A Christmas Tree And A Wedding by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, 1848
The magic trick:
Manipulating the reader with masterful melodrama and characterizations
So I knew nothing of this story that recommended it for inclusion in our SSMT advent calendar except the title. But I mean, come on, “A Christmas Tree And A Wedding” seems like a pretty strong recommendation, right? Yeah… well, not so much, as it turns out.
This really isn’t a Christmas story at all. It’s a heartbreaking rebuke of the Russian class system of the 19th century. But as it is set at a Christmas party for children, we will go ahead and include it in our December festival anyway.
Published in 1848 as it was, there are certainly links to Dickens and Victor Hugo and their ability to manipulate the reader’s heartstrings in favor of the poor. Dostoyevsky brings two children together – a poor boy and a rich girl – in a classically sympathetic pairing. The scene in which the two cling together in the face of the angry, money-obsessed, pedophilic Julian Mastakovich really is on par with the best of Dickens when it comes to molding the reader’s emotions at will. As readers, we know full well what the author is up to. We know what this situation is obviously supposed to inspire in us. But the characters and the drama are so strong, we throw down our defenses and happily surrender to the author’s agenda. And that’s quite a trick on Dostoyevsky’s part.
Saying which, Julian Mastakovich was seized with a paroxysm of agitation. He looked round and said in a tone faint, almost inaudible with excitement and impatience:
“If I come to visit your parents will you love me, my dear?”
He tried to kiss the sweet little creature, but the red-haired boy saw that she was on the verge of tears, and he caught her hand and sobbed out loud in sympathy. That enraged the man.
“Go away! Go away! Go back to the other room, to your playmates.”
“I don’t want him to. I don’t want him to! You go away!” cried the girl. “Let him alone! Let him alone!” She was almost weeping.