Mary Danby introduces the enhanced edition of Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol. Read by his great-granddaughter Monica Dickens.
Charles Dickens was my great-great-grandfather. Monica Dickens, the best-selling author of more than 40 novels, was my much-loved aunt.
Monica was magic. To be around her was like wearing X-ray specs, because she helped you to see further into everything that was going on. With her journalist's eye she would point something out, or make a pithy comment or give you a greater understanding of a person. Her world was a colourful one, full of jokes and enthusiasm. Anyone meeting her would feel as though they were the one person she had been waiting to see.
Married to an American, she spent much of her life on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, and it was from there that she founded the first branch of The Samaritans in the USA, which provides, amongst other community services, support groups for those who have lost someone to suicide.
Her great-grandfather was, in his time, the social conscience of the nation. Through his writing, people were made to consider the plight of the poor, the lonely, the social outcasts. A sentimental man, he felt keenly the predicaments of his fictional characters and often wept as he wrote.
Dickens toured Britain and the USA with a series of performances where he gave dramatic readings of his work. He played the parts of all the characters with such gusto that it is said he wore himself out and to some extent brought about his own death at the age of 58.
Christmas was a big event in the Dickens household, and one vital ingredient was Charles Dickens's reading of A Christmas Carol. Every year his children were privileged to hear from the author's mouth the story of how the bitter and stingy Ebenezer Scrooge is shown the error of his ways by the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Yet to Come. Every nuance of description, every intonation of voice became as much a part of their Christmas as the plum pudding.
One of these children was Monica Dickens's grandfather, Henry Fielding Dickens, and when his family gathered for Christmas at his house in Chelsea he would continue the tradition of reading A Christmas Carol to all of them. Of course, he read it just as his father had done, and Monica from a young age could see in her mind's eye the great man himself as the tale of tragedy and redemption unfolded.
In the 1980s, a recording of Monica reading A Christmas Carol was made for a local US radio station and sold in aid of the Cape Cod Samaritans. Charles Dickens's own voice was, of course, never recorded, but his spirit surely shines through this moving audio, and Monica's humanitarian work continues with proceeds to benefit the Samaritan crisis lines.