Hazel McHaffie

The Man who Invented Christmas

The Man who Invented Christmas

175 years ago yesterday Charles Dickens published A Christmas Carol. Since then it’s been reinvented time after time until it’s become one of the most familiar and well-loved tales ever. In Dickens own day, the book changed the way people viewed the world, generating as it did, at once a feeling of love and of shame. Overnight charitable giving soared. And in the twenty-first century it remains a salutary reminder of the joy to be found in friendship, kindness and generosity.

The film, The Man who Invented Christmas, is based on the true story of how Dickens (played by Dan Stevens) wrote his masterpiece – you can click on the picture above to watch the official trailer. It beautifully captures the torture of writing, the agonising, the obsession, the exhilaration. Scrooge, Jacob Marley, Bob Cratchitt, Tiny Tim … they all come alive as they take shape in Charles’s imagination and indeed become more important to him than his own flesh and blood, as his long suffering wife laments. It felt totally believable; I too know that affinity with the people of my imagination, the difficulty of living in the real world when you’re totally immersed in the fictional one.

But what comes across powerfully in this dramatic representation is the sobering reality of Dickens’ actual life, which I knew already from books like Charles Dickens: The Gas-light Boy, reviewed in this blog post last year. He’s famous at a young age, yes, but constantly struggling to cope with the debts forced on him by his reckless and feckless father, a large and growing brood of children, and fickle publishers. Under enormous pressure to churn out book after book merely to stay afloat … thousands upon thousands of words written in dim light with a scratchy pen dipped in ink! Astonishing and humbling to view his genius against this context.

Here he is, weeks from Christmas, and struggling to find a viable idea for his work. The magical story-telling powers of a little orphan Irish girl trigger a thought … the name Scrooge brings Ebenezer into sharp relief … the vision of a happy ghost gives him one of the three spirits … the tears and entreaty of the Irish girl at the death of Tiny Tim spur him towards the perfect ending. The novella is completed with minutes to spare. And becomes his most famous and best-loved work.

I recommend this film to you: perfect viewing for the season. And I echo Tiny Tim’s Christmas wish to you all: ‘God bless us, everyone!



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