Drudge Retort: The Other Side of the News
Wednesday, February 28, 2018

But A Christmas Carol's seemingly timeless transcendence hides the fact that it was very much the product of a particular moment in history, its author meaning to weigh in on specific issues of the day. Dickens first conceived of his project as a pamphlet, which he planned on calling, "An Appeal to the People of England on behalf of the Poor Man's Child."

But in less than a week of thinking about it, he decided instead to embody his arguments in a story, with a main character of pitiable depth.

So what might have been a polemic to harangue, instead became a story for which audiences hungered.

Dickens set out to write his pamphlet-turned-book in spring 1843, having just read government report on child labor in the United Kingdom.

The report took the form of a compilation of interviews with children -- compiled by a journalist friend of Dickens -- that detailed their crushing labors.




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This new, brutal reality of child labor was the result of revolutionary changes in British society. The population of England had grown 64% between Dickens' birth in 1812 and the year of the child labor report.

More and more, employers thought of their workers as tools as interchangeable as any nail or gluepot. Workers were becoming like commodities: not individual humans, but mere resources, their value measured to the ha-penny by how many nails they could hammer in an hour.

But in a time of dearth -- the 1840s earned the nickname "The Hungry ‘40s" -- the poor took what work they could arrange. And who worked for the lowest wages?


Popular theories about how -- or whether -- to help the poor often made things worse. The first was the widespread sense that poor people tended to be so because they were lazy and immoral, and that helping them would only encourage their malingering.

If they were to be helped, it should be under conditions so awful as to discouraged people from seeking that help. The new workhouses were seen as the perfect solution -- where families were split up, food was minimal and work painful.

"Those who are badly off," says the unreformed Scrooge, "must go there."


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"If Dickens found these solutions cruel, what did he offer?

Friedrich Engels read the same report on child labor that Dickens did and, with his collaborator Karl Marx, envisioned an eventual revolution. Dickens was very much an anti-revolutionary. In fact, he implied that revolutionary was the fearsome consequence of not solving the problem some other way.

Thomas Paine, in the foregoing generation, had argued in Rights of Man for a kind of system of welfare, including tax credits for help raising children, old age pensions and national disability insurance. But Dickens wasn't a "systems" thinker, nor was he proto-socialist.

Yet what Dickens did propose in A Christmas Carol, which he scribbled out in less than two months in the fall of 1843 -- intending it, in his words, as a "sledge hammer" blow -- was still radical, in that it rejected the "modern" ideas about work and the economy.

What he wrote was that employers are responsible for the well-being of their employees. Their workers are not of value only to the extent to which they contribute to a product for the cheapest possible labor cost.

They are of value as "fellow-passengers to the grave," in the words of Scrooge's nephew, "and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys." Employers owe their employees as human beings -- no better, but no worse, than themselves.

In other words, Dickens reminded his 19th-century readers -- and today's -- not to mistake their good fortune of landing in a high place for their worth."


It seems we are always having to re-learn this lesson. Today we have those who worship the "values" of Ayn Rand; what the Apostle Paul called the sin of, "selfish ambition". Which is right up there with murder and "fornication", lol, as problems that he said were easily observable, but you won't hear the
modern rwinger worrying about one of those three.

#1 | Posted by Corky at 2018-02-28 12:15 AM | Reply

There's a pretty good, if not great, movie I just saw called 'The Man Who Invented Christmas', which is how I came across the thread article.


#2 | Posted by Corky at 2018-02-28 12:20 AM | Reply

"not to mistake their good fortune of landing in a high place for their worth".

This is one of the lessons I have stressed with my children. Having traveled to India, China, Brazil, Argentina, The Philippines, etc.

Do not underestimate how fortunate you are to have been born in the United States of America.

Do not take this for granted. Do not feel like you are put upon or fall for the falsehood that you are somehow disadvantaged. You have it better than a great portion of the world.

Not because of anything you have done. Simply because of where you were born.

Work hard and take advantage of the opportunities you have because you were born in the United States of America.

#3 | Posted by sawdust at 2018-02-28 07:40 AM | Reply | Newsworthy 1

- Not because of anything you have done. Simply because of where you were born.

Same is true within the US... just so you don't miss the point entirely.

#4 | Posted by Corky at 2018-02-28 01:41 PM | Reply

People like Trump and his Deplorables are exactly why Dickens wrote this story.

#5 | Posted by donnerboy at 2018-02-28 06:15 PM | Reply | Newsworthy 1

I suppose the basis for the article was a Dickens interview. I am sure donnie talked to Dickens also.

#6 | Posted by Sniper at 2018-03-01 09:01 AM | Reply

"I am sure donnie talked to Dickens also."

No, but Trump did ask Fredrick Douglas to act as a courier and deliver him a message.

#7 | Posted by Gal_Tuesday at 2018-03-01 09:32 AM | Reply

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