A Midnight Carol: A Novel of How Charles Dickens Saved Christmas

A Midnight Carol: A Novel of How Charles Dickens Saved Christmas

by Patricia K. Davis

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Overview

1843, London. Though the approaching Christmas looks bleak at the home of the Dickens family, Charles and his pregnant wife Catherine try to maintain a good cheer for their four young children. Debts are mounting, food is scarce, and Charles' books—according to his miserly publisher—are no longer selling.

Then Charles has an idea, which comes to him in the ghostly form of Oliver Cromwell, the long-dead, spirit-crushing, Lord Protector of England. A Christmas Carol will be Dickens' most brilliant work yet, both for its mass appeal and underlying political message. But many sinister forces oppose the success of this literary gem; and it is only through faith, kindness and the innate goodness of mankind that A Christmas Carol will become a timeless classic—and that the young writer Charles Dickens will truly save Christmas for all of England...

Find the true story in A Midnight Carol by Patricia K. Davis, sure to become a brand new Christmas classic.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781466883611
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication date: 10/21/2014
Sold by: Macmillan
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 192
Sales rank: 1,218,908
File size: 320 KB

About the Author

Patricia K. Davis was raised the daughter of a rear admiral in the Navy's Civil Engineer Corps, living on both coasts and in Hawaii. During her father's tenure at Pearl Harbor, Davis fell in love with the writings of Charles Dickens. She has worked as a freelance writer for The San Diego Union and as a script analyst for several independent film companies. A Midnight Carol is her first novel.


Patricia K. Davis was raised the daughter of a rear admiral in the Navy's Civil Engineer Corps, living on both coasts and in Hawaii. During her father's tenure at Pearl Harbor, Davis fell in love with the writings of Charles Dickens. She has worked as a freelance writer for The San Diego Union and as a script analyst for several independent film companies. A Midnight Carol is her first novel.

Read an Excerpt

A Midnight Carol

A Novel of How Charles Dickens Saved Christmas


By Patricia K. Davis

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 1999 Patricia K. Davis
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4668-8361-1


CHAPTER 1

There comes a time in many a man's life when, no matter how hard he has worked, how honestly he has labored, how bravely he has tried to defend his beliefs, he ought to consider giving up.

The winter of 1843 was just such a time in the life of one Londoner. With the odds mounting against him, common sense dictated that he turn to and lead a conventional life. His other choice was to stay the course, pushing himself to the very limits of his character and courage, and risk losing everything in pursuit of his goal. Do or die.

And therein lies the tale.

Day by day, darkness came earlier, enveloping the land and the souls who lived upon it. In these northern climes, the long and languid days of summer yielded each fall to fast-approaching night. By December, the sun forsook the sky by late afternoon, taking with it heat and hope. Then cold blew in with its polar breath, hardening the ground — and human hearts — from the icy Orkneys to barren Dartmoor.

Centuries had passed since the reign of Henry II's "merry old" England. Little about Britain was now very merry; dreary was the world. The year 1843 loomed as desolate and colorless a time as the United Kingdom had ever seen. Children felt old and the old felt dead; others were too tired to feel anything at all.

The people of Britain were unsettled, trapped in the shift from the familiar comforts of shire and farm to the hardships of sullen, infested cities. Along the way they had lost their signposts to the past, their sense of connection to tradition and lore. They owned nothing in the present and dared not hope — not these slum dwellers of newly industrialized England — for a future.

Life offered little relief from the bleakness. The privileged few might enjoy festivities, but workers and their families knew nothing of holidays. Long, long before, England had celebrated Christmas with its twelve days and nights of unbridled joy. No more. Christmas was a workday like any other, its merrymaking all but forgotten.

Still, in this fathomless dark, light found its way. Like the life force in a grass shoot boring through brickwork, the spirit of giving would find its path. It would settle into the soul of our beleauguered Londoner and breathe into his being the spirit of Christmas. It would not come easily, this miracle of belief, but summon and tax all his powers.

