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Book Review: Dickens' Christmas (compiled by John Hudson); The Brontës' Christmas (compiled by Maria Hubert); and Thomas Hardy's Christmas, (compiled by John Chandler) : BH

Originally published by British Heritage magazine. Published Online: August 12, 2001 
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Dickens' Christmas, The Brontës' Christmas, Thomas Hardy's Christmas, compiled by John Hudson, Maria Hubert, and John Chandler, respectively, published by Sutton Publishing Limited, softcover, $17.95.

Dickens' Christmas, compiled by John Hudson, is a delightful potpourri of holiday vignettes, drawn from the writings of the man who popularized many of our modern Christmas customs and celebrations, and several of his like-minded contemporaries. This collection of writings hearkens back to a time when Christmas had already grown to become more than a purely religious observance, but when the social and commercial aspects of the season were still warm and inviting.

Naturally, the anthology includes a healthy dose of excerpts from A Christmas Carol, but it also reintroduces readers to several of Dickens' other 'Christmas books', which he made a regular part of his annual literary output, as well as seasonal essays. I was particularly amused by a pair of these in which Dickens confesses a phobia that I had always assumed to be unique to my own childhood–a fear and loathing of mechanical toy figures with grotesquely painted faces. In Dickens' case, the source of this terror was apparently a thoughtless toy maker named Tackleton, who produced 'appalling masks; hideous, hairy, red-eyed Jacks in Boxes; Vampire Kites; demoniacal Tumblers who wouldn't lie down, and were perpetually flying forward, to stare infants out of countenance … and destroy the peace of mind of any young gentleman between the ages of six and eleven, for the whole Christmas or Midsummer Vacation.'

Other excerpts offer a more sentimental recollection of Victorian Christmases, and include a short story about a little girl confined to a sickbed during the most exciting day of the year; advice columns from 19th-century periodicals dealing with such issues as throwing a successful children's holiday party and hand-making appropriate gifts for each member of a family; social commentary on the conditions in England's workhouses; and even a description of Christmas at Osborne House following the death of Prince Albert.

In all, here are some 40 glimpses into Christmas in the Victorian style, both factual and fictitious, few of which run for more than two or three pages and thus are easily digestable during a hectic holiday season.

Two other volumes in this series follow a similar format in presenting readers with a taste of British Christmases in days gone by. The Brontës' Christmas takes a look at the holiday through the eyes of the Brontë sisters and their contemporaries of the earlier 19th century, and recreates Christmas both at the Brontë parsonage and in the literary worlds created by the three sisters.

Thomas Hardy's Christmas features the work of Thomas Hardy, which likewise contains frequent descriptions of the festive season.

The books are published by Sutton Publishing Limited, P.O. Box 605, Herndon, VA 20172-0605. The cost of each paperback volume is $17.95. Add $5 for shipping and handling for a single volume, and an additional $1 for each subsequent book.

Bruce Heydt

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