People forget that when A Christmas Carol was written, Charles Dickens was aiming for the heart of England, insisting that the poor in England had rights and dignity and deserved to have food to eat and joy in their lives beyond working 12 hours days in the factories. Scrooge was not the lovable miser (does that make sense?) of Disney’s Duck Tales. No, people like Scrooge were what was wrong with the human condition as it existed in England. And Dickens was not the only person writing from this perspective: Thackery took on the rich and the Brontë sisters were feminists who portrayed the suffering of abused children in their books. In America, meanwhile, Mark Twain was the one who coined the term the late nineteenth century is remembered for in the United States, the “Gilded Age,” implying that things glittered like gold on top but were cast iron underneath.
In my work, I try to create my own vision of not just the “human condition” but America’s place in the world. I do write about American characters–though outside of Faust in Love little of my “American work” has been published yet–but I hope that when Tales of the Land of the Firebird Part I comes out, it will really change not just American hearts and minds, but perhaps Russian ones. I know it sounds ridiculous–I don’t speak more than two words of Russian (“da” and “nyet”), but I want to believe our great adversary can become our great friend in a way which is not based on dishonesty the way Putin’s and Trump’s relationship is. I want to believe that Russia can learn democracy, more that it will discover in its own culture roots, the words,
Thus He will judge among the many peoples,
And arbitrate for the multitude of nations,
And they shall beat their swords into ploughshares
And their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation shall not take up
Sword against nation;
They shall never again know war…
I believe despite appearances, Russians are a deeply spiritual people, and that Americans are, too. It is the despotism of their government that has made Russia a pariah at the moment, and the bad judgment of Americans in electing George W. Bush and Donald Trump reveals a lingering sickness that needs to be purged. America can once more lead the world with dignity and compassion–the way in which America did after World War II, when it rebuilt Europe and Japan, the way it was moved during the Civil Rights era to try to right the legal wrongs done to African Americans and other minorities.
I admit that Charles Dickens, though my favorite writer, was not a big fan of the United States when he was here. However, in his own home country, he did something unusual that the Right and the Left in America need to learn: he criticized the upper crust’s bad behavior out of love and not out of hate. He spoke of the impoverished classes’ suffering, but he also described the love of Bob Cratchit for his son Tiny Tim. Even at his most searing criticism, he never failed to portray people who were good. In Great Expectations, Pip’s corrupt snobbery is contrasted with his Uncle Joe. More, Pip is ultimately redeemed, in the act of trying to help Mrs. Havisham, who never did him a bit of good, we see the real Pip. And that is why people still read Dickens. It is his love that convinces people that his social vision is still relevant today.
In a small way, for a while I did something Dickens did, and I felt his presence in my heart as I did it. Dickens as an author did all kinds of charitable work. Never mind that he may not have had the skills of the modern social worker. The fact that he would spend hours at it proves his commitment to the poor. Anyway, without meaning to brag–what I did was not that impressive–I worked at a mental health club and later a recycling center for free. I really believe that my work, in a small way, was for the betterment of society. A person should always remember: every little bit helps. If you can dedicate one night to feeding the homeless shelter in your hometown, or one check to Doctors Without Borders or UNICEF or World Wildlife Fund, then you are doing God’s work.
Unlike Dickens (of whom Thackery said, ‘To read of a day in the life of Dickens is exhausting’) I lack the energy to continue on my work at Breakthrough today… however, I am grateful that God gave me the work, because I believe it was God who made it possible for me to work there. And I fully believe people should look for the opportunities to do good in the way Dickens describes the reformed Scrooge as doing.