God and Charles Dickens

God and Charles Dickens: recovering the Christian voice of a classic author

Gary L. Colledge
Brazos Press (distributed by SPCK), £10.99, Paperback; 202p., ISBN 978-1587433207

Arguing that his ‘Christian voice is conspicuous and pervasive in his work’, the author is convinced that Charles Dickens was a Christian and that his faith underlay all he wrote. He claims that although Dickens did not write overtly Christian novels, he did write for Christians, seeking to divert them from the inward-looking preoccupations of the church and to rouse them to their moral responsibility towards the needs around them.

He acknowledges that thoughts expressed by characters in novels are not necessarily those of the author, but points out that Dickens said that all his good characters reflect at least some of Jesus’ teaching. He counters the view that some of them are over-idealised by arguing that this was deliberate, to show what Christians should be like. On the other hand, some of his less sympathetic characters exhibit a pompous religiosity, not living out the faith they profess.

Extensive reference is also made to Dickens’ non-fiction writings – letters, journalism, speeches and his one overtly theological work The Life of our Lord, written to instruct his children. Many examples are cited of Dickens referring to Jesus as Saviour, along with evidence of his belief in evil, judgment and the need for repentance and new birth.

As regards Dickens’ life, issues surrounding his failed marriage and relationship with the actress Ellen Ternan are given rather short shrift. Of course they do not disqualify him from being a Christian, but might have warranted more than one page of discussion in one hundred and seventy four pages of text.

That aside, the book is well researched and thorough, albeit with some repetitiveness, and I felt that points are rather laboured at times. Those familiar with at least some of Dickens’ work should find it interesting and quite readable. The author also hopes that it will inspire others to read Dickens for the first time, although I wonder whether such people would actually be reading this book. I would advise some knowledge of Dickens’ works first – then read this and see whether you agree with the author’s conclusions. For serious students there is an extensive bibliography which would also be a starting point for further research.

Contributed by: Susan Rugg, BA, DipLib, MCLIP who until recently worked as an Assistant Librarian at the IET Library, London.