Irene Adler Program

Come learn about “The Woman” that was a match for the world’s greatest detective. 

Adler Program


Award-Winning Storyteller, Charlotte Blake Alston

Telling Stories at the Moline Public Library

charlotte blake alston storyteller

What Would Charles Dickens Think About Christmas Today?

Christmas Carol

Christopher Plummer and Dan Stevens in The Man Who Invented Christmas (2017)/Photo by Kerry Brown © Garlands Films DAC

Having written a number of books that do their best to re-create the personae of some of history’s larger-than-life figures – George Washington, Andrew Carnegie, and William Mulholland among them – I am often asked to speculate on how these giants might behave if thrust into a contemporary setting. It is always pure fancy, wondering if Carnegie might have sound business advice for Donald Trump, for instance, but then again the very reason for examining history in the first place is that we just might learn something from a considered look in the rear-view mirror.

I was asked recently to theorize about what Charles Dickens might think of what Christmas has become today, given the reach of his slender but ubiquitous novel of 1843, A Christmas Carol. That oft-mimicked book has been referred to as the one most widely read, after the Holy Bible, and is inarguably the novel most often adapted into film and stage play. It is hard to imagine Christmas without a reference to Scrooge or Tiny Tim, and the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future are surely the most widely known literary spirits outside of Shakespeare.

Quite frankly, I suspect Dickens would be appalled at the neo-bacchanalian overtones that now color the two-month-long “Christmas season.” He lived long enough to witness the profound effect of his “little book” upon what was a second-tier holiday at the time of its printing, but even at the time of his passing in 1870, there was nothing like the frenzy of advertising and emphasis on gift-giving, dress-up, and party-going that begins in the United States on November 1, give or take. While Dickens was a great holiday booster and eager celebrant in his own right, his intent in writing A Christmas Carol had almost nothing to do with the practice of gift giving; the novel is, at its heart, all about the possibility of spiritual redemption. Dickens’s “experiment,” if you will, was to examine the circumstances under which the most hardhearted individual might be forced into a plausible shifting of shape.

There are very few references to gift-giving in A Christmas Carol. Of course a revivified Scrooge sends a prize turkey to the Cratchit family and promises clerk Bob a raise, and there is a moment during one of the spirit visits where a father arrives on Christmas Eve with presents for the household’s children, but the unrelenting business of the novel is the search for the key to Scrooge’s heart and a change in his behavior toward others.

With all this in mind, one might wonder if Dickens would change anything about his classic in order that it speak more forcefully to the modern world. I suspect that Dickens would probably want to try, for even in his own day he was convinced that he could outdo Carol – and, in fact, wrote four follow-up Christmas tales, none of which are widely known today. While his themes remain basically intact, he was never able to replicate a character as captivating as Scrooge, nor a plot as focused, inventive, and convincing.

Few writers labor under the misconception that their works have the power to “change the world,” and I doubt that Dickens would find himself at fault for the fact that Ignorance and Want (touchingly portrayed by waifs in A Christmas Carol) have not yet been stamped out in our twenty-first century. But I do think that he would be highly gratified to discover that his book has not only survived but, for all intents and purposes, become the secular counterpart to the story upon which the very concept of Christmas is based.

That the book endures so powerfully one-hundred-seventy-five years after its writing is proof of Dickens’s success. Even in a coldly rational modern world that has witnessed atrocities unimaginable in Dickens’s day, families gather annually to read or to watch A Christmas Carol and are inevitably persuaded that it is possible for the human heart to prevail, for charity to contradict greed, that love connects us all, and that such connection can triumph even over death. Whole philosophies and systems of religion endeavor to achieve as much.

Editor’s Note:

Les Standiford is the author of the critically acclaimed Last Train to Paradise, Meet You in Hell, Washington BurningThe Man Who Invented Christmas, and more. Recipient of the Frank O’Connor Award for Short Fiction, he is Founding Director of the Creative Writing Program at Florida International University in Miami. Here, he shares his thoughts on how Charles Dickens would view today’s Christmas.

Passport to the Future: 11 Education Quotes to Inspire Endless Learning


Photo © Shutterstock

Who doesn’t love a good quote? For more like this, check out our quotations archive.

You think you’re having a rough time processing this year’s events? Think about all the teachers out there who’ve been called back into duty this fall, tasked with keeping our nation’s youth on track amid all this craziness.

How does one even begin to broach subjects like history or social studies in a world that’s currently at war over which version of history will prevail? Now’s the time to reach out to the educators you know — including the ones who taught you, once upon a time — and find out what kind of support they might need in the months to come. (If nothing else, send wine!)

In the meantime, here are a few education quotes to remind us what constitutes proper learning, in hopes that even those civilians among us will recognize opportunities to keep growing and evolving, and help others do the same.

Muriel Spark, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, 1961
“The word “education” comes from the root e from ex, out, and duco, I lead. It means a leading out. To me education is a leading out of what is already there in the pupil’s soul.”

Audre Lorde, “An Interview: Audre Lorde and Adrienne Rich,” 1981
“The learning process is something you can incite, literally incite, like a riot.”

C.S. Lewis, “Men Without Chests,” 1943
“The task of the modern educator is not to cut down jungles, but to irrigate deserts.”

Virginia Woolf, Monday or Tuesday, 1921
“Once she knows how to read there’s only one thing you can teach her to believe in and that is herself.”

Jim Henson, It’s Not Easy Being Green: And Other Things to Consider, 2005
“[Kids] don’t remember what you try to teach them. They remember what you are.”

Malcolm X, speaking to Organization of Afro-American Unity, 1964
“Education is our passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to the people who prepare for it today.”

Doris Lessing, The Golden Notebook, 1962
“Ideally, what should be said to every child, repeatedly, throughout his or her school life is something like this: ‘You are in the process of being indoctrinated. We have not yet evolved a system of education that is not a system of indoctrination. We are sorry, but it is the best we can do. What you are being taught here is an amalgam of current prejudice and the choices of this particular culture. The slightest look at history will show how impermanent these must be. You are being taught by people who have been able to accommodate themselves to a regime of thought laid down by their predecessors. It is a self-perpetuating system. Those of you who are more robust and individual than others will be encouraged to leave and find ways of educating yourself — educating your own judgements. Those that stay must remember, always, and all the time, that they are being moulded and patterned to fit into the narrow and particular needs of this particular society.”

Neil deGrasse Tyson, 2010 interview
“We spend the first year of a child’s life teaching it to walk and talk and the rest of its life to shut up and sit down. There’s something wrong there.”

James Baldwin, “A Talk to Teachers,” 1963
“One of the paradoxes of education was that precisely at the point when you begin to develop a conscience, you must find yourself at war with your society. It is your responsibility to change society if you think of yourself as an educated person.”

Agatha Christie, An Autobiography, 1977
“I suppose it is because nearly all children go to school nowadays and have things arranged for them that they seem so forlornly unable to produce their own ideas.”

Victor Hugo, Les Misérables, 1862
“Teach the ignorant as much as you can; society is culpable in not providing a free education for all and it must answer for the night which it produces. If the soul is left in darkness sins will be committed. The guilty one is not he who commits the sin, but he who causes the darkness.”