Just back from a superb staged version of Dickens’s A Christmas Carol at Folkoperan in Stockholm. It was in English, but that didn’t deter a packed house of Swedes. The story still resonates today – sadly so. The Victorian attitudes towards poverty, capitalism and welfare that Dickens was attacking in the 1840s are still in play on the British Right, and I dare say the American and Continental Rights too; currently bundled together under the name ‘Austerity’. That’s fairly new. Back in the Social-Democratic 1960s we considered Dickens’s works to be historical documents merely, and mocked the Soviets for believing that we in Britain lived in ‘Dickensian’ conditions still. That doesn’t seem quite so silly now. Of course there are no longer any little chimney-sweeps, and Tiny Tim would have been able to get treatment for his crippled leg under the NHS today. But there are the homeless and food banks and Grenfell Tower and the rest of it; and the way Ebeneezer Scrooge – before his enlightenment – regards money, work and welfare is quite close to, say, Thatcher’s, or George Osborne’s, or the Daily Mail‘s. I wonder if any of these, or Theresa May, ever read or saw A Christmas Carol ?
The more times I return to Dickens the more I think that he, albeit in a different genre, is almost on a level with my beloved Shakespeare. Among his many more literary achievements, he more or less invented the English secular Christmas – which is to my mind the best sort. (Or it would be, if it hadn’t turned so consumerist. Kajsa and I are defying consumerism this year by setting ourselves a limit of 100 kronor for each present we buy. A bit Scroogey, perhaps? ‘Bah humbug’.)
Of course Dickens was a Tory. But then it was virtually only the Tories who resisted ‘Political Economy’ (a.k.a. economic liberalism) in his time. Thatcher would have regarded him as a Conservative ‘Wet’.