Read this exclusive guest post from Paige Shelton about Charles Dickens's experience with prison and how it shaped his writing—especially A Christmas Carol—and make sure you're signed in and comment below for a chance to win a hardcover copy of The Cracked Spine and an advanced copy of Of Books and Bagpipes!
When I began writing “A Christmas Tartan,” I knew I wanted to add a well-known book into the mysterious items found in a clandestinely delivered box. Of course, Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol came to mind.
Over the years, it has become one of my favorite holiday stories. However, back when I was a little girl and my grandfather switched the television to the channel showing an old black-and-white version, it wasn’t appealing at all. It was so weird and big—full of ghosts and sickly, hungry children. But over the years, and after actually reading the novella, I grew to truly love it.
Dickens was a world famous 19th-century author who wrote his demons into everything he created. Poverty, abandonment, prison, loneliness; these things haunted him, so it was only natural that they showed up in his writing. The instances are numerous, but in A Christmas Carol, specifically, the ghosts deliver the demons, one by one, and force Ebenezer Scrooge to face his past, present, and possible future circumstances. He sees the worst of the worst—and the worst of himself—before the scenes brighten.
Up until Charles Dickens was about twelve, his family lived a poor, lower middle class but hopeful existence with the promise of better days ahead if only Charles worked hard enough and got the right education. But when he was twelve, Dickens’s father was thrown into debtors’ prison with the rest of the family—all except Charles, who was old enough to earn money.
Instead, young Charles was sent to work in a shoe polish factory where, for a year or so, he spent twelve hours a day packing inky polish into containers. Though by all accounts he wasn’t mistreated, his life during that time was terrible to him, not hopeful at all. I have no doubt that Dickens called upon that dark time when Scrooge conveys that children down on their luck should be sent to prisons and workhouses. The Ghost of Christmas Present later uses those words against him.
When Dickens’s family managed to pay the debt and were released from prison, his father wanted Charles to go forward with his education, but his mother wanted him to continue working in the factory. He never forgave her. In A Christmas Carol, it is ultimately forgiveness that saves Scrooge. After the ghosts, when he’s welcomed into the homes of those he’s treated the most poorly, he is completely transformed. I wonder if Dickens did that consciously or if it was just a way of working through those old feelings.
Dickens never spoke publically about the time his family went to prison, but, of course, it showed up in all of his writing. It’s not a stretch to think that formidable year was the biggest spark that shaped one of most popular writers of all time—certainly of his time.
Prison has been known to have a big influence on a number of writers: Oscar Wilde, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, Chester Himes, Jack London, and Evgenia Ginzburg, just to name a few.
It seems pretty likely that if they hadn’t served some time, they would never have become the writers they became. It’s not easy to be grateful for their incarcerations, but it is wonderful to have the work they produced in large part because of it.
In A Christmas Carol, Scrooge begins as a cranky old man who cares for no one but himself and his money. His name has become synonymous with those who are not merry about the holiday. But after the ghostly visits, he becomes a better person—generous and with hope restored. Perhaps Dickens had wished his had been restored all those years ago.
A Christmas Carol is also the first time we see the phrase “Merry Christmas,” and I can’t imagine this time of year without it. Thanks to Criminal Element for letting me stop by today, and a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to everyone!
Comment below for a chance to win a hardcover copy of The Cracked Spine and an advanced copy of Of Books and Bagpipes by Paige Shelton!
To enter, make sure you're a registered member of the site and simply leave a comment below.
TIP: Since only comments from registered users will be tabulated, if your user name appears in red above your comment—STOP—go log in, then try commenting again. If your user name appears in black above your comment, You’re In!
Paige Shelton Comment Sweepstakes: NO PURCHASE NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN. A purchase does not improve your chances of winning. Sweepstakes open to legal residents of 50 United States, D.C., and Canada (excluding Quebec), who are 18 years or older as of the date of entry. To enter, complete the “Post a Comment” entry at https://www.criminalelement.com/blogs/2016/12/dickens-prison-and-a-christmas-carol-paige-shelton-comment-sweepstakes beginning at 5:00 p.m. Eastern Time (ET) December 12, 2016. Sweepstakes ends 4:59 p.m. ET December 22, 2016. Void outside the United States and Canada and where prohibited by law. Please see full details and official rules here. Sponsor: Macmillan, 175 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10010.
To learn more or order a copy of Of Books and Bagpipes, visit:
Paige Shelton had a nomadic childhood as her father’s job as a football coach took the family to seven different towns before she was even twelve years old. After college at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, she moved to Salt Lake City where she thought she’d only stay a few years, but she fell in love with the mountains and a great guy who became her husband. After a couple of decades in Utah, she and her family recently moved to Arizona.