Title: The Gospel in Dickens: Selections From His Works
Author: Charles Dickens, Gina Dalfonzo
Publisher: Plough Publishing House
My GoodReads Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
As a child, when I read the abridged editions of Charles Dickens’ novels, I had an overwhelming impression of bleakness. It was only when I read the complete novels while pursuing my BA in English Literature that I became aware of the essential faith, the consistent belief in the good and the right, that informed his novels and shone through his writing.
I only managed to read Oliver Twist and A Tale of Two Cities in their entirety. The earnest desire to someday finish reading all his novels remains unfortunately just an earnest desire.
That is why I was glad to read Gina Dalfonzo’s book. I am so happy that she considered Dickens’ work a fit subject for intense study as part of the Gospel In series.
Much of the theme of the book is set in context in the foreword by Karen Swallow Prior where she describes Dickens' compulsions and beliefs against the background of the time and place in which he lived and wrote.
The book quotes liberally from Dickens’ voluminous body of work, including 17 novels and 3 minor works. We are treated to excerpts from Oliver Twist, David Copperfield, A Tale of Two Cities, Great Expectations, A Christmas Carol, Bleak House, Hard Times, and several others. The most iconic characters from his novels, including Ebenezer Scrooge, Sydney Carton (as a child, I was struck by how self-sacrificing he was and how he had been Christ-like in giving up his life in place of another), Miss Havisham and Madame Defarge.
The author divides her book into three sections, Sin and its Victims, Repentance and Grace, and the Righteous Life.
Through large chunks of quoted text, the author draws attention to how each of Dickens’ villains sets out to tell the reader what kind of behaviour and conduct Christians must and must not display in their lives.
No part of any novel is meant for entertainment alone. There is scathing irony and ferocious sarcasm on display as Dickens points out the hypocrisy of the powerful and wealthy.
Religious hypocrisy is called out at every stage, proving just how offensive Dickens found that character trait.
I must commend the author for the painstaking manner in which she has mentioned each noteworthy character in Dickens’ novels, good and bad, alike, and delineated with copious examples why they deserve to be emulated or decried. If you need a push to head back to reading the Dickens novel you abandoned a long time ago, this book might just drive you to it.
But the admiration of Dickens is not blind. As Prior points out in the foreword, for all his larger-than-life world view, as exemplified in his writing, Dickens didn’t often show his best face at home. She points out his many flaws on the domestic front.
The only issue I had with this book was that the formatting in the Kindle made the footnotes hard to read. Also, there should have been some differentiation in terms of font or point size or even style for the portions quoted from Dickens. In the absence of this differentiation, it’s hard to tell where the author’s commentary ends and the quoted text begins.
I am inspired to re-read my copy of A Tale of Two Cities.