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Shadows on the Snow: A Christmas Story

V. The Influence of Charles Dickens

V. The Influence of Charles Dickens

Shadows on the Snow shows Farjeon to be a fan of Dickens, both in his Christmas sentimentality and in his tendency to imitate Dickens’ writing. As mentioned previously, he dedicated the first run of Shadows Shadows to the British author. He sent a copy to Dickens upon its completion, and in the winter of 1866, a letter in reply was received. Dickens wrote, "I cannot on such evidence (especially when you describe yourself as having written ‘hurriedly’) form any reasonable reliable opinion of your power of writing an acceptable colonial story for All The Year Round".

This letter is the reason that Farjeon left his writing career in Dunedin and continued it in London. Dickens only sent a "mildly encouraging reply," but it was enough – combined with Farjeon’s "impulsive" nature – for him to leave New Zealand suddenly (Sorrell). Farjeon’s daughter, Eleanor, writes that it seemed very much in her father’s character to do this in a heat of excitement (Farjeon 25-6), despite the attempt from his friends and business associates to persuade him not to. Reed writes, "If he had been contemplating a wider field for a literary career, the letter from Dickens, though non-committal, gave him, he thought, the encouragement he needed (Reed 24)." Towards the end of 1867, Farjeon announced his plan to move to London. Through his literary lifestyle there, Farjeon did actually become a "widely known prolific and popular author (Sorrell)".

The impulsive decision that Farjeon makes here is a comparison worth making between him and William Fairfield. Both Farjeon and William Fairfield made impulsive decisions in leaving a country suddenly; New Zealand for Farjeon and England for William Fairfield. Sir George Fenwick even described Farjeon himself as "of the quick, alert, restless type, of rather short stature, with beady black eyes." This was written in a brief memoir about Farjeon (Sorrell). Eleanor Farjeon described her father as "exuberant, impetuous and extravagant. His mood (when it wasn’t irascible) was overflowingly generous (Sorrell)".

A newspaper article from the Oamaru Mail written in 1891 contradicts Shadows being the novel that Dickens wrote in response to. The article claims that Farjeon’s story, "Grif" is the novel that he sent to Dickens, producing comments "saying how highly he appreciated it, and asking him to send his next story, with a promise to read it himself, and not to hand it to any of his assistants for this purpose." The article then writes that Farjeon did not send Dickens another story, and it was this Dickens letter that made Farjeon decide to leave the colony and return to England to devote himself exclusively to the writing of fiction (Oamaru Mail). Records from the Nineteenth-Century in both England and New Zealand are conflicting, but we do know that a letter existed, prompting Farjeon to continue his literary career back in his homeland.

Tinsley refers to Farjeon as "an author who, had he never read a line of Dickens, and relied entirely upon his own undoubted ability as a portrayer of character in fiction, should have become an author of more than ordinary standing. But he saturated his mind so much with Dickens’ matter that the master hand was often visible in the work of the idolizer (Reed 27)." Shadows on the Snow bears a heavy resemblance to Dickens in the context of Dickens’ style of writing, not just the subject matter. His Dedicatory Preface expressing his ardent devotion to "the Great Master of Christmas Literature" proves his intense admiration.

Dickens was the most popular writer in nineteenth-century English literature, and the only one who had written a successful Christmas story. He wrote accurate accounts of poverty and the struggle that people went through during the industrial age in a "society that emphasized worth ethic and money above all else (Grande 44)." Farjeon captures this aspect of Dickens in his own writing of Shadows with the pressure that Stephen Winkworth put on William Fairfield to work in the colonies because he would earn more money by doing so. Stephen says to William, "Besides, what better would a young man have than a pocketful of money, and a new land to go to, where, with but common prudence, he could multiply it by ten in a few years (Farjeon 33)?" Stephen is suggesting that William sells him the farm so he has money before he goes to make more on the goldfields. Stephen’s belief is that this is what would make William successful because, "Had you fulfilled your bargain, you, might have been a happy man (Farjeon 33)".

Dickens and Farjeon both took the idea of human redemption to use in their respective Christmas stories instead of going into the Christian traditions. "By simply focusing on one man’s self-discovery on the path to becoming a better person, Dickens superimposed his secular vision of Christmas on the public (Grande 44)." For Dickens, it was about inspiring hope in what seemed to be his most villainous characters, like Ebenezer Scrooge. The first instance of sympathy from Scrooge comes after the arrival of Marley’s ghost, where Scrooge sees "his longtime friend… weighted down by chains (Grande 45)." The ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future show Scrooge memories and tragedies from his childhood, such as the death of his beloved sister, Fan, which changes Scrooge’s perspective. "The proof of the ongoing transformation of Scrooge is not related to going to church, but the fact that he both learns to bond with his estranged nephew, Fred, and shows great generosity to the Cratchit family (Grande 46)." Scrooge’s journey is one of spirituality.

The focus on money and work ethic during Nineteenth-Century England is a central theme to both novels. For Dickens, this theme is used as a way of redemption for Scrooge. Scrooge values wealth and money greater than almost everything; at the start of the novel he views Christmas as a time when you spent a lot without getting paid. Once the ghosts realign his attitudes, his redemption manifests when he gives money out to the poor. It highlights the unequal distribution of wealth that existed at the time. Dickens is appealing to a working-class audience specifically.

Money is still a common topic in Shadows on the Snow; it is the reason for Cranky Bill’s constant travel to different Colonies in Cornish Tom’s story, and Stephen Winkworth is very eager about the financial benefits of William selling the farm to him to work on the goldfields. Stephen’s redemption then stems from returning William’s farm to him when he arrives back in England. However, William’s redemption comes from the return to his homeland. Farjeon similarly utilizes the theme of money – significant to Nineteenth-Century English – alongside his goal to create a connection between people and their home, to offer up a representation of redemption that imitates Dickens.

An article from the West Coast Times, written in 1866, provides detailed commentary about Shadows on the Snow and the influence that Dickens had on the story. Go to for your information: West Coast Times, West Coast Times, Issue 129, 15 February 1866 https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/WCT18660215.2.11.