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Shadows on the Snow: A Christmas Story

II. The Literature of Farjeon

II. The Literature of Farjeon

Shadows on the Snow was written quite early on in Farjeon’s literary career; it was published in 1865 and was considered to be Farjeon’s "first successful novel (Sorrell)." However, the first of his works was The life and adventures of Christopher Congleton, an unfinished novel that appeared in serial form in the Otago Witness during 1862 and 1863. This novel cannot be given too much credit for his success since it was published anonymously. Shadows on the Snow was next. This novel appeared under his author name of Benjamin Leopold Farjeon as well as Grif: a story of colonial life, which appeared after Shadows in 1866. Both were published by William Hay, simultaneously written and typed up by Farjeon in his Times office, and also illustrated by Nicolas Chevalier, a long-standing friend of the Farjeon family. While Shadows was still popular and contributed to Farjeon’s name, it was actually Grif that made Farjeon known as a novelist. The novel was revised and reprinted multiple times.

Several of Farjeon’s novels were published in Dunedin papers. These were Jessie Trim and At the sign of the silver flagon and a story, ‘Jackass Flat.’ They were published in the newspapers between 1874 and 1880 after Farjeon had already gone back to London.

Shadows was published in Dunedin in 1865 by William Hay. While it can be viewed online, there is a physical copy in Wellington in The Alexander Turnbull Library for viewing in the Reading Room only.

Farjeon’s literary career then continued with his success at writing his own plays that were performed at the Princess Theatre. Three of the most popular performances were satirical burlesques called The Golden Fleece, or the Loves of Jason and Medea from 1864, Faust from 1865, and Guy Fawkes from 1867. Another of Farjeon’s more popular plays was a three-act drama called A Life's Revenge in 1864. It was "set in revolutionary France and loosely based on Wilkie Colins’ story ‘Sister Rose (Sorrell).’" After writing plays, Farjeon continued to write stories. These included other "sentimental" Christmas stories such as Blade-o’-grass (1871); three decker novels (many with working class settings) such as Joshua Marvel (1871) and The Duchess of Rosemary Lane (1876); and "sensational" fiction; Great Porter Square: a mystery (1884) and The Mystery of M. Felix (1890) (Sorrell).

Shadows on the Snow: A Christmas Story was the first novel to be written, printed, bound, and published solely in New Zealand. William Hay, a bookseller in Princes Street in Dunedin, published it and it was sold cloth-bound for 5s and 2s 6d paperbound (Reed 18), "a worthy example of printing in that period" at 129 pages long. Nicholas Chevalier illustrated the novel. He was a young Swiss artist and a son-in-law of Sire David Wilkie. While settled in England, he visited Australia and New Zealand in the 1860s, spent time in Otago, and became friendly with Farjeon (Reed 18). About ten years after the publication of Shadows on the Snow, and eight years after Farjeon’s return to London, the book was republished by Tinsley Brothers in a volume entitled Christmas Stories, which also included Blade-o’-Grass (Reed 26).

Farjeon had a deep admiration for Charles Dickens. The extent of this admiration will be discussed further in this introduction, but it is important to mention now that Farjeon actually dedicated Shadows to Charles Dickens "with feelings of deep respect and admiration, this humble production of a young colonial author." Shadows was sent to Dickens in the hope that it would be accepted for serial publication in his weekly periodical, All The Year Round. It is possible that Farjeon contributed other articles for All The Year Round, but if so, they have not been identified (Reed 21). In Farjeon’s Preface of the novel, he recognizes the lack of literary production in the colonies of New Zealand and others surrounding the influence of Christmas. His goal was to use Shadows as a way of creating a relationship between residents in the Colonies and their homelands.