Dickens, Christmas – and a merry festive season to all!

As a further Christmas nugget to toast by the fireside of winter-dreaming, I love the touching story of the barrow-girl overheard by Theodore Watts-Dunton as he walked down Drury lane in 1870. “Dickens dead?” the barrow-girl exclaimed. “Then will Father Christmas die too?”

For so many people, Dickens is synonymous with the festive season; Mr Christmas himself…

Of course, what springs to mind first is his wonderful seasonal fairy tale A Christmas Carol.

A Christmas Carol Folio Society edition. Cover illustration by Michael Foreman.

A Christmas Carol Folio Society edition. Cover illustration by Michael Foreman.

For me, Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without it; both the book – and the various sparkles of its magic conveyed through film (from The Muppets’ wonderfully rumbustious but lovingly nuanced version, to Albert Finney’s musical) or occasionally through theatre – as in the year we saw a stage production at the Bristol Hippodrome, complete with spellbinding special effects and illusions. Or the time we experienced the arresting, pared down immediacy of a Tobacco Factory Theatre production, filled with inspiration, invention and ingenuity. I see from the Radio Times listings that the version starring Patrick Stewart as Scrooge will be on TV again this weekend. Our family will gather round and watch it together for the umpteenth time, never tiring of the magic and significance of Dickens’s fable; loving the ritual of its well-known journey through Christmas Past, Present and Yet to Come…

A Christmas Carol Folio Society edition - frontis illustration by Michael Foreman - 'The people who were shovelling away on the house-tops were jovial and full of glee.'

A Christmas Carol Folio Society edition – frontis illustration by Michael Foreman – ‘The people who were shovelling away on the house-tops were jovial and full of glee.’

…But perhaps less well known, hidden away in Dickens’s last and unfinished novel The Mystery of Edwin Drood, gleams this beautiful bauble of words, catching both the light and the shadows of the season – and, indeed, of life:

Christmas Eve in Cloisterham. A few strange faces in the streets; a few other faces, half strange and half familiar, once the faces of Cloisterham children, now the faces of men and women who come back from the outer world at long intervals to find the city wonderfully shrunken in size, as if it had not washed by any means well in the meanwhile. To these, the striking of the Cathedral clock, and the cawing of the rooks from the Cathedral tower, are like voices of their nursery time. To such as these, it has happened in their dying hours afar off, that they have imagined their chamber-floor to be strewn with the autumnal leaves fallen from the elm-trees in the Close: so have the rustling sounds and fresh scents of their earliest impressions revived when the circle of their lives was very nearly traced, and the beginning and the end were drawing close together.

Seasonable tokens are about. Red berries shine here and there in the lattices of Minor Canon Corner; Mr. and Mrs. Tope are daintily sticking sprigs of holly into the carvings and sconces of the Cathedral stalls, as if they were sticking them into the coat-button-holes of the Dean and Chapter. Lavish profusion is in the shops: particularly in the articles of currants, raisins, spices, candied peel, and moist sugar. An unusual air of gallantry and dissipation is abroad; evinced in an immense bunch of mistletoe hanging in the greengrocer’s shop doorway, and a poor little Twelfth Cake, culminating in the figure of a Harlequin – such a very poor little Twelfth Cake, that one would rather called it a Twenty-fourth Cake or a Forty-eighth Cake – to be raffled for at the pastrycook’s, terms one shilling per member. Public amusements are not wanting. The Wax-Work which made so deep an impression on the reflective mind of the Emperor of China is to be seen by particular desire during Christmas Week only, on the premises of the bankrupt livery-stable-keeper up the lane; and a new grand comic Christmas pantomime is to be produced at the Theatre: the latter heralded by the portrait of Signor Jacksonini the clown, saying ‘How do you do to-morrow?’ quite as large as life, and almost as miserably. In short, Cloisterham is up and doing: though from this description the High School and Miss Twinkleton’s are to be excluded. From the former establishment the scholars have gone home, every one of them in love with one of Miss Twinkleton’s young ladies (who knows nothing about it); and only the handmaidens flutter occasionally in the windows of the latter. It is noticed, by the bye, that these damsels become, within the limits of decorum, more skittish when thus intrusted with the concrete representation of their sex, than when dividing the representation with Miss Twinkleton’s young ladies.’

