It’s that time of year again — Christmas. Time to crack open A Christmas Carol to reread the classic of Scrooge and his ghostly visitations. It amuses me that a writer can be so closely associated with Christmas (what a compliment!), and it goes beyond A Christmas Carol. There’s the little decorative houses that make up “Dickens Villages,” and when carolers come to mind, they’re always decked out in clothes from the era of Dickens. And the label always has “Dickens” in it somehow. He’s not any writer. His name has practically become a label synonymous with the term “Victorian,” making him a writer of regal proportions. Nevertheless, as to why Christmas has a tendency to conjure 19th century images in the mind, I cannot say, but it intrigues me. I’m sure Dickens has something to do with it.
I regret to say that there was a time when I couldn’t stomach Dickens. In high school I was “taught” Great Expectations by a teacher who didn’t think too highly of Dickens and perpetually apologized for putting the class through such boring torture and mocked his style, etc., thus depriving my mind (or shall I say the minds of my classmates as well) of openness and rendering me immune to the possibility of liking the literature. She wired my mind to scorn Dickens before I opened the book. And, looking back on that glum freshman year that is mostly a blur of forgetfulness, it’s about the only thing she taught me, and even that foolish notion has since been defenestrated.
I don’t scorn Dickens anymore, but I do scorn the fact that I was infected with such an unjust prejudice against a truly great writer. I resent that my vision was clouded and that several years of enjoying something worthwhile were blotted out of my life because of (a) my young blindness and impressionability and (b) her.
I was subjected to Great Expectations for the second time in college. I dreaded it. And then I started to read it. I actually enjoyed it. Thoroughly. In fact, I found it difficult to put down. I’m grateful for that second instance of Dickens being required reading, for it never would have been done of my own accord — not with my prejudice.
Thus the prejudice was done away with. Though somewhat late, I have come to appreciate Dickens, or, as I now enjoy calling him, Boz.
Speaking of Boz, Dickens is undeniably the king of silly names. (I’m referring to his characters, not his pseudonym, though that’s a bit unusual, too.) Only Dickens could come up with names like Mealy Potatoes, Traddles, Pip, and Buzfuz (and perhaps only he could get away with it and still be taken seriously). But what a great way to name characters without worrying about taking someone else’s real-life-name, and with made-up names, there’s an infinite supply. Not that I partake in this practice, though part of me would like to. The only trouble is devising the names in the first place.
And then there are the artists’ renditions of Dickens. For the most part, he is depicted with great respect. And I’m entertained by the fact that he is often depicted with his characters (and sometimes even as his characters). The following picture is a favorite:
HOW IDYLLIC! — to just sit back, close the eyes, and have all the characters interact with clear vision in one’s brain. And we don’t even need pictures like this to cause one to ponder what went on in that active mind of his, considering his large literary output. When contemplating his writing, was it this idealized image? Or was he a slave swimming through a sea of papers with ink splattered all over his hands? Judging by his handwriting, I’d have to go with the latter assumption.
But no one sees that side of it. We see the illegible manuscripts and the finished products. Not the labor. Not the thought process. It’s unknown. Hence the fantasizing of the artists. Hence the fantasizing of many people.
Huzzah for Boz!
And here’s wishing everyone a merry, jolly, healthy Christmas and New Year.