Charles Dickens celebrated the half-way point of Pickwick Papers with a ‘good-humoured’ Christmas number. It was written within a few days, not long after an unusually severe snowstorm, and published on 31 December 1836 at the height of the holiday season. Pickwick, like the reader, is taken back to a joyous, old-fashioned Christmas of blazing logs, ‘feasting and revelry’, ‘companionship and mutual goodwill’, and happy ‘delusions of our childish days’. As one contemporary reviewer complained, it was very reminiscent of Washington Irving’s The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, a book Dickens knew and loved as a child.
The Number ends with ‘The story of the goblins who stole a sexton’, a Christmas tale of the supernatural. In it the lonely, morose, misanthropic Gabriel Grubb tries to cheer himself up on Christmas Eve by digging a grave. As he sits down to rest after his work he is tormented by goblins with visions of joy and happy family life until he is converted to optimism and benevolence. The story, which brings a sharp note of reality to the idyllic episode, shows Dickens’s developing sense of the meaning of Christmas, anticipating A Christmas Carol.
- Article by:
- Judith Flanders
- Popular culture, The middle classes
Judith Flanders describes how many of our own Christmas traditions – from trees and crackers to cards and carols – have their origins in 19th-century industrial and commercial interests.
- Article by:
- Kate Flint
- The novel 1832–1880, Reading and print culture
Professor Kate Flint explores the way Victorians bought, borrowed and read their books, and considers the impact of the popular literature of the period.