"Some persons hold," he pursued, still hesitating, "that there is a wisdom of the Head, and that there is a wisdom of the Heart. . . ." ~ Hard Times
Gold, for the instant, lost its lustre in his eyes, for there were countless treasures of the heart which it could never purchase. ~ Nicholas Nickleby
When you enter the Great Dickens Christmas Fair, you discover the world as Charles Dickens believed it should be. A place filled at once with the joys of human expression: music, dance, theatre, art, conversation, friendship, family, fine food and drink …and goodwill.
Charles Dickens, the man who almost single-handedly created the Christmas we know and love, was also a fervent believer in social justice. In the course of his writings – novels, essays, newspaper articles, &c – he constantly addressed with passionate eloquence the social ills of his time. He delivered lectures, donated to charities, and created programs to relieve many of the problems caused by the widespread, grinding poverty in what was then the wealthiest nation on earth.
“No one is useless in this world who lightens the burden of it to anyone else.” ~ Our Mutual Friend
Having spent time as a child labouring in what was essentially a sweatshop, Dickens was deeply moved by the plight of children, and in novels such as “Oliver Twist,” “The Old Curiosity Shop,” and “Bleak House,” he created moving pictures of children at risk, in peril, and forced to grow up too soon. Oliver’s fall into a milieu of petty crime, Little Nell’s harrowing vulnerability as she goes through London, and the daily travails of Jo, the illiterate crossing-sweeper, whose short life is spent in crushing poverty, ignorance and abuse, all bring to vivid life the sort of existence far too many children faced in the 19th century.
Because of these searing characterizations, public awareness – and indignation – increased. Child Labour laws were amended, and opportunities for education and advancement improved. Dickens’ realistic depictions of schools like the (barely) fictionalized Dotheboys Hall in Yorkshire depicted in “Nicholas Nickleby” horrified the public and encouraged much needed reforms.
“He saw that men who worked hard, and earned their scanty bread with lives of labour, were cheerful and happy and that to the most ignorant, the sweet face of Nature was a never-failing source of cheerfulness and joy... [and] he saw that men like himself, who snarled at the mirth and cheerfulness of others, were the foulest weeds on the fair surface of the earth and setting all the good of the world against the evil, he came to the conclusion that it was a very decent and respectable sort of world after all.” ~ Pickwick Papers
One of the many reasons Dickens still resonates with us today is that he believed deeply in fairness and in the duty humans have to their fellow humans. The plight of the poor and struggling engrossed him, but he was not content to be merely outraged; he sought to find concrete ways to make effective change. Especially after he grew famous, he used both his fame and his talent in the service of assisting those in society most in need and least able to help themselves.
So often his stories speak of the redemptive power of helping others – one can view Scrooge’s sojourn with the Spirits on Christmas Eve Night as a journey to rediscover and reawaken his connection to the starving, struggling humanity around him.
“Scrooge was better than his word. He did it all, and infinitely more; and to Tiny Tim, who did not die, he was a second father. He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world. Some people laughed to see the alteration in him, but he let them laugh, and little heeded them; for he was wise enough to know that nothing ever happened on this globe, for good, at which some people did not have their fill of laughter in the outset; and knowing that such as these would be blind anyway, he thought it quite as well that they should wrinkle up their eyes in grins, as have the malady in less attractive forms. His own heart laughed: and that was quite enough for him.” ~A Christmas Carol
Now in its 34th Season, we are delighted to be continuing the tradition of bringing Dickens to life at the Great Dickens Christmas Fair. Dickens' love of theatre and of community, and the spirit of the season, is alive and well for present and future generations.
We hope that you will be touched by Dickens' words, and by the joy of the Fair we proudly produce in his name.
There are chords in the human heart – strange, varying strings – which are only struck by accident; which will remain mute and senseless to appeals the most passionate and earnest, and respond at last to the slightest casual touch. ~ The Old Curiosity Shop
Top: Charles Dickens, 1861, from a photo by London portrait photographer George Herbert Watkins.
Right: Photo by Raymond Van Tassel of actor Robert Young, who portrays Charles Dickens at the Great Dickens Christmas Fair.