Carol Dickens of Topeka has received a grant to research just when the Victorian period began to transition into the modern one.
One standard of measure: the frequency of semicolons in the work of Charles Dickens compared with contemporary literature.
So she begins to count semicolons.
But that’s not the only transition she’s working through. There are still leaves in the yard, yet December has arrived, and Christmas looms — kind of like this week. She’s divorced from her husband. Her teenage son Finn remains with her, but for how long? He’s in his last year of high school.
So begins the novel “A Carol Dickens Christmas” by Thomas Fox Averill.
“A semicolon joins two independent clauses,” Averill said about his recently published novel.
“Carol and Finn right now could stand apart, but they are still in the same sentence — at least for this Christmas.”
Averill’s Christmas story began, in part, years ago when he and his wife, Jeffrey Ann Goudie, began observing the holiday by reading Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” aloud to their two children.
The observances also took on a culinary dimension, with the assembly of the occasional Bob Cratchit meal. Averill includes recipes that specify the exact amount of sage and onion stuffing needed for the 8- to 10-pound goose on Cratchit’s table. “One thing that helped was giving Carol Dickens her passion for food,” he said.
Then, about 10 years ago, Averill — writer-in-residence and English professor at Washburn University in Topeka — visited London during December, touring assorted Dickens sites.
“I love Dickens and ‘A Christmas Carol,’ and I just thought it would be interesting to revisit aspects of that story,” Averill said.
Accordingly, Carol’s divorced husband, a real estate developer, grows increasingly Scrooge-like. But within that story readers will begin to discern a different, even more familiar one. A young woman, pregnant, needs a place to deliver a child. Assorted wise men begin showing up bearing gifts.
One, a chimney repairman, presents a compact disc of Metallica.
“It’s fun to have kind of a known structure in Christmas,” Averill said. “We all know the drill with the tree, the gifts, and rising to the various occasions of the season.”
Averill speaks at 7 p.m. Thursday at the University of Kansas Edwards Campus, 12600 Quivira Road in Overland Park, and at 2 p.m. Dec. 14 at the Central Library, 14 W. 10th St.