The mishmash of a Dickens Christmas

The Wreck of the Golden Mary is one of Charles Dickens’s “other” Christmas stories—that is, other than “A Christmas Carol.” It was published in Household Words at Christmas 1856 and, apparently like many (some?) of Dickens’s Christmas works of about that time, was a group effort. It’s structured all around this. Dickens writes the first part, a first-person narration by the captain of The Golden Mary that introduces the story and goes up to the captain’s illness, after the wreck, when he’s too weak to continue.

The thread is picked up by the first mate, in Wilkie Collins’s portion of the story. Then Percy Fitzgerald, Harriet Parr, Adelaide Anne Procter and the Rev. James White provide stories within the story, meant as the ones the passengers told each other in the boats. Then Wilkie Collins picks up again to narrate “The Deliverance.”

The collaboration sounded a bit strange to me, and there are bits less good than others. But it’s not disjointed. In their introduction to the Hesperus Press edition of Somebody’s Luggage, another Dickens-led Christmas collaboration, Melissa Valiska Gregory and Melisa Klimaszewski make a claim that I think applies here, too, though this story doesn’t have the same textual history. They argue against the omission of the bits not written by Dickens from his 1867 edition of the story and also against critics who ignore the full context of the work:

What is lost when Dickens abandons his own excess baggage? Without the stories by the other authors, both the entire text of Somebody’s Luggage and Dickens’ individual contributions to it appear less aesthetically remarkable. …The excision of the other contributors dilutes the entire Christmas number, draining it of its tonal richness and regularising the quirky narrative rhythms created by the odd juxtaposition of such a diverse array of texts. It is true that the plot of Dickens’ frame story holds together without the internal support of the other writers’ tales, but the text becomes livelier, if a little less coherent, when read as a whole. Its eccentric mishmash of tragic melodrama and farce, not to mention good and bad writing, makes for a dynamic reading experience….

I haven’t, ahem, actually finished Somebody’s Luggage yet (I was reading it when I got Stuck), but I’d just come off The Wreck of the Golden Mary and thought that put things very nicely. The nested stories from Dickens’s collaborators bring depth to the frame story by adding several histories to the main plot, and the stories themselves break up the interminable wait in the ocean for the reader just as they do for the shipwrecked characters.

Getting slowly Unstuck, I seem to have written more about a book I haven’t read than about the one I have. There will have to be more on The Golden Mary. Did I mention it’s a Dickensian sea yarn? It turns out Dickens is as good at this as he is at just about anything else.

3 comments to The mishmash of a Dickens Christmas

  • Hi Nicole, I go through phases, in having favorites blogs I like to visit. While you’re always a top 5’er, hands down, lately you’ve held my #1 position. You strike a very nice balance between substance, style, and lenghth. Anyhow. Cheers, K

  • You are too sweet. My problem is I do the opposite in my own blog reading—the more I like you, the longer it takes me to get to you, because I’m waiting for the time (that never comes) when I feel I can give you my full attention! (That is to say, your blog is backed up in my feed reader because you do not get “mark[ed] as read”!)

  • I read Dickens’ Christmas novellas a few years ago but this is not one I found. I have not yet read the “collaborative” effort works he started but I’m pleased to hear you liked this. Will have to look it up.