Friday, September 28, 2012

Gary Colledge’s “God and Charles Dickens”

I love the writings of Charles Dickens. How could I pass up a book with a title like this one?

In writing God and Charles Dickens: Rediscovering the Christian Voice of a Classic Author, Gary Colledge has aimed at restoring an understanding of the Christian faith embedded in the novels and writings of this nineteenth century literary icon. And it’s no easy task.

The matter of Dickens and faith or religion has been buried under more than a century of modernist and post-modernist interpretation, and only recently (a 2009 biography) even addressed with more than a passing reference. There are also the matters of Dickens’s fulminations against the established church and the relationships with both his wife Catharine and actress Ellen Ternan.

Colledge, an adjunct professor at Moody Bible Institute and Walsh University, is the author of the previously published Dickens, Christianity, and “The Life of Our Lord.” He brings considerable knowledge and understanding, not to mention a full reading of Dickens’s works, to his subject, and it is the body of writing by Dickens that Colledge builds his case upon. And I believe he makes his case.

The key writing Colledge draws upon is the gospel story Dickens wrote for his children – and never intended to be published -- The Life of Our Lord. This is what Dickens taught his children, and it is about as orthodox as you’ll find.

But the author goes beyond only this one work, and examines Dickens’s understanding of Jesus, theology, and the church, using letters, public statements, and his novels. Colledge also spends considerable time examining what Dickens would describe as “real Christianity” – the gospel in action in culture and society. If he was nothing else, Dickens was certainly a champion for social justice, both in his fiction and in his life.

Colledge also tackles Dickens’s personal relationships. The story of his marriage is well known – he essentially dismissed his wife who had born so many children and never spoke to her again. He spent some considerable time with actress Ellen Ternan, and in fact was with Ternan when he was involved in the famous Steeplehurst railroad wreck (Dickens discreetly dispatched Ternan and her mother in a carriage back to London while he stayed at the accident scene). Colledge makes no apology for Dickens’s treatment of his wife, and sees it as a serious human flaw and failing. But he doesn’t see it as negating Dickens’s faith.

The author makes his case, and convincingly reclaims the faith of this great author. I checked several biographies of Dickens to see what attention had been paid to faith and religion, and Colledge is correct – it’s been given short shrift.

God and Charles Dickens is a welcome understanding of what Charles Dickens believed, how he practiced his belief, and how it infused his writings.

1 comment:

Chris Yokel said...

Sounds very interesting. I did a college level class on the literature of Dickens when I was in high school, and it was one of those experiences that awakened my love of literature.