Christmas Display at L.A.’s Grier-Musser Museum
It is very easy to regard Christmas as both a time of happiness and a major pain in the ass—all at one and the same time. Below are some excerpts from the letters of Victorian novelist Wilkie Collins (1824-1889):
- “This awful Christmas time! I am using up my cheque-book – and am in daily expectation of fresh demands on it.” to Charles Ward, December 1860-62 (I 286).
- “at this festive season when the Plague of Plum pudding extends its ravages from end to end of the land, and lays the national digestion prostrate at the feet of Christmas…I had planned to give up eating and drinking until the return of Spring …” to Miss Frith, 27 December 1870 (II 226).
- “…are the filthy ‘Christmas festivities’ still an insurmountable obstacle to any proceeding that is not directly connected with the filling of fat bellies, and the exchange of vapid good wishes?” to William Tindell, 29 December 1874 (III 60; B&C II 387).
- “…there are all sorts of impediments – literary and personal – which keep me in England at the most hateful of all English seasons (to me), the season of Cant and Christmas…But for Christmas-time, I should have read it long ago. I have returned to heaps of unanswered letters, bills, payments to pensioners, stupid and hideous Christmas cards, visits to pay – and every other social nuisance that gets in the way of a rational enjoyment of life…There is no news. Everybody is eating and drinking and exchanging conventional compliments of the season. You are well out of it” to Nina Lehmann, 28 December 1877 (III 180; B&C II 409-410).
- “I suppose the dreadful Christmas literature is absorbing Mr Kelly’s printers.” to A P Watt 5 November 1883 (III 434).
- “There is every temptation to die. We have not seen the sun for three weeks, in London – the plague of Christmas Cards is on the increase…Oh, what a miserable world to live in!” to Sebastian Schlesinger, 29 December 1883 (III 452; B&C II 463-465).
- “Your kind and liberal letter reaches me , at the season devoted to prodigious eating and drinking, universal congratulating and holiday-making, and voluminous appearance of tradesmen’s Christmas bills. ‘Business’ is at a standstill, this year, until Monday next” to Perry Mason & Co, 26 December 1884 (IV 74).
- “But there is surely a chance of a change for the better, after the horrors of Christmas are over” To Emily Wynne, 19th December 1885 (IV 139).
- “The horrid Christmas Day is over -. Let me forget it – and heartily wish you a happy New Year.” to A P Watt, 28 December 1885 (IV 140).
- “It is a relief to hear that you have got over Christmas Day, and that you have energy enough to confront (I don’t say to eat) that dreadful composition called plum pudding.” to Emily Wynne, 28 December 1885 (IV 141).
- “I have just discovered a letter of mine dated the 1st of this month – and thanking you for your kind new year’s gifts – huddled away, God knows how, among a mass of Christmas and New years’ cards in my ‘Answered Letters’ basket.” to A P Watt, 5 January 1887 (IV 222).
Despite these feelings Wilkie did keep Christmas. On 18 December 1854 he invited his friend Edward Pigott to his home in Hanover Terrace.
“Don’t talk about having no home to go to – you know you are at home here. Come and eat your Christmas dinner with us – you will find your knife, fork, plate and chair all ready for you. Time six o’clock…Mind you come on Christmas Day.” (I 110; B&C I 129).
I owe the above selections to the Wilkie at Christmas website, which also contains much useful information about this author, whose work I like more the more I read him.