Thoughts on Four Christmas Novellas by Charles Dickens

Most people have heard of A Christmas Carol (see my review), but few are familiar with Charles Dickens’ four other Christmas novellas. I read his other four novellas this season. Some of the novellas were more interesting than others. The superiority of A Christmas Carol makes it clear to me why it has lasted as a “classic” through the years, while most of Charles Dickens’  Christmas novellas have not.

Charles Dickens’ Christmas Novellas

The five Christmas novellas Charles Dickens wrote were written in consecutive years, with A Christmas Carol in 1843, The Chimes in 1844, The Cricket on the Hearth in 1845, The Battle of Life in 1846, and The Haunted Man and the Ghost’s Bargain in 1847.

Charles Dickens was just gaining in popularity and I’m sure his publishers were excited to have something else to offer their readers. Unlike his novels, which were published serially, these were published first in booklet form. Charles Dickens would read them in public during the holiday seasons. The most popular on the stage was The Cricket on the Hearth. (See Wikipedia for more information on that.)

Read my review of A Christmas Carol separately.

The Chimes

The Chimes reminded me of “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” In both, someone listens to the bells chiming and finds despair in life and then, ultimately, redemption.

In The Chimes, Toby (“Trotty”) Veck is a poor old messenger who is striving to keep a life for himself and his lovely daughter. One cold New Year’s Eve, he hears the bells calling to him; when he visits the chimes, goblins show him the true misery that may be his daughter’s life; good people have become ruined and wicked.

I found this novella incredibly depressing, as it seemed to dwell for the majority of the time on how anyone can become wicked. Charles Dickens’ ultimate point was that circumstances make wickedness; the poor are not born with wickedness. It seemed to be an overly political message for the rich who judge the poor unfairly. However, I disliked the format and the spooky depression that the goblins on the bells provoked. I don’t think I’ll ever reread this novella.

The Cricket on the Hearth

Dickens’ third Christmas novella, The Cricket on the Hearth, was the most popular in his day, for it dealt with family and home. One Christmas, John Peerybingle begins to suspect his rather new wife of having an affair, a suspicion created by the grumpy Tackleton, who is surprisingly getting married that season. Caleb Plummer is Tackleton’s impoverish employee, further impoverish because his sailor son has been lost at sea. Caleb has convinced his young, blind daughter that Tackleton has been the benefactor of their existence in order to help her life be happy, while in reality Tackleton has only impoverished them. Caleb now he regrets his deceit.

The lucky cricket guards the hearth of every home and indeed guards the home of the Peerybingles and the Plummers. The cricket reminds John of the love he does have in his home. The cricket reminds the blind girl of the love of her father and the strength of love over poverty. And the lack of a cricket reminds Tackleton that he needs the love of friends to find joy in his life. In the end, all are changed, despair is replaced with hope, and all celebrate the Christmas season together.

Once I got past the first few pages (which seemed quite slow to me), I enjoyed the characters that Dickens so marvelously created. The Cricket on the Hearth is a predictable, formulaic story, as are the others, but it was certainly worth the time I spent reading it.

The Battle of Life

The Battle of Life is the least “Christmas-y” of Dickens’ Christmas novellas, and even after reading it I struggle to put in to words what it was about. I don’t know how to discuss or summarize it without revealing the entire plot. Let me try: Pessimistic Dr. Jeddler thinks life is a joke, until his youngest daughter disappears and he must face the sadness that comes from life head-on. As is typical of Dickens, all works out for the best in the end, but not before there is a lot of heartache and pain.

In The Battle of Life, Dickens creates Clemency Newcome, a woman all elbows who works for Dr. Jeddler. I really liked Clemency. While her “battle of life” was actually secondary to the others, in some respects Dickens made her just as important. The Battle of Life was entertaining, but not Christmas-y or as thought-provoking.

The Haunted Man and the Ghost’s Bargain

In The Haunted Man and the Ghost’s Bargain, the last of Dickens’ Christmas novellas, Dr. Redlaw is haunted by his past; he constantly dwells on the sorrows, wrongs, and pains that others have given him. One Christmas, a ghost visits him with a gift: Redlaw’s own memories of his sorrows will be taken from him. Further, any one he touches in the coming day will likewise be unburdened by their horrible and painful memories.

Redlaw is pleased with this gift and sets out to find the poor and suffering people who he can relieve of their sorrow. But he finds that without their sorrows, people, he included, are left cold and unfeeling: people stop being charitable to each other in conversation and treatment. He seeks for a remedy to this “gift,” but the ghost is unable to give Redlaw his memories again. Only the influence of a saintly woman can restore happiness to the individuals Redlaw has touched.

I loved some of the characters in this story, especially the Tetterby family, which was delightful. The story was somewhat sad told through Redlaw’s perspective, and his story wasn’t neatly solved in the end as does A Christmas Carol, but it still was a worthwhile and meaningful story.

Thoughts on Dicken’s Novellas

In the end, I’ll keep rereading A Christmas Carol and I may reread The Cricket on the Hearth, but I don’t think I’ll ever reread the others. The others were not nearly as memorable or as enjoyable to read. I’m kind of glad he stopped them after 1847 because the last few were as not memorable at all!

Have you read Dickens’ other novellas? What do you think of them?

About the author 

Rebecca Reid

Rebecca Reid is a homeschooling, stay-at-home mother seeking to make the journey of life-long learning fun by reading lots of good books. Rebecca Reads provides reviews of children's literature she has enjoyed with her children; nonfiction that enhances understanding of educational philosophies, history and more; and classical literature that Rebecca enjoys reading.

  1. You might enjoy the discussion of The Chimes at The Valve. I wrote about it a bit, too, at Wuthering Expectations. It’s a difficult, perplexing book in some ways, you’re right about that, and not exactly cheery.

    1. Ladytink, I still prefer A Chirstmas Carol best of all!

      Amateur Reader, I fixed the link. I have a plug-in that makes links not show up right if the commenter uses HTML. I’m trying to find a work around because I like the plugin! Thanks for your link; I’ll go look at it!

  2. I started A Christmas Carol but forgot about it (that happens when I start reading ebooks) and never got back to it.  I’m sure these others aren’t as good put you have definitely piqued my curiousity.

  3. a diferencia de muchas de las críticas acerca de la obra Las campanas de Dickens, creo que la riqueza literaria de la obra radica en la mirada que se ofrece. Es un canto a la esperanza, a no bajar los brazos, a mirar la vida de frente, a no abandonarse y a reconocerse como mentores y ejecutores de nuestras vidas, de la elección del camino que seguiremos.

  4. I just finished these. I loved the first three but found the final one very difficult to follow. I’m not sure why. Perhaps reading it aloud was a problem? Anyhow, after I figured out what the last story was about, I liked it. But it was really hard to keep track of all the characters and details.

    My favorite of the three is The Battle of Life. The Cricket on the Hearth was a close second.

    1. Parts of The Haunted Man are nearly incomprehensible. Dickens was experiencing – fighting with – a thickening of his style at the time. Parts (luckily not too much) of the contemporary Dombey and Son have the same problem.

    2. Jillian » That’s interesting — I don’t recall being all that impressed with The Battle of Life. I should reread it. But yes, as you and Amateur Reader discuss here, The Haunted Man was not incredibly great reading. I can barely recall it now, a few years after the fact.

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