Saturday, July 19, 2014

One Last Christmas Carol Tidbit...

 As many of you may know, I grew up in Lowell, Massachusetts, which just so happens to be the setting of Rich Barlow’s article entitled “Ebenezer Scrooge: Made in Massachusetts.”  Lowell is famous for its textile mills, many of which still proudly stand along the Merrimack River.  Today, the city retains its title as an industrial hub, but the majority of the mills have been turned into various offices, museums, and apartments (one of which I presently call my home).  Therefore, the idea that Dickens, one of the most renowned Victorian authors, found his inspiration for much of the plot of A Christmas Carol in my hometown particularly resonated with me.

 In his article, Bray postulates that Dickens took many of his basic plot points from a monthly periodical called Lowell Offering.  The journal was filled with contributions from various Lowell mill workers; the majority of these writers were women and girls who spent their spare time creating fictional tales based upon the mills and their surroundings.  These women worked twelve hours a day, but when Dickens visited in 1842 at the height of the American revolution, he was astonished at the “workers’ superior living conditions in Lowell compared with peers in his home country.” (As a child, I was always impressed upon that the young women faced a terrible fate filled with disease, untimely death, and harrowing working conditions, but Dickens apparently saw it differently.)

 During his visit, Dickens took over 400 pages of notes on activity in Lowell.  He read through various copies of Lowell Offering, in which there are ideas strikingly similar to those that would appear in A Christmas Carol only one year later.  One essay, “A Visit from Hope,” described a specter who “extended his thin, bony hand” as the Ghost of Christmas Future would do in Dickens’ classic.  In another essay, “The Blessings of Memory,” a young author describes memories being overridden by “unreal phantoms,” thus supposedly introducing the memory motif that is prevalent in Dickens’ piece.  Furthermore, both writings speak of an “idol” that “engrosses” someone within the text. 

 Are there some similarities between the two publications? Absolutely. But, I believe that this does not necessarily mean that Dickens was wholly inspired by Lowell and his experiences there.  He may have adapted some Lowell Offering segments to augment his originary text, but that is wholeheartedly to be expected.  No text can truly stand on its own; there are overlaps.  These similarities seem a bit too vague in my opinion to truly denote a strong inspiration from Lowell.  Rather, I believe that Dickens’ used “The Goblin and the Sexton” as an impetus for A Christmas Carol and thus added to it based upon his imagination and life experiences, tools that all great writers must rely upon.

What do you all think?

Lowell Mills

Lawrence Mill Today (My Home)

1 comment:

  1. This piece helpfully reminds us that textual inspiration is often multifaceted. It also reminds us that there are compelling nationalist interests at work in "claiming" primary inspiration for a novel like ACC. And it may help resolve a problem we considered in seminar: WHY did Dickens return to the Gabriel Grub story when he did? This piece adds another layer to the question of inspiration or source material and reminds that literary texts are rooted in multiple, complex sources.