The Life of Our Lord: Written for His Children During the Years 1846 to 1849

The Life of Our Lord: Written for His Children During the Years 1846 to 1849

by Charles Dickens

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Charles Dickens's other Christmas classic, with a new introduction by Dickens's great-great-grandson, Gerald Charles Dickens.

Charles Dickens wrote The Life of Our Lord during the years 1846-1849, just about the time he was completing David Copperfield. In this charming, simple retelling of the life of Jesus Christ, adapted from the Gospel of St. Luke, Dickens hoped to teach his young children about religion and faith. Since he wrote it exclusively for his children, Dickens refused to allow publication.

For eighty-five years the manuscript was guarded as a precious family secret, and it was handed down from one relative to the next. When Dickens died in 1870, it was left to his sister-in-law, Georgina Hogarth. From there it fell to Dickens's son, Sir Henry Fielding Dickens, with the admonition that it should not be published while any child of Dickens lived.

Just before the 1933 holidays, Sir Henry, then the only living child of Dickens, died, leaving his father's manuscript to his wife and children. He also bequeathed to them the right to make the decision to publish The Life of Our Lord. By majority vote, Sir Henry's widow and children decided to publish the book in London. In 1934, Simon & Schuster published the first American edition, which became one of the year's biggest bestsellers.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781439142585
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication date: 01/22/2013
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 128
Sales rank: 696,903
File size: 6 MB

About the Author

Charles Dickens (1821-1870) used his fiction to criticize the injustices of his time, especially the brutal treatment of the poor. He is also the author of Oliver Twist, Nicholas Nickleby, David Copperfield, A Tale of Two Cities, and Great Expectations. He was born in Portsmouth, England.

Date of Birth:

February 7, 1812

Date of Death:

June 18, 1870

Place of Birth:

Portsmouth, England

Place of Death:

Gad's Hill, Kent, England


Home-schooling; attended Dame School at Chatham briefly and Wellington

Read an Excerpt

Chapter the First.

My Dear Children,

I am very anxious that you should know something about the History of Jesus Christ. For everybody ought to know about Him. No one ever lived who was so good, so kind, so gentle, and so sorry for all people who did wrong, or were in any way ill or miserable, as He was. And as He is now in Heaven, where we hope to go, and all to meet each other after we are dead, and there be happy always together, you never can think what a good place Heaven is, without knowing who He was and what He did.

He was born, a long long time ago -- nearly two thousand years ago -- at a place called Bethlehem. His father and mother lived in a city called Nazareth, but they were forced by business to travel to Bethlehem. His father's name was Joseph, and His mother's name was Mary. And the town being very full of people, also brought there by business, there was no room for Joseph and Mary in the Inn or in any house; so they went into a stable to lodge, and in this stable Jesus Christ was born. There was no cradle or anything of that kind there, so Mary laid her pretty little boy in what is called the manger, which is the place the horses eat out of. And there He fell asleep.

While He was asleep, some shepherds who were watching sheep in the fields, saw an Angel from God, all light and beautiful, come moving over the grass towards them. At first they were afraid and fell down and hid their faces. But it said, "There is a child born to-day in the city of Bethlehem near here, who will grow up to be so good that God will love Him as His own Son; and He will teach men to love one another, and not to quarrel and hurt one another; and His name will be Jesus Christ; and people will put that name in their prayers, because they will know God loves it, and will know that they should love it too." And then the Angel told the shepherds to go to that stable, and look at that little child in the manger. Which they did; and they kneeled down by it in its sleep, and said, "God bless this child!"

Now the great place of all that country was Jerusalem -- just as London is the great place in England -- and at Jerusalem the King lived, whose name was King Herod. Some wise men came one day, from a country a long way off in the East, and said to the King, "We have seen a star in the sky, which teaches us to know that a child is born in Bethlehem, who will live to be a man whom all people will love." When King Herod heard this, he was jealous, for he was a wicked man. But he pretended not to be, and said to the wise men, "Whereabouts is this child?" And the wise men said: "We don't know. But we think the star will show us; for the star has been moving on before us, all the way here, and is now standing still in the sky." Then Herod asked them to see if the star would show them where the child lived, and ordered them, if they found the child, to come back to him. So they went out, and the star went on, over their heads a little way before them, until it stopped over the house where the child was. This was very wonderful, but God ordered it to be so.

When the star stopped, the wise men went in, and saw the child with Mary His mother. They loved Him very much, and gave Him some presents. Then they went away. But they did not go back to King Herod; for they thought he was jealous, though he had not said so. So they went away, by night, back into their own country. And an Angel came, and told Joseph and Mary to take the child into a country called Egypt, or Herod would kill Him. So they escaped, too, in the night -- the father, the mother, and the child -- and arrived there, safely.

But when this cruel Herod found that the wise men did not come back to him, and that he could not, therefore, find out where this child, Jesus Christ, lived, he called his soldiers and captains to him, and told them to go and kill all the children in his dominions that were not more than two years old. The wicked men did so. The mothers of the children ran up and down the streets with them in their arms, trying to save them, and hide them in caves and cellars, but it was of no use. The soldiers with their swords killed all the children they could find. This dreadful murder was called the Murder of the Innocents, because the little children were so innocent.

