The Gospel in Dickens

Selections from His Works

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Pub Date 22 Sep 2020 | Archive Date 19 Nov 2020

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Wish you had time to re-read and enjoy that daunting stack of Charles Dickens novels?

Take heart: Dickens enthusiast Gina Dalfonzo
has done the heavy lifting for you. In short, readable excerpts she presents the essence of the great novelist’s prodigious output, teasing out dozens of the most memorable scenes to reveal the Christian vision and values that suffuse all his work.

Dickens can certainly entertain, but his legacy endures because of his power to stir consciences with the humanity of his characters and their predicaments. While he could be ruthless in his characterization of greed, injustice, and religious hypocrisy, again and again the hope of redemption shines through.

In spite of – or perhaps because of – his own failings, Dickens never stopped exploring the themes of sin, guilt, repentance, redemption, and restoration found in the gospel. In some passages the Christian elements are explicit, in others implicit, but, as Dickens himself said, they all reflect his understanding of and reverence for the gospel.

The Gospel in Dickens includes selections from Oliver Twist, David Copperfield, A Tale of Two Cities, Great Expectations, A Christmas Carol, Nicholas Nickleby, The Old Curiosity Shop, Martin Chuzzlewit, Dombey and Son, Bleak House, Hard Times, Little Dorrit, Our Mutual Friend, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, and Sketches by Boz – with a cast of unforgettable characters such as Ebenezer Scrooge, Sydney Carton, Jenny Wren, Fagin, Pip, Joe Gargery, Mr. Bumble, Miss Havisham, Betsey Trotwood, and Madame Defarge.
Wish you had time to re-read and enjoy that daunting stack of Charles Dickens novels?

Take heart: Dickens enthusiast Gina Dalfonzo
has done the heavy lifting for you. In short, readable excerpts she...

Advance Praise

In her The Gospel in Dickens, Gina Dalfonzo has given us a marvelous glimpse into the mind and soul of Charles Dickens. Smartly conceived and engagingly written, this volume follows Dickens’s Christian thought through his oeuvre like no other book available. Dalfonzo’s observations and assessments of the varied selections, based on her careful contextual reading, are astute and right on target – because she has a great sense of how Dickens thought, especially about his faith and how his faith came to bear on his life. Whether you’ve walked with Dickens for some time or you are just beginning to get to know him, you will want to own this delightful volume.
—Gary Colledge, PhD, author of God and Charles Dickens and Dickens, Christianity and The Life of Our Lord

Though students of Dickens continue to debate whether he was a Christian, no one can debate that he relies upon Jesus Christ as the standard for humanity. Less an evangelist than a prophet, Dickens painted word pictures of common behavior with which the Victorian world would have been familiar to portray what it means to fall short of the glory of God. As these passages from his many novels make clear, Dickens never confused social and financial respectability with faithfulness to Christ. These passages reveal how closely Dickens had read the Gospels.
—Dr. Harry Lee Poe, Charles Colson Professor of Faith and Culture, Union University

In her The Gospel in Dickens, Gina Dalfonzo has given us a marvelous glimpse into the mind and soul of Charles Dickens. Smartly conceived and engagingly written, this volume follows Dickens’s...

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Featured Reviews

A copy of this book was provided to me through NetGalley via Plough publishing for review. Thank you!

I was never made to read Charles Dickens in school, which I feel was a huge slight against my education. I took it upon myself to read many great classics after graduation from High School, a friend and I would get together to discuss those books each month. It was quite an enjoyable time.

This is a collection of excerpts from many works of Dickens, including notes on those scenes. My only issue is that the kindle formatting is off, and so it becomes somewhat difficult to read where there's headers and page-numbers interjecting between paragraphs or sometimes in the middle of them.

Overall, if you're a fan of, or wish to look into the works of, Charles Dickens, this is a good book to pick up to cut your teeth on.

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I know before reading the title page of this book that I would love it. Who doesn't love Dickens? The language, the style of writing, his characters? Every single detail is exquisite and we know that already but here Gina Dalfonzo scrutinised Dickens' great works and selected for us, the best passages that resonate most closely with us, the modern day reader. I really loved this, I loved Dalfonzo's selections and I know that I will return to this collection many many more times in the future.

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Dalfonzo digs into not just Dickens' best-known work, but also his minor works (including a posthumously published book titled The Life of Our Lord and several letters he wrote) to show the Biblical themes that he was so passionate about. In doing so, she does a great job of showing how Christianity was something that Dickens didn't just intellectually assent to, it was something which moved him deeply and bled into his work.

