Opinion: Dickens' tales offer hope for Christmas during COVID-19

John O'Neill
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“A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens is one of the most familiar stories in literature.  The holiday tale is an annual event for many people, most of whom watch at least one of the many film versions. 

And the huge success of the short novel, since it was written and first published in 1843, has made Dickens synonymous with Christmas.

Alas, Christmas this year is stricken by the pandemic. It's hard to subscribe to the Dickens Christmas under such circumstances, as Christmas was to the great Victorian author a time for families to get together and embrace one another. 

It's hard to subscribe to the Dickens Christmas under such circumstances, as Christmas was to the great Victorian author a time for families to get together and embrace one another, O'Neill writes.

One might find it hard to take much solace in “A Christmas Carol.” But Dickens wrote an abundance of Christmas literature, and one story stands out as a source of optimism.  Dickens wrote “The Haunted Man” in 1848. 

And it is the last of Dickens’ collection titled “The Christmas Books” (the first of which was “A Christmas Carol”).

“The Haunted Man” has parallels to “A Christmas Carol.” It's the story of Redlaw, a solitary bachelor like Scrooge who is haunted on Christmas Eve. But instead of Christmas spirits, Redlaw's specter is himself in the form of a spirit of endless taunt.

Redlaw, a chemistry instructor at the college where he resides, is given the opportunity through the power of his own spirit to purge himself of unpleasant memories. But he soon learns that purging painful memories is also a purge of much of what and whom he has loved. Rather than a gift, the purge is a curse. 

And it's a curse he spreads on contact with others. 

But one person is immune to Redlaw's curse. Milly, the wife of the custodian at the college, is singled out by the spirit as too good to be vulnerable to Redlaw's curse.  When Redlaw pleads with the spirit to reverse this curse, the spirit counsels him to seek out Milly.

Also affecting Redlaw is one of his students who lives in a room in the college town who is seriously ill. Milly goes to the room on a daily basis to render care to the sick student.

And here we come to the source of our own hope during COVID-19. Milly states with encouragement to the student that there is healing in suffering. She also notes that this compromised holiday will make future Christmases seem all the more blessed.

As for the plot of “The Haunted Man,” Redlaw is not able to quite relinquish his curse.  But he is cured of spreading the curse to others.

“The Haunted Man” is by no means the only hope Dickens offers this year's pandemic-ridden holiday. Faith in Christ is a constant theme throughout all of his Christmas literature.

One of the best examples of Christian hope expressed by Dickens is found in his short novel “The Wreck of the Golden Mary.” It is the story of a shipwreck (the Golden Mary hits an iceberg) and the crew and passengers are stranded. Finding little hope, the crew and the passengers resort to reciting the Lord's Prayer.

It is such faith that Dickens would now stress in the face of a Christmas plagued by a virus. 

John O'Neill is an Allen Park freelance writer and a Dickens enthusiast.

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