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Three decades later, Daniel Maclise, a painter friend of Dickens, was to visualise this very scene in his wildly popular Merry Christmas in the Baron's Hall, a romantic rendering of feudal community ties extending horizontally to include kith as well as kin. All this stood in implicit contrast to the sterile legal contracts that increasingly bound master and man in Britain's new urban environments.

Writing in the lee of this romantic antiquarianism, it was inevitable that Dickens's first fully fledged fictional Christmas should be very different from the one for which he subsequently became famous. In , a full seven years before A Christmas Carol, Mr Pickwick and his friends set out for Dingley Dell to enjoy a Christmas that bears a striking resemblance to the one imagined by Scott. Their destination, Manor Farm, has all the feudal attributes Southey could hope for, including a "good, long, dark-panelled room with a high chimney-piece, and a capacious chimney", "a shady bower of holly and evergreens", "massive old silver candlesticks with four branches each" and, most importantly, "the two best fiddlers and the only harp" in the surrounding area.

And, in case there is any doubt about what kind of Christmas this is going to be, Mr Wardle, the Pickwickians' host, explains: "Our invariable custom [is that] Apart from a small piece that appeared in in the abortive weekly miscellany Master Humphrey's Clock, Charles Dickens let Christmas alone for the next few years.

This was the period of Oliver Twist and Nicholas Nickleby, novels that catapulted the young man, still not yet 30, to unparalleled international popularity. Yet, by the time Martin Chuzzlewit began to appear at the beginning of , there were signs that Dickens was not quite the marvellous boy he had once been. In panicky response, Dickens toyed with the idea of saving money by letting his London house and taking his growing family to live abroad. So it is ironic - or perhaps entirely understandable - that at this very moment Dickens came up with a story that brought its author huge commercial success.

He didn't see it like that, complaining bitterly that A Christmas Carol continued to be "an intolerable anxiety and disappointment" financially. Not that his motivation for writing the book was entirely mercenary. Along with the rest of thinking Britain, Dickens had been appalled by the recent report of the Children's Employment Commission, which revealed that many young people laboured in wretched conditions.

Thrashing around for an appropriate response, he eventually settled on writing a book that would remind the employing classes of their responsibility towards the men and women who worked in their shops, offices and mills. Written at breakneck speed in the odd moments when he was not working on the increasingly thankless Chuzzlewit, A Christmas Carol worked its transforming magic even on its own creator. In a letter written to an American friend, Dickens describes himself weeping, laughing and pounding the London pavements for 20 miles each night in the ecstatic realisation that he had created something extraordinary.

What makes A Christmas Carol so important is that it marks the first time that anyone tried to imagine what a modern, urban Christmas might look like. Here you will find no lingering nostalgia for the Baron's Hall with its extended kith network and 12 days of feudal feasting. Instead, this is a pared-down Christmas, a single day's holiday enjoyed by small nuclear families with no historical or social links to anything beyond themselves.

We never hear about Bob Cratchit's mother or sister, and even Scrooge's nephew's house party consists only of close family. When the memory of a joyful Christmas past is held out to Scrooge in the form of Fezziwig's Ball, which he attended as a young man, it is an after-work party held in a merchant's warehouse rather than a scene of feudal feasting. So Dickens demonstrates triumphantly that a meaningful Christmas is possible even in the most contemporary and urban of settings.

Fears among gloomy commentators such as Thomas Carlyle that the dour Dissenting creed of the manufacturing classes had killed off older, more spontaneous types of seasonal joy are banished by Scrooge's conversion to the Christmas spirit. Starting the story as a textbook Utilitarian who calmly accepts that starvation is Nature's way of keeping the population under control, he finishes it not by attempting to revive some pre-industrial whimsy overseen by the Lord of Misrule, but by raising Cratchit's wages and ordering an extra scuttle of coal.

The real Utilitarians, who ran the Westminster Review, were naturally not happy with this blatant economic rule-breaking, and thundered in response: "Who went without turkey and punch in order that Bob Cratchit might get them?


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Even Carlyle, not known as a constitutionally cheery soul, was so enthused by the story that he immediately organised two dinner parties in his Cheyne Walk lair. Dickens, to his great credit, did not let the "most prodigious success" of A Christmas Carol blow him off his chosen course of using the season to preach a pointed social sermon.