He lived in what appeared to be a thriving household, One Devonshire Terrace, across from Regent's Park. To some, the house looked haunted, a hulking mass of mismatched stone; to others, it appeared cheery with its front door and railings painted a bright green, the master's favorite color. Green, too, was the square-walled garden, a small oasis in the grimy gray city.

Looking at the house, a visitor would not have guessed that its leaseholder payments were three months overdue.

The guardian of the green door was the family's one-of-a-kind butler, Albert Boodle. Eighty, dyspeptic, bedeviled by bunions, he refused to acknowledge his severe nearsightedness. He was at that moment struggling to set the hands of a grandfather clock for a time zone known only to him.

Like Mrs. Minnie Plimpton, the family's housekeeper and nanny, Boodle hadn't seen wages in roughly six weeks.

Mrs. Plimpton, presently engaged in the kitchen, was bargaining with the milkman for another week's provision, although she had nothing left with which she might barter.

In their upstairs bedrooms and playroom, the household's four children gamboled in clothing that didn't fit, so fast were they outgrowing their garments. None was yet six years old. The youngest was an infant, one was still a toddler.

In the downstairs study, the lady of the household pored over ledgers, struggling to decide what she might pare. Had their budget been a seesaw, the family income would have been suspended high in air, with the family bills bottoming out on the ground.

And she had news for her husband due home shortly from delivering a speech at the Atheneum. She had not been ill that morning, no. The physician had come and told her straightaway that she suffered not from the grippe or any kind of ague but from a condition she had experienced before. Four times before, to be exact.

The young master's health was also rocky. More frequently came the spasms, colic, seizures, headaches, depression, and biting neuralgia that left him abed and envying the dead their peaceable, painless sleep.

He never complained, not about his father, who exploited him at every turn, and not about his mother, who assumed that her son should give his all and expect nothing in return.

Neither did the master of One Devonshire suspect that his publishing ventures were speeding toward collapse. He hadn't a guinea in earnings to expect and didn't even know it. Far from it. He actually thought that his next project would prove a triumph. After all, his previous undertakings had succeeded famously. Being only thirty-one years of age, he could not imagine that his chosen career teetered on the brink of failure.

Throughout the winter of this woeful year, he experienced one reversal after another until that night he stood upon Blackfriars Bridge, stared into the offal-choked Thames, and very nearly hurled into the mucky waterway his top hat and gloves, his high hopes and plans, his will to live, and any real chance that the merry old Christmas of more enchanted times might come once again to his beloved London.

But he did come home, this unsuspecting and hopeful young father named Charles John Huffam Dickens.


* * *

Through the front door of One Devonshire Terrace, Charles bounded, exuding the storm front of energy that gave his personality such a turbulent air. He called out a greeting to his butler, who only sighed in reply. Boodle did manage to retrieve his master's cane, gloves, and hat, though Dickens kept with him a small bouquet of flowers he had bought.

Into the hallway swept the plucky housekeeper, holding in her arms the infant Walter and leading the toddler Katey by the hand. "Oh, Mr. Dickens!" Mrs. Plimpton beamed. Did they like your speech? I bet they did! I bet they was impressed!"

Katey rushed, squealing, right into her father's arms. Dickens swept her up into the air. "Kateydid, Kateydid. How high can you fly?" Katey crowed happily, but the housekeeper scolded. Behind them, Boodle aimed for the cane rack but missed. Dickens's fine walking stick hit the floor and rolled away. Boodle followed it as fast as his rheumatoid limbs would allow.

Terribly pleased with himself, Dickens told his housekeeper, "Well, well, well. It went very well indeed. My audience was quite receptive to my message, even if I did preach to the converted. Book readers are bound to accept more readily what I have to say about education."

Dickens had done more than earn acceptance from his audience. He had in fact enraptured a roomful of swooning ladies who had hung on to his every phrase, enthralled by his theatrical delivery. With his luxuriant waves of dark brown hair and glittering, searchlight eyes, Dickens commanded attention like a lead actor onstage.

