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Father Christmas and Thomas Malthus: Charity, Epistemology, and Political Economy in A Christmas Carol

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This essay examines the interconnection between the epistemological issues raised by A Christmas Carol and the text's often misunderstood charitable agenda. In the end, I conclude, Dickens uses his seemingly innocuous text to reestablish a sentimental link between his middleclass readers and the poor. When placed in a proper historical context, this gesture is shown to be not the conservative, socially normative one ascribed to Dickens by many modern critics, but a much more radical attempt to undermine the authority of political economics as the only available paradigm for charitable work. In short, Dickens rejects, and forces his readers to reject, the narrowly rational, scientific outlook that consigned the poor to workhouses and chooses instead a more emotional, and emotionally satisfying, personal relationship to charity. While this charitable message is quite simple on its surface, the techniques Dickens develops in A Christmas Carol provide the foundation for his subsequent, more highly regarded, works.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: June 1, 2011

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  • Founded in 1970, the centennial anniversary of Dickens's death, DSA has been published since 1980 by AMS Press in cooperation with the Ph.D. program in English of the City University of New York and in association with the Graduate Center, CUNY and Queens College, CUNY. Besides presenting articles exploring the wide range of Dickens''s interests and talents, DSA also includes essays on other mid- and late- nineteenth-century authors and on the history and aesthetics of the period's fiction. In addition, each volume contains a substantial review article examining a prior year's scholarship on Dickens, and DSA occasionally publishes surveys of work on other Victorian writers, as well as review essays considering specialized studies of subjects in Victorian fiction. The editors seek to offer essays of "the most diverse kinds," those employing innovative as well as traditional approaches.
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