Written by Patricia K. Davis and Originally Published in Publisher’s Weekly on November 1st, 1999
In 1843, Charles Dickens has a pregnant wife and a wastrel father, and his most recent book, the ill-received Martin Chuzzlewit, has left the London writer with dwindling funds and few ideas. Meanwhile, Dickens's friend and supporter Thomas Carlyle obtains for him a chance to speak before Parliament to address the terrible conditions of London's multitude of impoverished workers. A well-educated but penniless lad, Benjamin Newborn, hears his beloved author's impassioned speech, and will figure prominently in Dickens's financial and literary future. But for now the hero puzzles over how to save his family from creditors. Inspired by a desire to make Christmas the joyous occasion it had been in the Merrie England of old, Dickens dreams up a tale that makes his political and social points as well. He approaches his publishers, Squibb and Ledrock, with a risky and brash proposal--he'll own the book, and pay all the bills, but it must be published before December 17 so that it can sell for Christmas. The greedy publishers, tired of carrying Dickens, embark on a brilliantly underhanded plot to steal ownership of the book, which they know to be a masterpiece. Newborn, the prime minister and a host of bobbies all have a hand in saving Dickens from ruin. This first novel is assured, sprightly and well-conceived, aptly depicting the conditions under which different social classes lived in 19th-century England, and vividly portraying the personality of the mercurial and headstrong Dickens. Though we're told that it's based on a true story, readers won't know exactly what is fictionalized and what is historical in this tale; however, the plot, setting and characterizations all make it a stocking-stuffer par excellence.