As Katey chortled her happiness, two more Dickens children rushed the hallway, running down the staircase and shouting all the way. Charley and Mamie, five and four, adored their father, who spoiled them. "Papa, Papa! You're home. Was the queen there? Did you bring us treats?" The two oldest children jockeyed for position, shoving Katey facedown on all fours.

Dickens quickly mastered the mob scene. "Whoa, wait! One little Dickens at a time! Charley, hands out of your pockets and don't torture your sisters. Mamie, the queen was otherwise engaged. She had an appointment with the King of Hearts." Dickens reveled in these encounters with his children, so fresh from God, he believed. For a man of his times, Dickens held an uncommon attitude, other fathers keeping a cool distance from their offspring.

Mamie giggled while Charley made a rude noise. Behind her father's back, Katey leisurely pulled petals from the cut flowers Dickens held. Boodle wafted back into the hallway, asked absentmindedly, "Shall I tell Mrs. Dickens that you are home, sir?" In the midst of his happy melee, Dickens laughed, "I think she knows that by now! Mrs. Plimpton, is Mrs. Dickens any better?"

The housekeeper wisely muzzled herself. "It would seem so, sir. She says she has something to tell you."

Dickens nodded, then looked at his flowers, a bedraggled, beheaded bunch of stems. He looked at his younger daughter, then back at the flowers.

"She loves me, she loves me not!" he teased.


* * *

In Charley's study, Catherine Dickens sat at an oversized oaken desk. Though cluttered, the room appeared obsessively neat, the lair of an organized though hungry mind. Floor-to-ceiling bookshelves stocked with handsomely bound volumes lined the walls. A window over the desk looked out onto the garden, seasonally bereft of their flowers. Entering with an ebullient "Hullo, Catherine!" Charles found his wife studying their ledgers.

She looked at him with the faint smile of the insecure. In her lilting Scottish burr, Catherine called, "Hullo, Charles."

Dickens walked to his wife and kissed her on the forehead, then brought forth his mutilated bouquet. She laughed as she asked, "He loves me not?" His expression, playful at first, gave his reply, but turned grave upon seeing the accounting books.

Catherine tracked their finances and did a keen job of it. The levelheaded daughter of a hysterical mother, she considered it her job to oversee a family and maintain equilibrium. Always calm in a crisis, her placid nature counterbalanced Charley's, so excitable and haunted by fears. Sometimes her unshakable composure annoyed Charles, forcing him to bury feelings that later found life on the page.

Without prompting, Charles offered, "My royalties are overdue from the publisher. I'll be seeing them on Friday. That's income upon which we can always depend." He knew they were mired in financial quicksand with no one in sight to throw them a rope.

She encouraged him with a brave smile and a soft look from her beautiful blue eyes. It worked. He continued, "Did I tell you about the new book? I know I'll get a large advance on it!" He began roaming about the room, straightening up, turning objects first one way and then another, reorienting a lamp or inspecting silver pieces for tarnish.

Catherine watched him for a moment, then said, "The doctor came this afternoon."

Dickens stopped. His wife's health, yes. "What did he tell you?" he asked.

Catherine looked out onto the garden as she said, "He told me I am with child."

She did not see her stunned husband step involuntarily backward and grab a standing lamp for support. Instead, she saw their nuisance raven flutter onto a branch and, head cocked, stare back at her. A familiar pest, the bird flapped his wings, then settled in for the night.


* * *

After dinner, Dickens retreated to his study. He had found the meal an embarrassment. Catherine and Mrs. Plimpton had so obviously stretched the mutton, serving it with stale bread and moldy potatoes. Dickens had escaped, encamped at his desk, littered now with scrips of blue paper. Doodles, deletions, and numbers disfigured the pages. Sometimes words came to him with enormous difficulty and he wrote slowly and with painstaking care. Other times the words flowed so torrentially that his hand could barely keep pace with his head. Tonight the words did not come.

