Grace in the Arts: Charles Dickens: Cheshire Cat “Christianity” -- By: James A. Townsend

Journal: Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society
Volume: JOTGES 12:2 (Autumn 1999)
Article: Grace in the Arts: Charles Dickens: Cheshire Cat “Christianity”
Author: James A. Townsend

Grace in the Arts:
Charles Dickens: Cheshire Cat “Christianity”

James A. Townsend

Bible Editor
Cook Communications
Elgin, IL

I. Introduction

I doubt that the following trivia piece is included in any Ripley’s Believe It or Not, but my suspicion is that one would be hard pressed ever in the same twenty year period in world history to find three notable names of fame all of which share the same first name and begin the last name with the same first initial. Between 1850 and 1870 flourished three famous Charles D’s—Charles Dickens (the greatest English novelist of his time), Charles Dodgson (alias Lewis Carroll, author of Alice in Wonderland, which may be the best known children’s fantasy of all time), and Charles Darwin (popularizer of evolution). On many circles Darwinism fell like a bombshell. Yet (amazingly) Charles Darwin’s writings of the same period made virtually no impact upon Charles Dickens’s writings.

Harland Nelson reported: “Steven Marcus says forthrightly that of course Dickens was a Christian…”1 The later English writer George Orwell said of Charles Dickens: “he ‘believed’ undoubtedly.”2 The famous Russian novelist Fyodr Dostoevsky spoke of Dickens as a “great Christian” (in Diary of a Writer, vol. I, p. 350).3 But was he? What does the preponderance of evidence show?

It is my contention—mirrored in my article’s subtitle—that Dickens merely had a “Cheshire Cat ‘Christianity’.” The other Charles D. (Charles Dodgson) painted in Alice in Wonderland the pen-portrait of

the Cheshire Cat sitting in a tree—with its famed fade-away Cheshire grin. At times only the cat’s grin could be seen by Alice. The only brand of “Christianity” I believe Charles Dickens really had was that of the hangover, fading remnants of a cultural “Christian” consensus of a Victorian society. With this thesis most literary analysts of Dickens would concur.

II. Literary Laurels

Dickens was dubbed the Great Inimitable. A professor of English literature at the University of Pennsylvania wrote: “The truth is there is no great man of letters in all English literature so wholly sui generis [of his own kind] as Dickens.”4 A Reader’s Digest writer asserted: “Many critics rank [Dickens’s] novels with Shakespeare’s plays as the greatest works of fiction in the English language. He has pr...

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