“It is a fair, even-handed, noble adjustment of things, that while there is infection in disease and sorrow, there is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good humour.”
We may be quite a ways from Christmas by now, but I did originally start this on its very last day. Most of the past five months was spent well away from the book in dread of having to finish The Haunted Man before it finally occurred to me that life is too short to suffer through boring stories – classic or not. So I picked this up again last night and read the rest.
Christmas Festivities: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
The perfect amuse-bouche for this eight-course collection, Christmas Festivities captured the quintessential Christmas spirit so evocatively, it is no wonder that when Dickens died in 1870, a “London barrow-girl” exclaimed, “Then will Father Christmas die too?”
The Story of the Goblins Who Stole a Sexton: ⭐️⭐️
Not having known what a sexton was, I imagined green mini-Grinches stealing naval navigation instruments* and yes, saxophones. Why are they called sextons anyway? This story was – as the author of the introductory essay observed – an early version of what would become the insurmountable Christmas Carol. And being an early version, the miserable, miserly sexton’s redemption was rather rushed, and the goblins inspired more bewilderment than character-changing fear.
A Christmas Episode from Master Humphrey’s Clock: ⭐️⭐️⭐️
A cheering chapter on lifelong friendship, forged from shared solitude on Christmas Day.
A Christmas Carol: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Ah, the belle of Fezziwig’s ball! Need I say more? Just as delightful as it always was, still is, and ever will be. God bless Us, Every One!
The Haunted Man: ⭐️
The one story I could not finish. The Haunted Man represents best the side of Victorian literature I simply cannot slog through. While Dickens’ ability to spin superlatively detailed descriptions of a single man’s appearance into a five-page-long portrait of the entire British Isles is impressive, to say the least, the slow, brooding nature of this novella was too much for me.
A Christmas Tree: ⭐️⭐️
Rather long-winded reminiscences of Dickens’ childhood Christmases. Intensely vivid, but lacking the vivacity of Christmas Festivities.
What Christmas Is, as We Grow Older: ⭐️⭐️
Another quaint – if quickly forgettable – rumination on the bittersweetness of Christmastime. A season of charity and compassion, unquestionably, but also an annual marker of unaccomplished aspirations, or time passed without loved ones now in “the shadow that darkens the whole globe … the shadow of the City of the Dead”. Dickens emboldens us to admit these remembrances “with tender encouragement” instead.
The Seven Poor Travellers: ⭐️
I dithered between one and two stars for this concluding story. On the one hand, I had no problems finishing it (although it is considerably shorter than the never-ending Haunted Man). On the other, despite the narrator’s impromptu generosity and the conviviality of the seven strangers, I finished it feeling hollow. Perhaps I would have enjoyed it more if the travellers’ stories were actually told. Or perhaps not; I was getting tired of the plot by the second page.
*In case it’s too obtuse, sextants, I’m referring to sextants.