God and Charles Dickens
Recovering the Christian Voice of a Classic Author
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Though Charles Dickens's writings are now more than 100 years old, many remain in print and are avidly read and studied. Often overlooked--or unknown--are the considerable Christian convictions this author held and displayed in his work.
God and Charles Dickens illuminates a fresh perspective on Dickens by examining Dickens the Christian and showing how Christian beliefs and practices permeate his work. Gary Colledge examines Dickens's novels, letters, and other writings to explore his Christian thought and worldview. Chapters examine Dickens's life and work topically, arguing that Christian faith was front and center in some of what he wrote (such as his children's work The Life of Our Lord) and saliently implicit throughout various other characters and plots. This work, especially timely since 2012 is Dickens's 200th birthday year, will appeal to students of literature. It brings to life the vital faith of an enduringly important and vastly popular writer.
1. That Great Christian Writer
"Colledge has written a serious, bracing, and inspiring book about one of the most underrated great writers in the English language. He shows clearly that Charles Dickens was a splendid example of what John Wesley called an 'experimental Christian,' a man less impressed by official pieties and sanctimonies of religious parties than by the hands-on, practical love of Jesus himself. This book shows clearly the power of the Law of Love at work in Dickens's masterful character portraits, and vindicates the conviction of G. K. Chesterton that even Dickens's 'anti-clericalism' or satire of false piety is, as it was in Chaucer before him, the scandalized ire of a true lover of the Way of the gospel. Dickens upholds a simple imitation of Christ as the remedy for social disorder and victimization, and Colledge convincingly shows how his work critiques a failed Christian practice and admonishes Christians to follow Christ more authentically."
David Lyle Jeffrey, distinguished professor of literature and the humanities, Baylor University
"In his highly readable book, Colledge does what every good critic should: he puts Dickens center stage and allows the author to speak for himself. Colledge helps us clearly hear the challenge Dickens makes to his readers to more closely follow Christ's example of compassion and caring. This book is long overdue."
Devin Brown, professor of English, Asbury University; author of The Christian World of "The Hobbit"
"Tolstoy and Dostoevsky both referred to Dickens as 'that great Christian writer.' Gary Colledge unpacks in great detail what that means in a winsome and convincing treatment that shows exactly how foundational Dickens's Christian faith and practice was to his work and his life. Both accessible and direct, the book is conversant with and informed by ongoing Dickens scholarship without being academic. Colledge argues that Dickens was not a Christian novelist but a novelist who was deeply Christian, and helps the reader understand the difference. Just as Dickens emphasized practical Christianity that responds to the world's needs, so Colledge uses his deep understanding of Dickens to help the church think about its call today."
Daniel Taylor, author of Creating a Spiritual Legacy
"God and Charles Dickens offers new and valuable insight into the expression of Christian faith in the work of Dickens--and does so in an engaging and highly readable style."
Susannah Clements, associate professor and chair of the Department of Language and Literature, Regent University; author of The Vampire Defanged
"Colledge's newest book represents a remarkable advancement in the analysis of Charles Dickens's core religious beliefs. Drawing fully on Dickens's own commentary--in correspondence, essays, speeches, forewords, prayers, The Life of Our Lord, and in fiction when Dickens pauses the plot in order to address readers directly or indirectly--Colledge demonstrates 'that Dickens's faith remained notably settled and consistent throughout his entire life.'. . . Colledge begins with an overview of scholarship on Dickens and religion, which in and of itself reveals the need for the approach taken in this book. Over the years, Dickens has been pronounced variously as nonreligious, antireligious, antagonistic towards Christianity, inconsistent in religious beliefs, consistent in Anglican Broad Church beliefs, and a lifelong Unitarian. Colledge undertakes a methodical and thoughtful examination of the sources of each of these views and makes compelling cases for the erroneousness of each one. . . . Colledge writes in a style that is engaging and instructive for the general reader without sacrificing scholarship. His endnotes are thorough in their citations and additionally explanatory as necessary, with helpful suggestions for further study. Accordingly, this book belongs in every academic library and is an instructive addition to any Dickensian's library."
Robert C. Hanna,
"God and Charles Dickens . . . makes the convincing case that behind each of Dickens's novels is a consistent vision of Christ's ministry of reconciliation. . . . What we are not used to seeing in Dickens is the ample evidence of a Christianity that is neither superficial nor perfunctory. When we read the novels alongside the explicitly Christian passages in the letters and addresses, as Colledge does, we can see consistently that the moral standard by which Dickens's characters are to be measured is Christ. . . . Colledge's book is not the final word on Dickens's Christian voice in the novels, nor will its generally sympathetic treatment of Dickens's mere Christianity please everyone, but it should get several important and necessary conversations going. We should discuss more openly the role in the Christian community of . . . 'the sacredness of fictitious narrative.' We should recognize more fully Dickens's Christian faith at the heart of his social activism, particularly in the context of nineteenth-century religious thought. And we should examine more carefully both the presence and erasure of the Christian dynamic of Dickens's work in popular culture today."
"Colledge's work has been among the most valuable contributions to Dickens scholarship in recent years. His new book . . . focuses on a crucial aspect of Dickens's life and work that has been sadly neglected of late. . . . The resulting book will appeal to and enlighten Dickens readers at all levels, from the casual fan to the serious scholar. . . . Colledge gets right to the point very early in the book: 'The Christian nature of his work is straightforward and conspicuous. And it is no wonder, because Dickens was deliberate and intentional in expressing his Christian convictions in his work.' It's a bold statement, but Colledge spends the rest of God and Charles Dickens backing it up, thoroughly examining what both Dickens himself and those around him had to say about his own faith and its impact on his writing. . . . Colledge makes a very convincing case for the authentic Christianity of [Dickens's] voice--a case that will be difficult for any honest critic to ignore."
Englewood Review of Books
"Gary Colledge's helpful work, published on the 200th anniversary of [Dickens's] birth, urges Christian readers in particular to consider rescuing Dickens from the literary quicksand of the past. . . . Working from Dickens's letters and the best of scholarship, Colledge asserts that the author's Christian faith was so vital that it can still speak to us today. . . . Colledge offers a passionate case, both well-researched and well-written, that we should find much to embrace in Dickens's stories. Dickens is an example of what a lay person dedicated to Christ can accomplish through art, as well as through a life of service well-lived."
Gene C. Fant Jr.,
The Gospel Coalition
"Colledge draws from segments of Charles Dickens's novels, letters, and journals to systematically piece together a portrait of Dickens's religious beliefs. Colledge surveys the broad scope of Dickens's work, looking for nuggets of writing that illuminate the writer's attitude toward Christianity. . . . This is a very readable volume that would be of interest to Dickens scholars, casual readers, or anyone wishing to share or imitate Dickens's genuine Christianity."
"Colledge has aimed at restoring an understanding of the Christian faith embedded in the novels and writings of this nineteenth century literary icon. And it's no easy task. . . . He brings considerable knowledge and understanding, not to mention a full reading of Dickens's works, to his subject, and it is the body of writing by Dickens that Colledge builds his case upon. . . . The author makes his case, and convincingly reclaims the faith of this great author. . . . God and Charles Dickens is a welcome understanding of what Charles Dickens believed, how he practiced his belief, and how it infused his writings."
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