In blue ink he wrote the name "Chuzzlewig," but lined it through. In succession he dashed off Chubblewig, Chuzzletoe, Chuzzlebog, but deleted them all. Exasperated, he wadded the paper and tossed it away. Next he scribbled Sweezleden, Sweezlebach, Sweezlewag. As he struggled with the scansion of names, he heard the doorbell ring. A muffled but unmistakable voice arrested Dickens altogether. He froze. Footfalls. Boodle knocking, calling through the door, "Sir, it's —"

Ire flashed across Charley's features. Voice raised, he replied, "I know who it is, Boodle!"

In the drawing room, John Dickens sauntered about, appraising with a canny eye the room's plush and polished appointments — luxurious curtains, chairs of rosewood, sofa covered in exquisite silk. Expensive mirrors hung on the walls along with a handful of fine watercolors and oils. The piano, by contrast, seemed a cheap piece, and this drew a sneer from John.

Upon hearing his son enter, John spun around and flashed a Fagin's smile. "Charles!" he exclaimed, and strode across the room, heartily slapping his son on the back. Dickens winced, then gave his father as critical a once-over as his father had given the room. Before him stood a tall man of fading looks for his fifty-seven years, with thinning hair and thickening middle. His weight gain had aged him further so that the stubborn chin now looked like a mastiff's. Once a dashing figure, John Dickens appeared as a ghost of his former self. Charles prayed that he would escape a similar fate.

"What are you doing here, father? We had an arrangement." Charley's steely tone sliced through his father's affected manners.

John pursed his lips. "Oh yes, very kind of you to pay me to leave London. And sheer charity on your part to find me and the missus a cottage and furnish it with salvage." Sarcasm flowed like venom from a cobra — smoothly, sharply, true to his nature. "I just thought I owed myself a visit to One Devonshire. And very nice indeed, dear boy. You do well — for yourself."

Charley quashed his anger. Too many times he had allowed his father to poison his mood and the moment. "Why have you come up to London? I'm working on a new story and haven't the time for parlor games."

John cut him off with a wave of his gloved hand. "Ah, pardon. The Art God is upon you. I should never have intruded."

Charles swallowed, counted to three. "If this is about money, go home. I have no money to give you."

That threw John Dickens off balance. "What are you saying? Impossible! Dismiss your servants! Surely your own father should come before them!"

Charley leveled at him a finger. "You leave Boodle and Mrs. Plimpton out of this. I give you money each month, and if your wastrel ways have —"

John snickered. "'Wastrel ways'? Oh, that's really good, Charley. Very literary. It has assonance, alliteration —"

Charley exploded, shouted in a voice to carry across a theater, "I will Not stand here and endure insults from a liar!"

Eyes narrowed to slits, John hissed, "Me? The liar? Not even your own wife knows the truth about your family! You'll pay for that, Charles Dickens. No matter how you pretend, you're no better than I. And you'll end up where I did, I promise you!"

The door slowly swung open. Catherine, eyes widened in general alarm, stood in the doorframe. John's personality swung instantly from venomous to virtuous. He strode forward, kissed Mrs. Dickens on the forehead. "Dear daughter, how are you this evening?" John ushered her in, smooth as an anaconda wrapping itself about a kid.

Catherine, the perpetual peacemaker, worried, "I heard voices. You sounded angry ..."

John patted her hand. "Oh, I am so sorry. I should not have come to this house on money matters even if dire consequences should befall me and I fail a payment and go to ..." Here John paused dramatically and looked straight at Charley. "Prison!"

"Out, Father, out!" Charley lunged toward his wife to disentangle her from the arms of her in-law. And then it happened, all so swiftly, all so smoothly, that Charley Dickens marveled at his own undoing. There was his father extracting from his wife the offer of money from the clothing allowance while Catherine claimed that such sacrifice brought her joy as all she wanted for her family was peace. Now Catherine was telling Charles to offer John a cigar, or even some cognac, and a nice seat by the fireplace, and would he like to stay?

Dickens, checkmated, could only mutter, "Excuse me, but I have work to do." Then he left the two without a backward glance.

John sighed, shrugged. "Artistic temperament. He was like that as a child."

