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Shadows on the Snow: A Christmas Story

IV. Christmas and Goldfields as a Genre

IV. Christmas and Goldfields as a Genre

Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol contributed to many Christmas traditions in the nineteenth century that are still prevalent today. Christianity was an integral part of Christmas celebrations in England during the time of Dickens and Farjeon; the holiday had "an exclusive claim over English culture" and therefore over "national identity (Persell)." However both authors managed to write Christmas literature that would honour how Christmas brought people together. Farjeon was the first to write fictional literature about the goldfields, and so he used this alongside the Christmas part of the novel to write about a connection between people, their families, and their home. Interestingly, the mention of any form of Christianity surrounding Christmas is scarce in Shadows Dickens and Farjeon were writing new kinds of texts with their Christmas novels; firstly because Christmas literature at the time was rare, and secondly because they diverged away from discussing the religious part of Christmas and appealed more to working-class citizens and the importance of Christmas to these people.

Farjeon began working in the goldfields of Australian and New Zealand around the time that New Zealand experienced a small ‘gold rush.’ During the early 1860’s, there was a discovery of extensive gold deposits in the townships. These frontier settlements were places "where culture took root" rather than being "consumed by hedonism and greed." Libraries were being rapidly set up and supplied reading material after these discoveries. The men digging on the gold fields were often working in small groups in areas that were very isolated. These diggers, along with the "merchants, tradesmen, publicans, professionals, and officials" there as part of the colonisation process, felt the desire to remain connected to the homes they had left behind. Literature in the form of books, periodicals, and newspapers, helped them to feel the connectedness to their homelands (Traue 41). It was a valuable time and place for a writer to be working on the New Zealand goldfields. In the wake of the rush, the townships expanded in terms of settlement. The first newspaper, the Tuapeka Recorder, was established in February 1865, followed by two more newspapers in May 1866 and February 1868 (Traue 41). With the establishment of the goldfields, the parameters of literature expanded and Farjeon became part of this change by writing about the goldfields in Shadows on the Snow.

It is written in the Preface to Shadows on the Snow that Farjeon thought it a shame that Christmas in the Colonies was allowed to pass without any circulating literature discussing the influence of the holiday. Farjeon’s goal in writing Shadows on the Snow - as outlined in the preface - is to create a connection between the residents of the Colonies with their homelands. This stresses the importance of Christmas to someone like Farjeon, who had moved away from his homeland and family, and who could relate to anyone who had moved away to work on the goldfields. Farjeon was the first writer to publish fictional literature about the goldfields. Working on the goldfields is discussed in Part I of Shadows on the Snow when William talks to Laura about his previous wish to work as a gold digger. However, the whole of Part II is dedicated to William’s time on the goldfields. Cornish Tom is telling the other diggers about his past experience working with Cranky Bill. Farjeon uses this to demonstrate the value of stories for the gold diggers. The storytelling is a way for the workers to feel connected as friends and connected to the land. Part II of the novel also brings William together with Laura’s brother. This way of William finding out the truth, that Laura had not betrayed him, is very representative of William feeling linked to England while he is on the other side of the world.