The Poor Relation’s Story – 1852 – A Christmas tale
One of two short stories by Charles Dickens that appeared in the Christmas number of Household Words in 1852.
The structure of this story follows the framework of Dickens’s early Christmas stories, in which each tale is told by one person sitting around the fire.
The ‘poor relation’ was reluctant to take precedence of so many respected members of the family, by beginning the round of stories they were to relate as they sat in a goodly circle by the Christmas fire. He deferred to John, but they insisted that he should start.
The narrator, a bachelor of between fifty-nine and sixty, had no distinction, not in business, not in marriage. He was on a limited income from a quarterly allowance. He lived at lodgings at Clapham Road, where he is expected not to be in his room during the day. He describes how he filled his days, his cousin Little Frank being a highlight, one that will be closed to him once Little Frank goes to school in the country.
He reviews his past. He had taken John Spatter, his clerk, as a partner. He asked Christiana to marry, she, and her mother accepted, this made him very happy.
He lived with his Uncle Chill in a stark garret, and confessed to him that Christiana had no fortune. Chill called him a fool, and berated his lack of thinking things through.
He said to his domestic, Betsy Snap, that he was nobody’s enemy but his own. He was making such large profits in his business that he must needs take a partner. He is going to marry a wife without a penny. He was falling into the hands of
Jezabels who are speculating on my death! He banned him from the house.
Chill escorts him to Christiana’s and says ‘I bring you your son-in-law, ma’am – and you, your husband, miss. The gentleman is a perfect stranger to me, but I wish him joy of his wise bargain.’ He left and Michael, the narrator, would never see him again.
Christiana reveals to him that her mother is pressing another suitor, and proposes they marry speedily. She knew his financial status and said ‘let us strive together’, she would rather ‘share your struggles, I want no better home’.
They married, they had a girl and a boy, who looked remarkably like Little Frank.
His partner behaved to him with the utmost good faith and honour. When Uncle Chill had ejected him, John Spatter said with perfect good will, ‘You are too easy, Michael. You are nobody’s enemy but your own’. They vow to work on his weakness and the partnership thrived. His daughter married John’s son.
He had talked of the Castle several times, not a baronial castle. It becomes clear when he announced ‘My Castle is in the Air! I have done. Will you be so good as to pass the story?’
Michael, the Narrator