Was Dickens A Dick?
Updated: Feb 11, 2022
I managed to get through 24 years without ever seeing any version of A Christmas Carol. Of course I always knew the story, but I’d managed to avoid any and all representations of the classic ‘good cripple’, Tiny Tim. But then last year in the run up to Christmas, I saw 4 or 5 different versions of it, including of course the Muppet’s version, a live theatre production and a cartoon spoof. Of course the portrayal of disability in Dickens’ writing is now problematic, and many actively dislike him (and always have to be fair) for using disability as a punishment for being super evil or a reason for other, more valuable characters to pity and them and feel better about themselves.
But I digress.
This is a subject that has actually been investigated a fair amount (shock horror) so what I want to do is share my favourite few stories and articles about Dickens and disability. I thought I’d wait until after Christmas, since we’ve now used up all our festive good cheer and are ready to be bitter and cynical about the world again, unlike in the run up to Christmas where we all love A Christmas Carol and it’s the true meaning of Christmas and hope and we won’t tolerate any digression.
But now it’s January, we’re all ready to be grumpy and angry again, Hoorah!
“A Crippled Christmas Carol” Kate Ansell (2005)
This is an amusing story imagining A Christmas Carol from the perspective of Tiny Tim, who gets visited by the ghost of the pathetic cripples. Hardly academic but good fun nonetheless!
“The Real Reason Charles Dickens Wrote A Christmas Carol” John Broich (2016)
This article tells the story of the writing of A Christmas Carol being a response to a damning report on the state of child labour in the UK. If we were to organise into groups of opinions, that Dickens is either 'still a patronising git’ and 'advanced for his time’ this would go in that second group probably.
“Time to Update Our Notions of Disability and Quit with the Pity and Tiny Tim” Selina Mills (2017)
Touches on Dickens’ habit of revenge disablement, and realistically a habit also belonging to most Victorian writers. Also mentions our friend Jane Seymour Hill (even though they frustratingly don't actually mention her name), who calls out Dickens for staring at her and basing a character on his assumptions about her life, and makes him feel incredibly guilty. Good work sister.
“Stickin’ Up For Dickens” Tom Shakespeare (2006)
I guess someone has to?
Victorian literature and the portrayal of disability (and the symbolism of doing so) has been studied at length by people much more knowledgeable and experienced than me!
Once you've been annoyed by the representation of disabled people in Victorian literature, have a happy new year!