I am not going to go into the whole history of Charles Dickens, but I would like to focus on a few things about him that are interesting. His life was very difficult, although much of it was unknown until much later, it is widely suspected that he spent time in a workhouse. “The blacking-warehouse was the last house on the left-hand side of the way, at old Hungerford Stairs. It was a crazy, tumble-down old house, abutting of course on the river, and overrun with rats. Its wainscoted rooms, and its rotten floors and staircase, and the old grey rats swarming down in the cellars, and the sound of their squeaking and scuffling coming up the stairs at all times, and the dirt and decay of the place, rise visibly before me as if I were there again. The counting-house was on the first floor, looking over the coal-barges and the river. There was a recess in it, in which I was to sit and work. My work was to cover the pots of paste-blacking; first with a piece of oil-paper, and then with a piece of blue paper; to tie them round with a string; and then to clip the paper close and neat, all-round, until it looked as smart as a pot of ointment from an apothecary’s shop. When a certain number of grosses of pots had attained this pitch of perfection, I was to paste on each a printed label and then go on again with more pots. Two or three other boys were kept at similar duty down-stairs on similar wages. One of them came up, in a ragged apron and a paper cap, on the first Monday morning, to show me the trick of using the string and tying the knot. His name was Bob Fagin; and I took the liberty of using his name, long afterward, in Oliver Twist.” It is not known if the blacking warehouse was a workhouse but his father was arrested for debt and there only one real remedy for that.
I find the fact that his childhood inspired him something very close to my own life, I am not at all comparing myself to Dickens, however, I do think that my nature of wanting to transform and fight for human rights was pushed by seeing rights being oppressed and quashed for 18 years of my life, in that I at least relate to the man.
His papers on the poor allowed for the creation of new laws and transformed culture, really it was novels like Oliver Twist and Scrooge that created a jarring view on the society to which the Victorians had created and allowed. Charles Dickens is someone that we can aspire to be, someone to hold in regard as a true philanthropist, an author who created change, and a formidable writer.
Charles Dickens didn’t really ‘invent’ the Victorian Christmas but he certainly helped it along to a great degree. It is from him, that we get a sense of what the landscape and background of a typical Christmas would be, including, most notably the food that would have been used. Roast Goose was more common than Turkey as Turkey’s were not really used until after colonization of the New World, and often the Goose would be stuffed with fruits and nuts, not bread. Using the whole animal was very common, and there are many recipes for ‘offals’ (organ meats) that include the usage of that. Things like shortbreads, plum pudding, and other desserts were definitely a feature in Victorian cooking and would have been very unique per household. Dickens did display what a meager feast (Cratchets) would have been, that it would have been humble and small, likely based on his wages, and this is historically accurate. The poor were often limited to eating what is known as pottage (a pot of whatever you had in your house, cook for a long time on fire, often had lentils or some kind of ‘split pea’) we might know this as Peas Porridge, that would have been typical for poor families to consume and would have probably been at a Christmas dinner. Dickens has become so woven into Christmas that “Dickens describes the holidays as “a good time: a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time: the only time I know of in the long calendar of the year when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely and to think of other people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.” This was what Dickens described for the rest of his life as the “Carol Philosophy”, Charles Dickens’ name had become so synonymous with Christmas that on hearing of his death in 1870 a little costermonger’s girl in London asked, “Mr. Dickens dead? Then will Father Christmas die too?” “https://www.charlesdickenspage.com/charles-dickens-christmas.html
This blog shows the difference between the feasts: http://blog.english-heritage.org.uk/victorian-christmas-turkey/ and you can find on YouTube a fantastic channel on cooking Victorian food using traditional methods here: https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/audley-end-house-and-gardens/things-to-do/mrs-crocombes-recipes/