One-Minute Book Reviews

December 18, 2007

Why Does ‘A Christmas Carol’ Work So Well As a Holiday Story? Quote of the Day (Jane Smiley)

Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol — a sentimental novella about the redemption of a miser — could easily have turned to drivel. Why didn’t it? Here’s an answer from the novelist Jane Smiley:

A Christmas Carol, like Martin Chuzzlewit, concerns itself with the social ramifications of selfishness, but the characters of young Martin and old Martin are combined in that of Ebenezer Scrooge, and his moral journey, which takes place in three acts in one night, has the force of a revelation rather than the tedium of a lengthy trek by ox-drawn wagon. Some of the narrative had its origins in one of Dickens’s own vivid dreams, and surely the idea of of using dreams as a structural device had its origins there as well …

“But what makes A Christmas Carol work — what makes it so appealing a novella that William Makepeace Thackeray, Dickens’s most self-conscious literary rival, called it ‘a national benefit’ — is the lightness of Dickens’s touch. Instead of hammering his points home, as he does in Martin Chuzzlewit, he is content (or more content) to let his images speak for themselves.”

Jane Smiley in Charles Dickens: A Penguin Life (Viking/Lipper, $19.95) Smiley’s novels include A Thousand Acres, which won the Pulitzer Prize.

For more on Dickens, visit the site for the Dickens Fellowship, a 105-year-old organization based at the Charles Dickens Museum in London, which has chapters throughout the U.S. and world.

The “Christmas Carol” in the title of Dickens’s novella is “God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen,” which mentioned in the story. To listen to it, click here

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

May 15, 2007

Jane Smiley on ‘the Great American Novel,’ Quote of the Day #25

Filed under: Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 10:22 pm
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Jane Smiley once heard an author complaining to his editor that a critic hadn’t seen his book as a “Great American Novel,” “and those letters were capitalized in their way of talking about it.” Here is Smiley’s reaction to their conversation:

“I would never in a million years even want to be writing the Great American Novel. I would never want to squash all the competition like that. To me the promise of fiction is the promise that everyone gets to speak, that every voice is heard, and we listen to one, and we listen to the other, and we listen to the third, and that’s the glory of being a reader and being a writer.”

Jane Smiley, author of A Thousand Acres and other novels, in an interview with Mickey Pearlman in Listen to Their Voices: Twenty Interviews With Women Who Write (Houghton Mifflin, 1993). Pearlman speaks in book with well-known female writers of fiction, nonfiction and poetry for children and adults, including Lucille Clifton, Gish Jen, Lois Lowry, Sue Miller, Sharon Olds, Grace Paley and Anne Rice.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

Blog at

%d bloggers like this: