I don’t get on with Dickens at all, but I still say – read A Christmas Carol! It’s funny and heartwarming, and I love it. Right from the start, “Marley was dead, to begin with” – excellent first line and first paragraph, and the whole thing just charms me.

    By the way, Schatzi, and I don’t mean to alarm you – it appears to be snowing on your blog. So, you know, if you’re out here for a while, you might want to put on boots and a warm coat. 😛

    • Schatzi said,

      OH MY GOD, SNOW! BATTEN DOWN THE HATCHES, EVERYONE! IT’S GONNA BE A BUMPY WINTER! WHERE ARE MY MUKLUKS!?

      I do mean to read A Christmas Carol sometime, I just haven’t yet gotten around to it. But now I have some handy factual background for when I do!

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