Charles Dickens invented Christmas (and the complaint of workplace bullying) | Babelia


Karl Marx once explained to Friedrich Engels that Charles Dickens “had proclaimed more truths of social and political importance than all the speeches of the professional politicians, agitators and moralists put together.” This is how Peter Ackroyd tells it in Dickens. The lonely observer (Edhasa, translation by Gregorio Cantera), his forceful biography of the great English novelist. His novels fiercely and realistically portrayed the poverty and inequalities of 19th century England. Titles like Oliver Twist The David Copperfield they opened the eyes of the citizens to the misery that they had before them, but that they preferred not to see, and that Dickens himself suffered when, in 1824, he had to work in a bitumen factory at the age of 12.

His literature describes a ruthless society in which many children were condemned from birth to poverty. The denunciation of injustice is something that permeates all of his work, no matter that he tells a love story with the French Revolution as a backdrop (after reading the descriptions he offers in History of two cities the way the nobles treated the people in pre-1789 France makes you want to be on the front lines of the storming of the Bastille) or a Christmas tale with ghosts. Christmas song It is remembered above all because, since its publication in 1843, it changed the way these festivals are celebrated, but its social footprint goes much further.

A film titled The man who invented Christmas (Bharat Nalluri, 2017) summarizes a sentiment shared by many historians: that the enormous success that his story achieved – in just a few days it sold 6,000 copies, an outrage for the time – broke forever with the Puritan tradition that for centuries had cornered the Christmas in the UK. It is not entirely true – Christmas had been celebrated for some time – but it is not entirely false either: many of the traditions he describes, such as the turkey feast, became much more popular thanks to his book. Peter Ackroyd puts it this way: “We can say that precisely at a time when both Georgian ostentation and evangelical rigidity were in question, Dickens highlighted the affable cordiality of these dates. What he did was spice up that day with his aspirations, wants and fears ”.

In ‘A Christmas Carol’, Dickens highlighted “the affable cordiality of these dates” and linked them to “aspirations and fears”, according to his biographer

The idea of ​​Christmas as a moment of generosity is at the center of Dickens’s tale, as is the possibility of redemption when the protagonist, Ebenezer Scrooge, looks at his life almost as if he were a stranger in it, something he achieves thanks to to the visit of three ghosts. The Spirit of Christmas Past shows him a childhood in which Dickens’s own trims appear and in which he was not yet a lonely and sullen miser who hated everyone. The ghost of Christmas present teaches him that the contempt for humanity he feels is not always returned in the same coin. The ghost that allows him to glimpse his future reveals an immense loneliness, which ends up softening his heart.

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Like another great Christmas tale, Living is beautiful!, who has just turned 75, Dickens offers his character a second chance at life: not that Scrooge and George Baily, the protagonist of the Frank Capra film, are anything alike. Scrooge is a sinister miser who takes the livers out of those to whom he has lent money in a society in which an unpaid debt could end with a prison sentence (as happened to the author’s father), while Baily is an individual that he has spent his life helping others in the worst possible times. However, the two receive supernatural help – ghosts in one case, an angel without wings in another – to repair a vital mistake.

As always in Dickens, the fantasy hides a social denunciation. Ackroyd says he compulsively wrote the book in just six weeks, during which time he also suffered from a nasty cold. He walked for hours around London composing the plot, which was partly inspired by a character from The Pickwick Club Papers, that he also has the opportunity to see his future thanks to some goblins. But the fundamental element with which he composed his Christmas story were his own childhood memories, his job in the shoe polish factory and the ruthless world of work at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.

Charles Dickens in his study in Gads Hill Place, England.  Engraving by Samuel Hollyer, 1875.
Charles Dickens in his study in Gads Hill Place, England. Engraving by Samuel Hollyer, 1875.Shutterstock / Everett Collection

Because Christmas song It is above all a complaint of workplace harassment, from Scrooge to Bob Cratchit, his clerk, forced to work with a cold mustache – he skimps even the coal – and who has to claim his rights as if they were a favor – free the day of Christmas – always terrified of a despotic, angry and unjust boss. One of the most moving descriptions Dickens makes in the entire book is when, after closing the office, Cratchit returns home still frightened by the growls of his employer and at the same time happy for Christmas: “With the long ends of the white scarf hanging below the waist (for he had no coat) he went to Cornhill and slid twenty times down a slope after a line of boys to celebrate that it was Christmas Eve and then ran home to Camden Town, as fast as he could to play a la gallina ciega ”(translation by Nuria Salas Villar for the edition of Christmas tales Penguin Classics).

However, from his first trip, when the ghost of Christmas past shows him a place where he worked as an apprentice, he realizes the power that a good employer can have over his employees. Looking back at a Christmas party from his past, Scrooge reflects: “He has the power to make us happy or miserable, to make our work easy or burdensome, pleasant or hard. It could be said that his power resides in his words and his looks, in things so subtle and insignificant that it is impossible to count and enumerate them ”. After contemplating that scene, the greedy moneylender remains thoughtful and, when the ghost asks him if something is wrong, he replies: “It’s just that now I would like to have the opportunity to say a few things to my clerk.”

The first thing Scrooge does when he returns from his astral journey is to raise Cratchit’s salary and give him all the coal he needs to avoid working frozen, in addition to helping his family – especially his handicapped son Tim, whose life he saves – . Above all, it gives you back the rights that you had taken from you during years of exploitation. Christmas song it is a universal tale for many reasons: redemption, the possibility of changing one’s life for the better, Christmas, its praise of tolerance. But, above all, because it narrates as rarely in literature the importance of labor dignity. And that’s not bullshit.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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