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I have to start by saying that I was never a fan of Charles Dickens. He was always too verbose for my taste. But this book intrigued me, so I thought I’d give it a try. I’m so glad I did. Gina Dalfonzo has given me a whole new take on Dickens’ work. Through various excerpts from his novels, stories and letters, Ms. Dalfonzo shows us a writer who wasn’t just cranking out wordy tomes, but a thoughtful, though flawed, man of faith whose characters act as parables for themes of forgiveness, sacrifice and redemption. Ms. Dalfonzo gives us enough background information to place the story, but she lets Dickens’ works speak for themselves. I have to admit, The Gospel in Dickens makes me want to go back and read all those “extremely wordy” books I’ve ignored over the years.
I received a free e-copy of this book from NetGalley in return for a fair and honest review.

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Summary: A collection of excerpts from the works of Charles Dickens showing the Christian gospel themes evident throughout these works.

Many who have read or are familiar the stories and life of Dickens might think him hostile to religious faith. His personal life was not always exemplary, particular his relations with his wife, with whom he separated to pursue his affair with actress Ellen Ternan. Often his portrayals of religious figures are sharply barbed as with Mr. Bumble the beadle in Oliver Twist. In this book, Gina Dalfonzo proposes that what Dickens despised was not Christian faith, but the hypocrisy of some of its leading figures.

Like other books in Plough's "The Gospel in..." series, this consists of excerpts of a number of his major works organized around three main themes: Sin and Its Victims, Repentance and Grace, and The Righteous Life. Dalfonzo offers an introduction to the work of Dickens seen from a Christian perspective, and concludes with two letters that evidence his personal warm sentiments toward a morally Christian life, one to his son, "Plorn" and the other, written on the next to the last day of his life.

In "Sin and Its Victims" we have the familiar scene from Oliver Twist "I Want Some More" and one I had not read before from Bleak House that was quite striking under the title "He Who is Without Sin" in which a godmother raising an illegitimate child bore a grudge against the mother until struck down with a stroke on hearing the story read from the gospels of the woman caught in adultery and Jesus response to her accusers: "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.' So many of these are warnings against the ways we may be blind to our own sin.

"Repentance and Grace" consists of excerpts that reflect the theme of awakening to one's sin, the harms one has caused and in some cases finding grace to begin again. One of the most famous is the awakening of Miss Havisham in Great Expectations to the deleterious effects of training Estella not to love, when she sees the hurt Estella inflicts upon Pip. Her cry, "What have I done?" reveals her remorse, and leads to a new resolve to help Pip. A short passage from Little Dorrit between Mrs Clennam who set herself to combat evil in all its forms mercilessly, and Little Dorrit, contrasts wrathful lawkeeping and the gospel of grace. Little Dorrit replies:

"O Mrs Clennam, Mrs. Clennam. . . angry feelings and unforgiving deeds are no comfort and no guide to you and me. My life has been passed in this poor prison, and my teaching has been very defective; but let me implore you to remember later and better days. Be guided by the healer of the sick, the raiser of the dead, the friend of all who were afflicted and forlorn, the patient Master who shed tears of compassion for our infirmities. We cannot but be right if we put all the rest away, and do everything in remembrance of Him. There is no vengeance and no infliction of suffering in his life, I am sure. There can be no confusion in following Him, and seeking for no other footsteps, I am certain.

The third part portrays "The Righteous Life." Sometimes we see the beauty of a life lived under grace as in "Little Mother" from Little Dorrit in the ways Amy Dorrit cares for and advocates for Maggy, a brain-damaged young woman. There is the attractive character of Septimus Crisparkle in The Mystery of Edwin Drood, at one a proponent of "muscular Christianity" and yet solicitous toward his mother and kind toward all he meets. This section concludes with the speech of Sydney Carton at the end of A Tale of Two Cities and the transformed Ebenezer Scrooge of A Christmas Carol.

Short introductions set each excerpt (and there are many more than mentioned here) in context, although at times with works of Dickens I had not read, I felt I did not have enough context. Still, Dalfonzo's exploration reminded me of the times of delight in reading him and whet my appetite for "more." I read this in conjunction with a book "weed out" and set aside several volumes of Dickens I'd not read. It's been a half dozen years or more since my last Dickens. Dalfonzo persuaded me that for reasons of both delight and spiritual edification, it was time to return to "our mutual friend."


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

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A great introduction to the writing of Dickens, particularly for readers who are looking for Christian themes in his books.

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Even a cursory reading of Dickens will reveal the level of devotion he placed on the teachings of Christ in the New Testament, and how the life of Christ was the model he used in defining his “good” characters. Gina has done an excellent job of providing examples to bear this out. Her set up for each passage clearly provides the reader with the background information necessary to drive her point home. Well done!

