Generosity, Love, Forgiveness: 'Mr. Dickens and His Carol'

Rather than once again exploring the all-too-familiar territory of Dickens' A Christmas Carol, Samantha Silva's debut novel contextualizes the work's origins and gets inside the mind of its creator.

Mr. Dickens and His Crol
Samantha Silva


October 2017


Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol has been told and retold so many times over the years that, by this point, one might be hard-pressed to find a single soul evenly glancingly familiar with western culture who isn't at least tangentially acquainted with the holiday classic. This is, of course, a bit of holiday-themed hyperbole, but the fact remains that the basic premise of A Christmas Carol has become so engrained in our culture that it would seem near impossible to imagine a time prior to its existence. It's universally-relatable themes of the power of kindness, redemption and forgiveness speaks to the heart of the Christmas season – at least as it has been presented in the 174 years since it was first published in 19 December 1843 -- just in time for Christmas.

This date is of particular importance to the narrative of Samantha Silva's debut novel, Mr. Dickens and His Carol as, rather than once again retreading the well-trod path of Dickens' ghost story, we are granted a (fictionalized) glimpse inside the mind of its creator in the days and weeks leading up to its completion and publication. Relying on contemporary accounts and a great deal of research, Silva is able to transport readers not only into the soot-covered world of 19th century England, but directly into the mind of its greatest chronicler.

Fresh off the disappointment of the serialized Martin Chuzzlewit, Dickens is found facing a bleak literary future, his favor having fallen a great deal with his reading public following his initial success and controversial decision to kill of Little Nell in The Old Curiosity Shop. This latter point is brought up time and again by characters chiding Dickens for his ill treatment of one of their favorite characters. In an attempt to revitalize flagging sales, it is arranged that Dickens will publish a Christmas-themed work just in time for the holidays. Rather than being allowed to work freely, however, Dickens is required to complete and turn in the text within a matter of a few weeks.

While this seems rather fantastic and overly fictionalized, the fact of the matter is Dickens was faced with the prospect of financial troubles due to the poor sales of Martin Chuzzlewit, his publisher Chapman & Hall threatening to cut his monthly income should sales continue to slide. Faced with the impending birth of his fifth child – an event that sets much of the plot in motion – and an uncertain financial future, it is decided that Dickens should complete a book in time for Christmas, a season whose profile was on the rise as older traditions were starting to be embraced once more. As a result, A Christmas Carol was conceived and written in a mere six weeks, the bulk of the narrative having been composed during his 15-to-20-mile nighttime walks.

It is during these epic walks around London that he not only conceives of the basic idea of the story, he also meets a mysterious woman who ultimately plays a large role in shaping the underlying sentiments of A Christmas Carol. With Dickens himself inhabiting the Scrooge role, he, through a little supernatural assistance, comes to see the magic of the holiday season and allows his real world worries to fall by the wayside. Which, as it soon proves, is just in time as his family has absconded to Scotland without him following a series of scenes that would be echoed in another holiday classic, in another time, in It's a Wonderful Life. It's one of a number of allusions that Silva employs throughout.

On his perambulations, Dickens finds himself running into individuals with names like Marley and Fezziwig and even David Copperfield, each of which obviously serves as an influence on the writer's ever-active mind. In the case of the former two, their respective personality traits are coopted wholesale for their namesake characters within A Christmas Carol. Marley, in particular, is vilified right from the start, even the Dickens children encouraging their father to have the character of Marley "dead as a doornail" from the start. While amusing in their own right, those familiar with A Christmas Carol in all its incarnations will find a great deal of humor scattered throughout Mr. Dickens and His Carol, with myriad allusions to the work and Dickens' canon as a whole.

Tonally, however, Mr. Dickens and His Carol seems a bit lost as to how best to execute its own exploration of redemption and forgiveness. The first chunk of the story is struck through with a fair amount of humor which helps establish a light-hearted tone, while the story then takes on a more somber tone as it reaches its apex before once more slipping into warm holiday revelry. It's not enough of a stylistic shift throughout to be truly off-putting, but it does tend to drag the narrative down in its darker moments. The added supernatural element – not to mention the sequences in which Dickens dons a costume that sees him become the character of Scrooge – further pushes the otherwise straight-forward historical fiction into another genre realm entirely.

Though not always a success, Mr. Dickens and His Carol is nevertheless a fun and charming – not to mention unique – take on a holiday classic, contextualizing its origins and grounding the novella's themes of generosity, love and forgiveness in the real world from which they originally sprang. Whether you're intimately familiar with A Christmas Carol or not, Samantha Silva's Mr. Dickens and His Christmas Carol is sure to please those looking to get into the holiday spirit.







