Wednesday, May 02, 2018

The Man Who Invented Christmas: The Story Behind the Story

Book Review: The Man Who Invented Christmas by Les Standiford
Version: CloudLibrary borrow

Practically everyone knows the story of A Christmas Carol, usually from the many films based on the book. But how many of us know the story behind the story? I recently reviewed the movie about Charles Dickens's struggle to write A Christmas Carol, but this is my take on the book on which that movie was based.

I read the book, The Mad Who Invented Christmas, subtitled "How Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol Rescued His Career and Revived Our Holiday Spirits" to see if the film was speculative fiction imagining what it was like for Dickens to write his classic tale, or if it was fact-based biography. It is, in fact, a biography and well told.

Here is the synopsis of the book provided on

Just before Christmas in 1843, a debt-ridden and dispirited Charles Dickens wrote a small book he hoped would keep his creditors at bay. His publisher turned it down, so Dickens used what little money he had to put out A Christmas Carol himself. He worried it might be the end of his career as a novelist.
The book immediately caused a sensation. And it breathed new life into a holiday that had fallen into disfavor, undermined by lingering Puritanism and the cold modernity of the Industrial Revolution. It was a harsh and dreary age, in desperate need of spiritual renewal, ready to embrace a book that ended with blessings for one and all.
With warmth, wit, and an infusion of Christmas cheer, Les Standiford whisks us back to Victorian England, its most beloved storyteller, and the birth of the Christmas we know best. The Man Who Invented Christmas is a rich and satisfying read for Scrooges and sentimentalists alike.

Now, this is a fairly accurate description of the story line to the book. I'm not sure about the "warmth, wit, and an infusion of Christmas cheer", but the rest of it fits. You learn all about the Dickens's life at the time of his writing of A Christmas Carol and his life that may have led to his imagining of the characters and settings and the story itself. I'm told by others that Dickens was a dismal husband and father, and that isn't reflected in this book.

Also interesting in this read is the history of book publishing and sales and how they factored into Dickens's writing and publishing of his book. For instance, most of his books were first serialized in magazines, then compiled into books, advertised in newspapers and magazines. Book stores didn't emerge until publishing houses needed to find a way to sell excess stock and created stores at their facilities, where readers could browse titles. You know those book stalls you see at airports? They got their start in railway stations in Britain as publishers marketed excess stocks of books to travelers on trains. For A Christmas Carol, Dickens went around the serialization process and published directly as a book.

The Man Who Invented Christmas also goes into Dickens's frequently repeated themes of Christmas and charity in his other books. So, this book isn't just about A Christmas Carol. It's an exploration of his whole persona and his ideals.

As any book will do, it goes well beyond the scope of the movie based on the book. I found it an interesting and compelling read. If you are a Dickens fan, you will want to read The Man Who Invented Christmas.

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