The very next December he produced The Chimes, a dark and bitter book that deals, among other things, with Will Fern, an agricultural labourer charged with rick-burning. It was, though, a finger-wagging too far. Expecting a repeat of Tiny Tim, the buying public gave The Chimes a wide berth. Clearly rattled, the next year Dickens returned in the schmaltzy The Cricket on the Hearth to an uncannily familiar plot, which features a misanthropic employer, a handicapped youngster and the intervention of a tiresome set of supernatural beings.

Still, Dickens would not give up entirely on his project to use Christmas as a time to wake up the dozing conscience of the prosperous urban middle classes. In the last seasonal book that he wrote, he revisited with renewed energy the problem of how Christ's birthday might be celebrated in an urban environment where it was all too easy for individuals to slip through the social net.

In The Haunted Man and the Ghost's Bargain he gives us a deeply unsettling unnamed street-child - alienation from society has rendered him entirely savage. Taking the risk of offending his readers, Dickens puts down his narrator's mask to make it clear just where the responsibility for such an abomination lies.

The street-child is not the only source of darkness in The Haunted Man. On to this narrative of righteous social anger Dickens grafts a far more personal account of memory, hurt and loss. Now approaching 40, he was clearly casting back over the painful recollections of his early life it is no coincidence that his next full-length book would be David Copperfield, with its autobiographical account of the deeply wounding blacking factory.

In a plot anticipatory of the Hollywood film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, the central character Redlaw is given the chance of relief from all his painful memories, which include a scarring awareness of an early romantic betrayal. Far from bringing peace of mind, this emotional oblivion delivers only extra misery. Dickens's point is that, without a full spectrum of recollections, painful as well as happy, we lose the true north of our moral compass.

Unsurprisingly, The Haunted Man did not sell well and turned out to be Dickens's last attempt at a stand-alone Christmas book. From now on he would concentrate on producing shorter fiction for the Christmas editions of his new family magazines, first Household Words and then All the Year Round. While many of these festive stories are listless potboilers, there are one or two which show Dickens continuing to work away at the perplexing question of what social and symbolic function Christmas might perform in an age of increasing anomie.

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One short piece in particular - "A Christmas Tree" - is remarkable for its deft blending of genres and narrative voice literary hybridity does not belong exclusively to the postmodern age. All the while that Dickens churned out his festive magazine stories, the popularity of A Christmas Carol continued to grow. He decided that if she would not permit him to spend a little money on himself he would not buy the customary Christmas present for her. Furthermore, he determined that if she asked him for any extra money for Christmas he would say: "I'm sorry, my dear, but I can't spare any.

Don't you remember that you told me that I couldn't afford to buy that set of Poe? He rehearsed this speech and had it all ready for her, as he pictured to himself her humiliation and surprise at discovering that he had some spirit after all and a considerable say-so whenever money was involved.

Unfortunately for his plan, she did not ask for any extra spending money and so he had to rely on the other mode of punishment. He would withhold the expected Christmas present. In order that she might fully understand his purpose, he would give presents to both of the children. It was a harsh measure, he admitted, but perhaps it would teach her to have some consideration for the wishes of others. It must be said that Mr. Waterby was not wholly proud of his revenge when he arose on Christmas morning. He felt that he had accomplished his purpose and he told himself that his motives had been good and pure, but still he was not satisfied with himself.

He went to the dining room and there on the table in front of his plate was a long paper box containing ten books each marked "Poe. Waterby, flushed and giggling like a school girl. That day when you spoke of buying them and I told you not to, I was just sure that you suspected something. I bought them a week before that. Waterby, feeling the salt water in his eyes.

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At that moment he had the soul of a wretch being whipped at the stake. Waterby continued. Why, last week I nearly starved you and you never noticed it as I was afraid you would. Waterby brokenly, for he was confused and giddy. This self-sacrificing angel--and he had bought no Christmas present for her! It was a fearful situation, and he lied his way out of it. I told them to send it up yesterday. The ring which he selected was beyond his means, it is true, but when a man has to buy back his self-respect the price is never too high. Posted by Undine at AM.

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It was a lecture he delivered several times in and , although The Strange Case of Rosalie Poe. There is a tradition that Edgar Allan Poe's sister Rosalie was born on December 20, , but there is no solid documentary evidence for The greatest achievement of Edgar Allan Poe's father is that he managed the considerable feat of having a death even more mysterious tha The Brother of Edgar Poe. Perhaps the most notable thing about Edgar Allan Poe's only brother is how little is known about him.

William Henry Leonard who usuall Reason--A Black Cat". It will appear to the true philosopher The Angels of the Odd "Late one night, while I was tired Well, why not?

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