Greta Gerwig's Adaptation of Loneliness in Louisa May Alcott's 'Little Women'

Greta Gerwig's film adaptation of Louisa May Alcott's classic novel Little Women strays from the dominating theme of existential loneliness.


The Band's Discontented Third LP, 1970's 'Stage Fright', Represented a World Braving Calamity

Released 50 years ago this month, the Band's Stage Fright remains a marker of cultural unrest not yet remedied.


Natalie Schlabs Starts Living the Lifetime Dream With "That Early Love" (premiere + interview)

Unleashing the power of love with a new single and music video premiere, Natalie Schlabs is hoping to spread the word while letting her striking voice be heard ahead of Don't Look Too Close, the full-length album she will release in October.


Rufus Wainwright Makes a Welcome Return to Pop with 'Unfollow the Rules'

Rufus Wainwright has done Judy Garland, Shakespeare, and opera, so now it's time for Rufus to rediscover Rufus on Unfollow the Rules.


Jazz's Denny Zeitlin and Trio Get Adventurous on 'Live at Mezzrow'

West Coast pianist Denny Zeitlin creates a classic and adventurous live set with his long-standing trio featuring Buster Williams and Matt Wilson on Live at Mezzrow.


The Inescapable Violence in Netflix's I'm No Longer Here (Ya no estoy aqui)

Fernando Frías de la Parra's I'm No Longer Here (Ya no estoy aqui) is part of a growing body of Latin American social realist films that show how creativity can serve a means of survival in tough circumstances.


Arlo McKinley's Confessional Country/Folk Is Superb on 'Die Midwestern'

Country/folk singer-songwriter Arlo McKinley's debut Die Midwestern marries painful honesty with solid melodies and strong arrangements.


Viserra Combine Guitar Heroics and Female Vocals on 'Siren Star'

If you ever thought 2000s hard rock needed more guitar leads and solos, Viserra have you covered with Siren Star.


Ryan Hamilton & The Harlequin Ghosts Honor Their Favorite Songs With "Oh No" (premiere)

Ryan Hamilton's "Oh No" features guest vocals from Kay Hanley of Letters to Cleo, and appears on Nowhere to Go But Everywhere out 18 September.


Songwriter Shelly Peiken Revisits "Bitch" for '2.0' Album (premiere)

A monster hit for Meredith Brooks in the late 1990s, "Bitch" gets a new lease on life from its co-creator, Shelly Peiken. "It's a bit moodier than the original but it touts the same universal message," she says.


Leila Sunier Delivers Stunning Preface to New EP via "Sober/Without" (premiere)

With influences ranging from Angel Olsen to Joni Mitchell and Perfume Genius, Leila Sunier demonstrates her compositional prowess on the new single, "Sober/Without".


Speed the Plough Members Team with Mayssa Jallad for "Rush Hour" (premiere)

Caught in a pandemic, Speed the Plough's Baumgartners turned to a faraway musical friend for a collaboration on "Rush Hour" that speaks to the strife and circumstance of our time.


Great Peacock Stares Down Mortality With "High Wind" (premiere + interview)

Southern rock's Great Peacock offer up a tune that vocalist Andrew Nelson says encompasses their upcoming LP's themes. "You are going to die one day. You can't stop the negative things life throws at you from happening. But, you can make the most of it."


The 80 Best Albums of 2015

Travel back five years ago when the release calendar was rife with stellar albums. 2015 offered such an embarrassment of musical riches, that we selected 80 albums as best of the year.


Buridan's Ass and the Problem of Free Will in John Sturges' 'The Great Escape'

Escape in John Sturge's The Great Escape is a tactical mission, a way to remain in the war despite having been taken out of it. Free Will is complicated.


The Redemption of Elton John's 'Blue Moves'

Once reviled as bloated and pretentious, Elton John's 1976 album Blue Moves, is one of his masterpieces, argues author Matthew Restall in the latest installment of the 33 1/3 series.


Whitney Take a Master Class on 'Candid'

Although covers albums are usually signs of trouble, Whitney's Candid is a surprisingly inspired release, with a song selection that's eclectic and often obscure.


King Buzzo Continues His Reign with 'Gift of Sacrifice'

King Buzzo's collaboration with Mr. Bungle/Fantômas bassist Trevor Dunn expands the sound of Buzz Osborne's solo oeuvre on Gift of Sacrifice.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.