We recently got the chance to talk with Gary L. Colledge about his new Brazos book God and Charles Dickens: Recovering the Christian Voice of a Class Author.
Gary teaches at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago and at Walsh University in Canton, Ohio, and is the author of Dickens, Christianity, and “The Life of Our Lord”.
In part 2, Gary responds to the lack of attention that is given to Charles Dicken’s Christian faith.
Charles Dickens is not always thought of as a “Christian” writer, yet—as you point out in your book—his Christian faith and worldview undergird all of his writing. Why do you think this aspect of Dickens is often overlooked or neglected?
The fact that the Christian aspect of Dickens’s work is regularly overlooked is a puzzle to me. Dickens’s Christian voice is forthright and clear in his work. He doesn’t veil his Christian expression in symbolic language or an occasional cryptic passage. In fact, it seems to me that even the casual reader of Dickens would find it hard to miss the overt and pervasive expression of his Christian thought and ideas.
Having said that, however, I think there may be a handful of interrelated explanations for this curious gap in Dickens studies. First, as I note in the book, some of the influential early-twentieth-century Dickens scholars dismissed Dickens’s expressed religious thought as superficial and irrelevant. And even though there were contemporaneous challenges to this sort of critique, this dismissive criticism won out, carried the day, and continues to have a residual influence today. Second, there are current Dickens scholars who would explain the religious content in Dickens as mere moralism or nontraditional religious thought in the nineteenth century and thereby eviscerate his work of any Christian element. Third, I suspect there are other scholars today who believe this area of Dickens studies is just not important. Add to all of this the negative interpretation of Dickens’s caricatures of self-righteous religionists and parodies of distorted religion, and the sum is an view of Dickens as dismissive of religion at best.
In any event, the Christian aspect of Dickens’s work has not received the attention it deserves until relatively recently. In the 1960s, Philip Collins and Noel Peyrouten both wrote seminal pieces on Dickens’s The Life of Our Lord and so dealt with Dickens’s religion; in the 1970s, Alexander Welsh’s The City of Dickens (Clarendon) took the religious aspect of Dickens’s work seriously; in the 1980s, both Andrew Sanders (Charles Dickens: Resurrectionist, Macmillan) and Dennis Walder (Dickens and Religion, George, Allen & Unwin) wrote definitive single volumes on Dickens’s religion; and most recently, Carolyn W. de la L. Oulton’s Literature and Religion in Mid-Victorian England: From Dickens to Eliot is notable for its treatment of Dickens’s religion. My contribution in God and Charles Dickens, I hope, has been to bring into focus the centrality of Jesus and the specifically Christian content in the Dickens corpus.
We will post the rest of this interview over the next two weeks – so keep checking back!