Subscribe to the Rosenblog!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

"God Bless Us, Every One"--Then What?

All of us are, no doubt, quite familiar with Dickens's classic 1843 tale A Christmas Carol. At this time of year various movie versions dominate the airwaves and those of us in Philadelphia can make our annual visit to the Dickens Village at Macy's. But have you ever heard of Dickens's "Christmas book" for 1844--The Chimes?

The Chimes is the second of five "Christmas books" which Dickens would publish in the 1840s, although the action of the story actually happens on New Year's Eve. As with A Christmas Carol, The Chimes focuses on a man's encounters with supernatural beings (in this case the spirits of the bells in a church tower) which help him regain his faith in human nature. Unlike the rich miser Scrooge, The Chimes' protagonist is a poor porter named Toby Veck, who is on the receiving end of upper class condescension and wonders if the poor have any right to live at all. Ultimately the book, like all of Dickens's other Christmas books, declares a strong moral message of the importance of charity and brotherhood and the need to recognize and improve conditions for the poor. It ends with a clear call:"So may each Year be happier than the last, and not the meanest of our brethren or sisterhood debarred their rightful share, in what our Great Creator formed them to enjoy."

The Adelphi. Chimes: a goblin story[London, 1844] EL3 f.D548 Ephemera #55

The Chimes was a financial success, selling nearly 20,000 copies in three months and spwaning numerous theatrical adaptations. Dickens himself had tested out the work by staging pre-publication readings for his friends, events which influenced his later move into public readings of his works. The vibrant poster shown above is from the authorized production at the Adelphi, which was put together by Dickens's friends Mark Lemon and G. A. A'Beckett and opened on December 18, only two days after the publication of the book. With such a timeline the play was necessarily based on the proof sheets for the novella and failed to include some last minute changes that Dickens made to the text. It also lightened the mood by omitting Dickens's heavy-handed last line.

The Rosen-blog will be taking take a week off because of the holidays, but we'll be back in the new year. If you are planning to visit the Rosenbach over the holiday week, please note that we will be closed 12/24-12/25 and again 12/31-1/1. But do feel free to come on in the rest of the time--maybe bring those out of town relatives?

No comments: