Saturday, December 24, 2011

A Victorian Christmas

by Maureen Dowd

New York Times

December 24, 2011

At the end of his life, Charles Dickens did not have great expectations for Christmas.

He had separated from his wife, describing his marriage as “blighted and wasted.” His mistress was not around. He was disappointed that his sons lacked his ambition. His final Christmas, he wrote a colleague, was painful and miserable.

“The Inimitable,” as he had christened himself when he was young and celebrated, was drained from traveling to give paid readings and suffering from such severe gout that he could not write clearly or walk well. He was confined to bed all Christmas Day and through dinner, bleak in his house.

Literature’s answer to Santa Claus, as Robert Douglas-Fairhurst writes in “Becoming Dickens,” had always gravitated to the holiday.

“Christmas was always a time which in our home was looked forward to with eagerness and delight,” his daughter Mamie said.

Dickens would dance and play the conjurer. “My father was always at his best, a splendid host, bright and jolly as a boy and throwing his heart and soul into everything,” recalled his son Henry.

Douglas-Fairhurst wonders if this “inventor of Christmas” might have developed his “ruthless” determination to enjoy the day because of the traumatic year he spent as a child working in a rat-infested shoe-polish warehouse in London after his father went to prison for debts. Did England’s most famous novelist need “to recreate his childhood as it should have been rather than as it was?”


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