Monday, December 4, 2017

K.A.C. 2017 - T - 21 ...

     To arms, to arms, K.A.C. devotees, as we engage today in 'The Battle of Life (A Love Story)', the fourth (of five) of Charles Dickens' annual Christmas tales, originally published in 1846. It is both the shortest and the least 'Christmas'-y of the lot. In fact, it only has one scene in the entire novella set at Christmas!

     It is a tale of a love not recognized as such by one of the two people in love (or more properly, who SHOULD be in love) and the extraordinary lengths one sister goes through to ensure the proper love happens for the other. Reading more like a Shakespearean romantic farce than any of his previous works, Dickens' plot does some incredible literary gymnastics to get his characters where they need to be by the end.

     Wikipedia gives a much better accounting of the plot than I'm able to, so let's turn it over to them:
     "Two sisters, Grace and Marion, live happily in an English village with their two servants, Clemency Newcome and Ben Britain, and their good-natured widower father Dr Jeddler. Dr Jeddler is a man whose philosophy is to treat life as a farce. Marion, the younger sister, is betrothed to Alfred Heathfield, Jeddler's ward who is leaving the village to complete his studies. He entrusts Marion to Grace's care and makes a promise to return to win Marion's hand.

Michael Warden, a libertine who is about to leave the country, is thought by the barristers Snitchey and Craggs to be about to seduce the younger sister into an elopement. Clemency spies Marion one night in her clandestine rendezvous with Warden. On the day that Alfred is to return, however, it is discovered that Marion has run off. Her supposed elopement causes much grief to both her father and her sister.

     Six years pass. Clemency is now married to Britain and the two have set up a tavern in the village. After nursing heartbreak, Alfred marries Grace instead of Marion and she bears him a daughter, also called Marion. On the birthday of Marion, Grace confides to Alfred that Marion has made a promise to explain her so-called "elopement" in person. Marion indeed appears that evening by sunset and explains her disappearance to the parties involved. It turns out that Marion has not "eloped" but has instead been living at her aunt Martha's place so as to allow Alfred to fall in love with Grace. Tears are shed and happiness and forgiveness reign as the missing sister is reunited with the rest. Warden also returns, and, forgiven by Dr Jeddler, marries Marion."

     The Battle of Life is also notable among the Christmas Books as being the only one of the five with no supernatural involvement whatsoever. I don't know if it is because of this or just that it was not what audiences were expecting from Dickens during the holiday season, but it is considered the least (and least liked) of the five books.

     My favorite characters in this novella are, surprisingly, none of the main characters (who I actually find all rather hard to relate to). Instead, they are the comedy relief servants, Clemency and Ben, who have a good-natured teasing banter back and forth through the book. It's strange to say, as the main plot is about the nature of mistaken love and what has to happen for it to blossom as it is meant to, but the dialogue between the two servants over time has a much more natural progression to it than that of the main characters and you're glad to see they finally come together as husband and wife in the final part of the story.  

     I'll give the final word here to the author himself, who ends the tale thus: 

      "TIME - from whom I had the latter portion of this story, and with whom I have the pleasure of a personal acquaintance of some five-and-thirty years' duration - informed me, leaning easily upon his scythe, that Michael Warden never went away again, and never sold his house, but opened it afresh, maintained a golden means of hospitality, and had a wife, the pride and honour of that countryside, whose name was Marion. But, as I have observed that Time confuses facts occasionally, I hardly know what weight to give to his authority."


     Coming Tomorrow: The final 'Christmas Books' tale, and a chilling one at that, The Haunted Man and The Ghost's Bargain - don't miss it!

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