4x4th Estate: Christmas Feasts

4x4Today is Friday, the day of the usual Food From 4th post, plus, we’re getting ready for Christmas. How better to combine the two than to bring you a 4x4th Estate on Festive Feasts? Christmas can be an event, in literature, where the times that are supposed to be good, go ever so slightly bad. 

 A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens


‘Wonderful party, wonderful games, wonderful unanimity, won-der-ful happiness!’

A Christmas Carol should be as crucial to Christmas as crackers and turkey. In this festive treasure of a book, Dickens tells how Ebenezer Scrooe cast aside humbuggery in favour of goodwill to all men. The book – with the help of the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future – crams a plethora of feasts into one day, from Christmas Present’s throne made up of turkeys, geese, sucking-pigs, long wreaths of sausages, mince-pies, plum-puddings, barrels of oysters, red-hot chestnuts, cherry-cheeked apples and more, to Tiny Tim feebly crying “Hurrah!” at the sight of his humble goose. Hard-hitting truths about the misfortune of England’s poor are combined with moving optimism about the power of goodness, to create a book that has shaped our idea of Christmas since publication, and induces ‘won-der-ful happiness’ in all that read it.

The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen


”Merry, merry, merry Christmas!’ Enid said, looking each of her children in the eye in turn.

Alfred, head down, was already eating.

Gary also began to eat, rapidly, with a glance at his watch.

Chip didn’t remember the coffee being so drinkable in these parts.

Denise asked him how he’d gotten home. He told her the story, omitting only the armed robbery.’

In Jonathan Franzen’s masterpiece, we meet Enid Lambert. All she wants is one last happy Christmas dinner in her family home. Unfortunately, with children leading troubled and indecent lives and a husband falling prey to mental illness, all situations do inform against her.


I Don’t Know How She Does It by Allison Pearson


This next features less a feast, more, well, a PTA Christmas party. Allison Pearson wonderfully describes her frazzled heroine cracking open a box of Marks & Spencer’s mince pies, putting the pies on a plate, putting another plate on top of this and then leaning on it, giving the pastries a pleasing imperfection, a home-made charm, placing them in an old ice-cream tub, and flaunting them to the competitive, smug mothers at her child’s school. I defy you to look at any “homemade” mince pie in the same way again.


A Serious Talk by Raymond Carver


‘Vera,’ he said. ‘It’s Christmas. That’s why I came.’

‘It’s the day after Christmas,’ she said. ‘I don’t ever want to see another one.’

If anyone understands the misery at the centre of the human heart, it is Raymond Carver. And if ever there was a situation to emphasise and exacerbate that misery it is Christmas. A Serious Talk boasts the masterful writing and bleak subject matter we expect from Carter. It offers a smorgasbord of with conflict, control, jealousy, acceptance, separation, letting go, moving on, vodka and cigarettes.


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