‘The Poor Relation’s Story’ by Charles Dickens

Dickens, Charles 1852

The Poor Relation’s Story by Charles Dickens, 1852

The magic trick:

Illustrating a poverty-stricken man’s dreams of what his life might have been like

We begin December 2016 the same way we did December 2015: with Charles Dickens.

Welcome to the third annual SSMT Christmas Extravaganza. Holiday stories all month long. I know it’s a busy season, but hopefully you can make some time to enjoy some ace Christmas literature. Beginning with…

“The Poor Relation’s Story” relies on a familiar Dickens trope: the sympathetic, poverty-stricken protagonist. Trite perhaps, but dang is it effective. This story goes a step further than most with its emotion manipulation. Rather than simply see the unfortunate man suffer, the reader gets something even sadder: we see the unfortunate man dream. Much like the famous “Little Match Girl” tale, this story forces the reader to consider directly the poverty class by bringing to light the dreams of a poor man, who pretends he is successful and generous and wealthy and comfortable. It’s enough to break your heart. And that’s quite a trick on Dickens’s part.

The selection:

I really do not know, in my Castle, what loneliness is. Some of our children or grandchildren are always about it, and the young voices of my descendants are delightful–O, how delightful!–to me to hear. My dearest and most devoted wife, ever faithful, ever loving, ever helpful and sustaining and consoling, is the priceless blessing of my house; from whom all its other blessings spring. We are rather a musical family, and when Christiana sees me, at any time, a little weary or depressed, she steals to the piano and sings a gentle air she used to sing when we were first betrothed. So weak a man am I, that I cannot bear to hear it from any other source. They played it once, at the Theatre, when I was there with Little Frank; and the child said wondering, “Cousin Michael, whose hot tears are these that have fallen on my hand!”


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