David Perdue
The Charles Dickens Page

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This book captured my attention because (I must confess) I’m delinquent when it comes to the writings of Charles Dickens. I’ve only read “A Christmas Carol” and that is admittedly sad given the profound impact of (and masterful storytelling in) Dickens’ work. The challenge confronting me is that (excepting “A Christmas Carol”) the works of Dickens tend to be huge bookshelf-cracking tomes, and so I’m seeking a strategy by which to approach his publications – given the time investments involved. Because this is a book that largely consists of excerpts from his various works, I figured it might help me devise a plan of how to tackle Dickens (figuratively.) I believe it did help me in that regard.

The book’s theme is how biblical teachings feature in the works of Dickens. While my own reading objectives tend toward the secular, I figured that knowing about the moral conundrums and growth, or lack thereof, of characters would be a good way to understand Dickens’ canon as stories and not only as reflections of religious attitudes. Moral dilemma is, after all, a central element of storytelling -- universally, and not just with regards to religious or mythological contexts. I feel I was correct in this regard, as well. I did learn about which stories were most likely to appeal to me.

I do believe the book was as much about how Dickens (not by himself, by any means, but as part of an artistic and societal movement of the day) influenced the nature of Christianity (both in his time and beyond) as it was about how the Gospel influenced Dickens. I’m not saying this with intent to blaspheme. It’s just that the nature of the problems and how they were approached is very different between the time of ancient Rome and Dickensian London. So, one has a kind of general teaching of being charitable and kind to those less fortunate and it is applied to policy questions that were nonexistent at the time of the bible or that individuals in the Bible were silent upon.

There are three chapters or section to the book. The first looks at attitudes toward the poor. If one knows anything about the works of Charles Dickens, it’s that they virtually all deal with down-and-out characters having to make their way through worlds controlled by (often uncharitable) wealthy people. This was true of my beloved “A Christmas Carol,” but I know it’s also a major feature in “Oliver Twist,” “Great Expectations,” “Bleak House,” “The Old Curiosity Shop,” and others. This first section takes up about half the book. The second section involves the issue of redemption, and it’s about a quarter of the book. The final section is also about twenty-five percent of the book and it looks at living a good life. Each of these chapters has a series of excerpts. Generally, there is a short paragraph of editorial input before each excerpt to explain any necessary background as well as to provide some insight into why the excerpt is included (i.e. how it relates to the book’s theme.) While most of the excerpts come from Dickens’ major novels, it should be pointed out that there are some that come from other works (i.e. nonfiction and short fiction.)

There are some artistic drawings that are congruous with expectations of a Dickens book. Otherwise, there’s not much in terms of ancillary matter, though there is a Forward. I didn’t feel anything else was particularly needed (though a timeline of publications and / or an appendix with concise plot summaries might have made the book a bit easier to use.)

If you’re interested in learning more about the works of Dickens, I’d recommend this book – particularly (but not necessarily exclusively) if you have interests at the intersection of literature and religion.

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First sentence: Good literature is fresh water for the soul. While some writers offer a sip ladled from the well, Dickens takes us to a mountain waterfall where rushing waters saturate, overwhelm, and put us at risk of drowning as we drink. But fear not. This book of selected readings is more like a gentle brook whose waters will quench the thirst of Dickens’ aficionados and neophytes alike. I know this volume will attract those who know and love Dickens already. But I hope it woos those who have yet to drink from his depths.

Only read this book if you want to struggle with the dilemma of what Dickens book to pick up next. I jest.

I definitely enjoyed reading The Gospel in Dickens, and would happily recommend it to any and all who enjoy Victorian literature and/or the classics.

The book is divided into three sections: Sin and Its Victims, Repentance and Grace, and The Righteous Life. Each section has excerpts thoughtfully selected and introduced by the editor Gina Dalfonzo.

Before reading The Gospel in Dickens I wouldn't have thought much of Dickens being a Christian--or not being a Christian. I probably would have assumed that he believed in God to some extent, perhaps attended church services, held Christian values and morals to some degree. But I wouldn't have really thought here is a man who knows and loves the Lord. The truth is when you read all these excerpts together it paints a powerful portrait of a man who does just that--love the Lord and love the Word of the Lord.