Catherine looked knowing. "I'm sure you did your best."


(Continues...)

Excerpted from A Midnight Carol by Patricia K. Davis. Copyright © 1999 Patricia K. Davis. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

What People are Saying About This

Richard Lederer

Davis illuminates the dark and brilliant humanity of Charles Dickens—his pervasive anxieties, his love of family, his piston energy, his fabulous imagination—the man who lived a rags-to-riches life more remarkable than any of his stories.
— (Richard Lederer, author of The Miracle of Language and Let Sleeping Dogs Lie)

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Midnight Carol: A Novel of How Charles Dickens Saved Christmas 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
tracyfox on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
8:42 AMA Midnight Carol imagines the circumstances behind Charles Dickens' famed Christmas story. A financially struggling Dickens pins all his hopes on a tale to rekindle the Christmas spirit, only to be taken advantage of by his unscrupulous publisher. Dickens' kindness to several street urchins brings him unlikely allies in the struggle for justice and makes for an entertaining romp through Victorian England's gentrified townhouses and gentlemen's clubs and its gutters and gaming rooms. A fun seasonal read and a great complement to seeing a production of A Christmas Carol.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I bought the book just before Christmas 2001, devoured it joyfully, and added it to my box of prized holiday reading. I just read it again, with even more pleasure this time. I'll read it again next year, and the next. It will be included in my annual plunge into Christmas stories, and stories with Christmas settings; Dickens, Irving, Theroux, John O'Hara's APPOINTMENT IN SAMARRA, and others.
Guest More than 1 year ago
such a wonderful tale as A Christmas Carol to begin with. Whether more fact or fiction, this Midnight Carol is a wonderful addition to that immortal Christmas story. Having picked it up on sale, I began reading with uncertainty as to whether the work had any merit. Two chapters into it, I found myself completely taken by the many feelings and images that the story inspired. It made sense that the author is a script analyst for several film companies. (I would like to see this in film!) The plot was finely woven and the text superb, in the style of Old England, and fresh with clever insights, fitted with excerpts of Dickens own works. It kept me transfixed ¿ to see it through in one evening. As a short story set at Christmastime, like the tale it is about, it is another, moving, holiday treat in the buffet of Christmas splendor!
Guest More than 1 year ago
There are many good ways to spend a snowy Christmas eve, and reading A MIDNIGHT CAROL is not one of them. Patricia Davis' slight novel offers little insight or interest into the life of Charles Dickens, reducing him to a caricature of self-depricating depression. The novel makes it seem as if Dickens would have jumped into the Thames had 'A Christmas Carol' not succeeded in bringing him financial success, instigating broad social change, and restoring Christmas as the most important day on earth. Puh-leeze! All the horrific events in Dickens' life fit together a little too neatly to seem clever in any way, and subplots about an English street urchin and Dickens' contemporaries in London society seem contrived and obvious. The blending of fact in fiction has been better obtained by the wonderful E.L. Doctorow, who far surpasses Davis in writing talent. The worst, however, are the dreamy sequences featuring the ghost of Oliver Cromwell haunting Dickens, in which I felt a hearty guffaw coming on. For kids it's the boogey man, but for Dickens it's the English puritan dictator! SPOOOKY! Don't get me wrong, the book is a great diversion, but not much more. If you really want to feel the Dickensian Christmas spirit, break out ye old copy of A CHRISTMAS CAROL and give it another read. Don't waste your time with silly sidetracks like A MIDNIGHT CAROL.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Reading this remarakable account of Charles Dickens London only serves to remind one and all of the great joy that abides in the original masterpiece. As Dickens accomplished so long ago this striking book vividly brings to life the poverty of ignorance and want that served to shackle both the master as well as the popper. The drama of Dickens own finacial desperation, tied into the the street urchins that harked as if from his very own works was truly a transending event. That lifts this fictional account above the ordinary examination of this Masterpiece to the point were another visit with Scrooge and the Cratchets virtually is required as a follw up to reading 'A Midnight Carol'.