“You there! Dickens! Dickens, the Christmas Man! With your Scrooge and your Spirits and sudden conversions! Why do you make up such stories?”
The taunter is a scraggly, smelly twelve year old boy, one Algernon Charles Swinburne, perched naked atop a graveyard wall. The target of his tirade: Charles Dickens, author, journalist, would-be thespian, and summer neighbor of Swinburne’s parents on the Isle of Wight. This unpleasant encounter between two giants of world literature—one in middle age, the other yet to write the verses that would make his name—spur Dickens to write a tale that takes up Swinburne’s challenge.
To Begin With is the fascinating story of his struggle to create a personal adaptation of the Biblical Gospels to be performed for his children on Christmas Eve 1849. Amid distractions from his family, Swinburne and his own insecurities, he wrestles with how to present the story of Jesus Christ to a brood that ranges from 2 to 10 years of age.
Though he never intended this work to published, the Dickens family agreed to publish it as The Life of Our Lord in 1934 (sixty four years after his death). It is on this book that the one-man play is imagined. It’s a witty, insightful and thoroughly enjoyable look into the mind of a great writer.