As Christmas 1843 approaches the weather is unseasonably warm and Charles Dickens’s career has stalled. Martin Chuzzlewit’s reception has been lukewarm and his publishers are hounding him for a new and marketable book, though he is suffering from an acute case of a writer’s block. To make matters worse, his wife is about to throw a lavish Christmas party that will squeeze his finances even more. No wonder, then, that he abandons the chaos of his house for the streets of London to seek inspiration.
This is the set up of Samantha Silva’s Mr. Dickens and His Carol, in which the great writer, hounded by “critics, creditors and hangers-on that plague my every hour” sets on a nightly walk through the English capital only to encounter the mysterious Eleanor Lovejoy. In a span of a few days, she becomes Dickens’s muse, and his fascination with her takes him on a journey to revisit his past – both the triumphant and the painful parts of it – in an effort to recapture the spirit of Christmas. In the process, the kaleidoscope of life in London’s streets, shops and markets shapes the plot and the characters of what would become the Christmas Carol.
Written with a lyricism and pacing that invokes Dickens’ era and language, the book is sure to appeal to the fans of the “Inimitable Boz.” The mood, too, veers from sentimental to somber to humorous. The latter, in particular, is employed to convey a subtle criticism of the publishing industry, with its fickle audiences, cutthroat competition, dishonest imitators, greedy publishers, and agents who do … whatever it is that they do, to paraphrase Silva’s Dickens. In nearly two centuries, it seems that little, if anything, has changed.