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Customer Review

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Christmas-themed works of Dickens, 27 Dec. 2012
This review is from: Dickens at Christmas (Vintage Classics) (Hardcover)
Charles Dickens did not necessarily write the most cheerful stories. This is not the book to read if all you want is light entertainment. As with any good author, Dickens wrote stories based on what he observed in real life, even though he disguised those observations as fiction.

Some anthologies include some kind of preface or overview discussing the books. This one doesn't, so it avoids the risk of including spoilers and leaves readers to make up their own minds about the stories.

This book begins with a festive story (about a goblin who stole a sexton) from The Pickwick papers, then presents five books (about 80 to 100 pages each) telling stories that have a Christmas connection (but sometimes tenuous), these being A Christmas carol , The chimes, The cricket on the hearth, The battle of life, and The haunted man and the ghost`s bargain.. Finally, there are eight short stories that Dickens wrote for periodicals, the being A Christmas tree, A Christmas dinner, What Christmas is as we grow older, The seven poor travellers, The poor relation's story, The child's story, The schoolboy's story, and Nobody's story.

Before buying this anthology, the only story that I knew anything about was (you've guessed it) A Christmas carol. The villain of the story is Scrooge, whose name has passed into infamy as a word in the English language, along with other villains such as Boycott and Judas. I had actually forgotten most of what I knew, which was in any case based mostly on a TV dramatization that I'd seen long ago, probably in the sixties.

Of the other books, I particularly liked the third and fourth books (The cricket on the hearth, The battle of life), but I found the other two (The chimes, The haunted man and the ghost`s bargain) confusing, and not helped by the use of ghosts in these stories. Among the short stories, I particularly liked The seven poor travellers, which was really two completely different stories - one about the travellers lodging overnight at an inn, the other being a military story that was told to them as part of their evening's entertainment.

The author had an odd style of writing, but he was certainly a master of unexpected twists. Sometimes I was able to anticipate correctly what might happen later, but not usually. One oddity of his writing style (not unique to him) is that some crucial parts of the story are not told as they happened, but come later in the book in the form of recollections of earlier events by other people.

My favorite piece is the beginning of The battle of life, in which the author discusses an old battlefield. He explains its subsequently use for agriculture, and how the quality of the soil changes while evidence of its former use gradually diminishes as the years go by. It doesn't really have anything to do with the main story, but I am impressed. I don't think many 20th century battlefields were allowed to decay gradually while being used as farmland.

As these books were written in the 19th century, I had to adjust my thinking somewhat, particularly when reading The cricket and the hearth. The hearth in question is a coal fire with a chimney. I remember those. I even remember my grandparents boiling her kettle with one. I'm glad of those memories as they helped me to understand the context.

Overall, I like this anthology, but if I were to rate the stories individually, some stories would rate a lot higher than others.
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Location: Leicester England

Top Reviewer Ranking: 12