‘Message of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol was Gandhian’

As the literary world celebrates 2012 as the bicentenary year of famous author Charles Dickens, Akrita Reyar of Zeenews.com caught up with his progeny Lucinda Hawksley, who is a writer, art historian and commentator in her own right. She is also the patron and spokesperson of the Friends of the Charles Dickens Museum.

If you were asked to give two variant impressions of Charles Dickens, one as an author yourself and the other as his family member, what would those be?

As an author, I find Dickens absolutely astonishing.

As a family member, I find Dickens fascinating and inspirational. He achieved so much, not only in the world of literature, but in the world at large - I am in awe of how much campaigning he did and how many changes he managed to bring about.

What do you think is the most engaging element of Dickens writing?

His sense of humour and his ability to blend that humour with social commentary.

What according to you were Charles Dickens’ works a product of – his own experiences of the times he lived in, as so powerfully reflected in some of his works, or an acute sense of external observation?

He embodied the concept of the child being father of the man; his childhood experiences would continue to influence him all through adulthood.

Sometimes Dickens, as a human being, comes across as insensitive in his personal life. Is it possible for an author to write about pathos with conviction without being an extremely sensitive person himself? Where is the dichotomy?

Like anyone he could be insensitive, but it wasn`t an integral part of his personality - in many ways Dickens was super sensitive, which is why when he behaved badly it was even more apparent. There`s been much written in the press recently about the marriage between Charles and Catherine Dickens being a "bad marriage", but this is looking at it from the position of hindsight and without an understanding of the era in which they lived. Although the marriage ended unpleasantly in 1858, at the start it was a very happy marriage; initially they were in love and well matched, and, in comparison to most Victorian marriages, in the early years Dickens was a very good and understanding husband. When he fell out of love with Catherine, much of his unpleasant behaviour seems to have stemmed from an unadmitted sense of deep guilt.

Why do you feel Dickens wrote so prolifically on the spirit of Christmas?

From his childhood onwards, Christmas was really important to Dickens and his family. In addition, by the time he was an adult he was embracing the zeitgeist. Although Dickens is often credited with "inventing" the British Christmas, he was one of several people who were thinking in a similar way: Prince Albert who introduced the German traditions of his childhood to his family and then to the media, and Henry Cole who produced the first Christmas card in 1843, coincidentally the same year in which A Christmas Carol was published. When Dickens realised how popular his Christmas story was he made it a regular event - he wrote 5 Christmas books and many Christmas stories and articles, but none is as popular, well-remembered or as powerful as A Christmas Carol. I think this is because the latter was truly written from the heart, rather than as a commercial enterprise. He wrote the Carol as a redemption story, a moral crusade to show his readers that everyone has an element of Ebenezer Scrooge in their character and that everyone needs to change and help others. I often think the true message of A Christmas Carol is embodied in Gandhi`s famous words: "be the change you want to see in the world", that is exactly what Dickens was trying to express to his readers.

What do you think Dickens would have wanted to be remembered for and as?

He said in his will that he wanted his works to be his memorial.

Please tell us about your family’s India connection.

Two of Dickens` sons, Frank and Walter, lived in India. Walter went to India in 1857 with the East India Company and then went into the British Indian Army. He lived in Calcutta for 6 years, until his death at the age of 22. He was buried at Bhowanipore Cemetery. His grave has been lost, but his gravestone survives and has been moved to Park Street cemetery.

Frank arrived in India at the start of 1864 - to discover that Walter had died on 31 Dec 1863, while Frank was on the boat to India. Frank was with the Bengal Mounted Police. He stayed in India until after his father`s death in 1870, when he returned to England on compassionate leave. He stayed much longer than he should have, thereby losing his job. He then moved to Canada where he became an officer in the "Mounties".

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