This one features excerpts from
A Christmas Carol
Great Expectations
Hard Times
Bleak House
Oliver Twist
Sketches by Boz
Martin Chuzzlewit
Our Mutual Friend
Little Dorrit
A Tale of Two Cities
David Copperfield
Nicholas Nickleby
The Haunted Man and the Ghost's Bargain
The Life Of Our Lord
The Mystery of Edwin Drood
The Old Curiosity Shop
Dombey and Son
personal letters

My background? I have a BA and MA (bachelor of arts, master of arts) degree in English literature. I love and adore Dickens. Perhaps he's not my absolute favorite, favorite, favorite, favorite Victorian author. (That may be Gaskell or Trollope). But I love Dickens. I have often found that it takes reading each book twice to really go from like to love or love to REALLY love, love, love. There is something substantive and unforgettable about his characters and stories. I have read all but three of his novels. I've read most of them twice--though not all. Every January I start off thinking this will be the year where I read TONS of Dickens. But usually I just manage one or two. Not from lack of desire--but from a million or so books competing for my attention saying read me, read me, read me. Dickens doesn't push himself forward into the fight to be read. But there are certain times of the year when I seek him out.

As I was reading this one I kept thinking, I HAVE to reread this one. Then I'd go onto the other excerpt and it was, NO, I have to read THIS one. I may never make up my mind!!!

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This book is the latest entry in “The Gospel in Great Writers” series. Over the years, so many have come to love the work of Charles Dickens. Through his novels and stories, we have enjoyed not only great works but also commentaries on social inequities that existed during the Victorian Era. It is interesting to note that many of the inequities that occurred during the Victorian Era are also occurring in the present.

The challenge with authors like Dickens is that they weave the challenges into their stories so well that the reader often has to read through his works to pull out the excerpts needed. For the reader who would like to pull those issues out of Dickens’ work but is also fighting against time constraints, this book is for you. The author has pulled out various excerpts from Dickens’ works and categorized them under various Christian concepts. This is both wonderful and time-saving! It makes this book a valuable resource for anyone who desires to connect Christian concepts with great literature.

I voluntarily reviewed an Advanced Reader Copy of this book provided by the publisher and Net Galley. However, the thoughts expressed are my own.

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The Gospel in Dickens: Selections from His Works, edited by Gina Dalfonzo with a foreword by Karen Swallow Prior, highlights the many ways in which Charles Dickens highlights various aspects of the Gospel message through the characters in many beloved novels. Dalfonzo begins by providing an introduction to Dickens' life, his religious viewpoints, and works. After this introduction, Dalfonzo groups excerpts from Dickens' novels into three sections: Sin and Its Victims, Repentance and Grace, and The Righteous Life. Each section includes an introduction to section followed by excerpts which portray the topic. Dalfonzo offers insights between each excerpt which highlight specific aspects to notice while reading as well as offers enough information regarding the larger novel so that the reader can join a story in progress. This is useful if the reader is not as familiar with a specific novel or has not read it in quite some time.

The Gospel in Dickens is recommended for several different audiences and can be used in a variety of ways. This would be a great resource in a literature class devoted to Dickens or to Victorian literature. If you were teaching a course on biblical or religious themes in literatures, this would definitely be appropriate either as a textbook or for teacher preparation. Ministers, public speakers, or writers may find it useful as a resource when they wish to find an illustration to use as Dalfonzo has done some a marvelous job of categorizing scenes from various novels. Moving beyond the classroom or professional use, this work is wonderful for individuals who simply enjoy great literature ,or Dickens specifically, and wish to read it for enjoyment or who want to have an introduction to the entirety of Dickens writing. You may find after reading The Gospel in Dickens that you wish to re-read your favorite Dickens novel or find a new one to enjoy.

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Great intro to dickens work using selected highlights, good for new classics Christian reader-recommended!

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Fascinating read! The Gospel in Dickens offers selections from his works and highlights the many ways in which Charles Dickens highlights various aspects of the Gospel message through the characters in many beloved novels. Truly fascinating! I loved it!

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There is no doubt that Charles Dickens is an amazing writer. Yet, there is even more to him than we as readers may know and this book brings this fascinating aspect to light. "Dickens enthusiast Gina Dalfonzo has done the heavy lifting for you. In short, readable excerpts she presents the essence of the great novelist’s prodigious output, teasing out dozens of the most memorable scenes to reveal the Christian vision and values that suffuse all his work."
His stories were more than stories. He had themes and lessons and Christian elements within his stories. Some of these we as readers can easily see, but others may take a little more reflection to see or understand the thought behind them. Nevertheless, it is interesting.
This collection of his stories includes some selections as: Oliver Twist, A Tale of Two Cities, A Christmas Carol, The Old Curiosity Shop, Bleak House, Our Mutual Friend, and more.

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