A first for the Book Whisperer–taking a previous post and revising it a bit. In December 2019, I read and reviewed Mr. Dickens and His Carol by Samantha Silva. Cover to Cover, my book club at the Broken Arrow Library is reading Mr. Dickens and His Carol for our December discussion in 2020, so I returned to the previous review and edited it for today.
In Mr. Dickens and his Carol, Samantha Silva has reimagined how Dickens comes to write A Christmas Carol. Silva gives readers a full-fledged story of Dickens at home with his wife Catherine at the time she is giving birth to their sixth child. It is November 1843.
Silva uses real people in the story, and she has done her research well. Dickens became extremely popular in his own time. He also made a great deal of money from the sale of his books. Unfortunately, that fame and wealth came with a distinct downside in that especially his father and brother took advantage to ask for money often. In fact, a number of other distant relatives as well as strangers frequently asked Dickens for handouts.
As Christmas approaches, Catherine is making her lists of items to buy for the big party she and Charles give each year. That means a menu of several turkeys, a goose, and other delicacies. The children, too, have their eyes on the special toys they expect for Christmas as well.
Then Dickens receives a visit from Chapman and Hall, his publishers. Chuzzlewit is not doing well even as Dickens continues to write the chapters. Chapman and Hall tell him Martin Chuzzlewit “is not selling one-fifteenth of Nickleby.” The chapters have even been discounted by some sellers. One book seller even offers a free copy of the latest chapter to customers who buy a cup of tea. The insult!
Chapman and Hall go on to tell Dickens that he must write a Christmas story and have it read to read to the public on Christmas Eve, only three weeks away. Hall tells Dickens, “not a long book. A short book. Why, hardly a book at all.” They ask him to make the book festive and possible throw in a ghost.
Dickens, of course, is appalled that he is being told what to write and given a short time in which to complete the task. At first, he simply refuses. However, Chapman and Hall hold over his head that they will take “forty pounds sterling per month” from his pay if he does not produce the Christmas book by Christmas Eve.
Much of the story is taken up with Dickens’ refusal and his fuming within himself about being told what to write. The lack of Christmas spirit causes Catherine to pack up the children and take them to Scotland to her parents’ home. Thus, Dickens now is angry, feels put upon, and is lonely to boot.
After much consternation, Dickens does indeed write A Christmas Carol, a story about Christmas and one with a ghost—or three. That is not a spoiler since anyone who has read Dickens and even those who have not know A Christmas Carol.
He is certainly lacking any Christmas spirit. And that fact shows up in the first drafts of the story he decides he must write after all since expenses in his household are so great. Not only that, he cannot bear the thought of having money taken from his account by the publisher.
Dickens even visits his previous fiancée who has thrown him over for a banker, man she thinks is more successful than Dickens. Little does she know that Dickens will not only become a household name in England but around the world and with that fame money. Dickens had thought of Maria as his muse, but when he visits her, he realizes that she, too, only wants to build up to asking him for money. Dickens sees her for what she is, a silly, vain woman.
Where then will Dickens find his muse, especially with his wife and children in Scotland? Dickens was fond of wandering the streets of London; the brisk walks cleared his head and gave him inspiration. So he returns to his walking and thereby finds inspiration again.
Silva has taken Dickens, his family, and friends as well as fellow writers of the time and hangers-on to create a memorable story for modern readers at Christmas.
Samantha Silva lives in Idaho and Mr. Dickens and his Carol marks her debut novel. Previously, she has written for Paramount, Universal, and New Line Cinema. Discover more about Silva on her Web site: https://www.samanthasilvawriter.com/.