From The Mystery of Edwin Drood (Chapter XIV – When shall these Three meet again?) by Charles Dickens.

Endpaper illustration by Michael Foreman, Folio Society edition of A Christmas Carol

Endpaper illustration by Michael Foreman, Folio Society edition of A Christmas Carol

Wherever you will be during this festive season – have a happy, peaceful, magical time. A big thank you to all Bookish Nature readers for your support; for visiting/ commenting/ following this blog during the past year – and for helping to inspire my poor old brain to toast more nuggets of thought over imagination’s fire, during the coming New Year…

Season’s greetings to all! May all good things come your way in 2013…

See you back here in January…

…And in the meantime, I leave you with some words from A Christmas Carol – and a beautiful (and haunting – in a Susanna Clarke’s gentleman with the thistle-down hair,’ tingly, silvery, fairy-tale kind of way) – performance of Carol of the Bells by Libera (from their 2011 Christmas Album) – which, to continue the Dickens connection, also happens to be the music the BBC chose to play during the trailers for their TV adaptation of Great Expectations last Christmas…

He was checked in his transports by the churches ringing out the lustiest peals he had ever heard. Clash, clang, hammer, ding, dong, bell. Bell, dong, ding; hammer, clang clash! Oh, glorious, glorious!

Running to the window, he opened it, and put out his head. No fog, no mist; clear, bright, jovial, stirring, cold; cold, piping for the blood to dance to; golden sunlight; Heavenly sky; sweet fresh air; merry bells. Oh, glorious! Glorious!

“What’s today?” cried Scrooge, calling downward to a boy in Sunday clothes, who perhaps had loitered in to look about him.

“EH?” returned the boy, with all his might of wonder.

“What’s today, my fine fellow?” said Scrooge.

“Today!” replied the boy. “Why, CHRISTMAS DAY.”

– From A Christmas Carol (Stave V – The End of It) by Charles Dickens

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4 thoughts on “Dickens, Christmas – and a merry festive season to all!

  1. Hi Melanie,

    Apologies, I have been very lapse with visiting and reading blogs of late, and I still have a lot of catching up to do with your and others’ writings! Thank you for your generous, universal Christmas and New Year good wishes. I too wish you a wonderful 2013, may your words flow to new places and be appreciated by many new readers and may your children’s novel continue to evolve…

    I will catch up more with your writings soon… For now, I want to revisit a post you wrote about the muse… So watch out for another comment there…

    Amanda

    • Hi Amanda – absolutely no need to apologise. I’m very behind with catching up on reading (and writing!) blog posts etc myself – I’ve only just been emerging back from all sorts of Christmas/ family/ other life stuff over this past week, and am gradually gaining momentum with various projects again! I’m really looking forward to catching up with your latest blog posts soon…

      Thanks so much for your lovely New Year good wishes. May 2013 be a year filled with much happiness for you and yours – and may it bring lots of fulfilment and creative flourishing in everything you do – in nature conservation, writing, dance – and in life in general!

      Melanie

  2. A comment that needs no reply Melanie… just to thank you for the beauty of your extracts… the first part of Edwin Drood – a book unknown to me,- stirred me to the depths of my stomach… sending such deep vibrations of beauty through my body and soul… reading your blogs is so uplifting and inspiring… for the beauty in your words, and those that you choose to share with us….what a gift it is..

    • I can’t resist replying, Valerie – both because I want to thank you for your lovely, kind words… and also because I just can’t let a chance to talk about Dickens (one of my top favourites) pass me by! 🙂 The extract from Edwin Drood is just utter brilliance, isn’t it. Dickens at his very finest. Reading that piece just demonstrates what a truly great writer he is. The part you highlight is one of my favourite pieces from the novel – an exquisite example of the sheer heights he so often achieved throughout his work. As you say, those words stir such a deep, visceral reaction and sense of recognition. For a long time, I’ve kept an idea on a back burner for a post about that passage. Cloisterham was Dickens’s fictionalised Rochester. I always feel there is an edge of sadness to the honour he received when he was buried in Poet’s Corner. He never got his dear wish to finally rest in the place of his memories, amongst ‘the autumnal leaves’ in the grounds of Rochester Cathedral, in the town that was his childhood home – and where he was most happy in his life.

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