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”.
What is a good example of a place in Dickens’s writing where his Christian voice or worldview is clear?
There are so many, and, of course, I attempt to identify them in the book, but when I’m asked that question, I think of Dennis Walder’s comment, “There is no more profound or original expression of the religious aspect of Dickens’s imagination than Little Dorrit.” I am convinced that Walder is right in this. So Little Dorrit is obviously a good place to go to find examples. One that is especially poignant is Amy Dorrit’s word to Mrs. Clennam:
Be guided, only by the healer of the sick, the raiser of the dead, the friend of all who were afflicted and forlorn, the patient Master who shed tears of compassion for our infirmities. We cannot but be right if we put all the rest away, and do everything in remembrance of Him. There is no vengeance and no infliction of suffering in His life, I am sure. There can be no confusion in following Him, and seeking for no other footsteps, I am certain!
That is one of my favorites. But hear Dickens also in a letter to his good friend W. M. de Cerjat:
The Church that is to have its part in the coming time must be a more Christian one, with less arbitrary pretensions and a stronger hold upon the mantle of our Saviour, as He walked and talked upon this earth.
With the recent attention being paid to Great Expectations (with the BBC production that just aired here in the States and the Mike Newell/David Nicholls production scheduled to be in theatres in the fall), I would like to point out one more fine example in that novel in the character of Joe Gargery, the blacksmith. Dickens once wrote that he intentionally created his good characters as those who follow “the teachings of our great Master” and who are “disciples of the Founder of our religion.” Joe is one of those characters. In the novel, Joe is selfless, gracious, and honorable. At one point, Pip prayerfully refers to Joe as “this gentle Christian man.” Joe imitates Jesus but not in an ostentatious or mawkish way. He simply follows the example of Jesus in selflessness and in giving himself away in service to others. It is just this sort of Christian characterization that Dickens does so often and so well.
Significantly, while the BBC production portrayed Joe semi-accurately, this Joe was only a faint reflection of the Dickens character as the novel portrayed him. I have no idea how the theatrical release might portray Joe, and it would surely be unwise to speculate. Yet, all of the recent productions of Dickens’s work have conspicuously omitted the Christian aspect of his work as he originally wrote it. And I guess that just invites us to consider a second time your earlier question on why the Christian aspect of Dickens’s work is neglected.
We will post the rest of this interview over the next two weeks – so keep checking back!