King Herod hoped that Jesus Christ was one of them. But He was not, as you know, for He had escaped safely into Egypt. And He lived there, with His father and mother, until bad King Herod died.

Copyright © 1999 by Gerald Charles Dickens

Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for An Atlas of Impossible Longing includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.


In this reimagining of Charles Dickens’s classic, Great Expectations, Pip is an orphaned young werewolf living with his ill-tempered sister and her gentle husband, the blacksmith Joe Gargery. One fateful night, visiting his parents’ grave under the full moon, Pip encounters a frightening stranger—another werewolf and a convict no less. Too afraid to do anything other than obey the stranger’s instruction, Pip helps this convict and sets in motion of chain of events that will forever change the course of his life. Pip is sent to reside with Miss Havisham, a vampire who was sired and left on her wedding day by the one she loved. She has adopted Estella and raised her as a vampire slayer, to seek revenge on the supernatural creatures that she blames for her ruin. Pip, in awe of Estella’s beauty, falls instantly in love with her despite the fact that she has been trained to hate all “Scapegraces.” When an anonymous benefactor sends Pip to London to become a gentleman, he believes it is his chance to win Estella’s hand. The question that lies ahead is whether Pip will be able to overcome his wolfish ways and turn his once grave expectations for himself into great ones.


1. In Pip’s world, the term “Scapegraces” is used to define “those of a supernatural sort” (p. 11). What do you think this term implies about the way that creatures like werewolves and vampires were viewed in this society?

2. On page 12, Pip wonders, “Was it a crime to merely be different?” While being a werewolf is simply a condition inherited at birth, vampires prey on the living to increase their population, and yet are “considered civilized and welcome to mix in society.” Is one creature more monstrous than the other? Do both werewolves and vampires have the capacity for good and evil?

3. After being invited to Miss Havisham’s and then later learning of his anonymous benefactor, Pip often feels ashamed of his roots, and of Joe’s commonness even more so than his own Scapegrace status. Yet Joe never seems to exhibit any embarrassment over Pip’s wolfishness. What does this say about each of their characters? What influences the focus of Pip’s shame?

4. When Mrs. Joe dies (the first time), Pip finds what he knows to be evidence of Magwitch’s crime, but he still does not accuse him. Why do you think Pip believes that Magwitch is innocent of this crime when the main piece of evidence points directly to him?

5. Throughout most of the story, Estella is cold-hearted and shows no affection for Pip despite his unwavering love for her. Why should he love someone who could possibly end up killing him in her crusade against Scapegraces? What makes him fall in love with her in the first place? Why do you think Pip continues to pursue someone who will never return his feelings?

6. Pip and Herbert have a very special friendship. Do you think this brotherly love grew out of the wolfish need to be part of a pack? Or something more human?

7. While Miss Havisham is herself a vampire, she has trained Estella in the ways of vampire slaying. Pip wonders “if Miss Havisham weren’t really wishing to be staked by Estella one day in raising her to such an art” (p. 235). Do you agree? Do you think Miss Havisham’s eventual outcome either supports or refutes this opinion? Why does Estella never stake her, if indeed her mission is to kill vampires?

8. Pip is horrified when he finds out the Magwitch has been his anonymous benefactor all along. Why do you think this revelation is so abhorrent to Pip, when he seems so willing to not only protect Magwitch and keep him safe, but to also protect his feelings by not revealing his disappointment?

9. On page 284, Pip explains to Miss Havisham that there are certain Scapegraces who “showed more humanity than the humans.” Discuss which of the Scapegraces behave with the utmost humanity, and which of the human characters exhibit what could be categorized as monstrous behavior?

10. How does the discovery of Estella’s parentage change things for Pip? Does it change your opinion of her?

11. Why is it so easy for Joe and Biddy to forgive Pip after he had neglected them for so many years? Should Joe have been angry that Pip spent so much time visiting Magwitch after he was captured, when he never kept up his visits to Joe like he had promised?

12. Though Estella is able to eventually see the goodness in werewolves, she never changes her opinion of vampires. Why do you think she can pardon and accept most Scapegraces and still seek vengeance against vampires?


1. Grave Expectations is a reimagining of Charles Dickens’s classic Great Expectations. Have you read Great Expectations before? If so, how did the supernatural version compare to the classic? What remained the same in this new version of the story? What changed? If not, choose Great Expectations for your next book club pick.

2. Grave Expectations is a literary mash-up—where a fictional classic is retold in present day or with mythical substitutions. Examples include Pride and Prejudice and Zombies or the movie Clueless, which was essentially Jane Austen’s Emma set in Beverly Hills during the 1990s. Try creating a literary mash-up of your own with your book club. Pick a favorite classic and retell the story as though it took place in the present day or with some supernatural characters. The more imaginative, the better!

3. Legends of werewolves and vampires have been carried down through the centuries. How does their depiction in this work compare with your preconceived notions of such supernatural creatures?


Introduction By Gerald Charles Dickens

My great-great-grandfather wrote The Life of Our Lord for a very special reason -- he wrote it for his family. He wanted his children to learn about the life and teachings of Jesus Christ in as plain and simple a way as possible, and he decided the best way to achieve that was to write it himself and give it to his family as a gift.

Charles Dickens was extremely protective of The Life of Our Lord. He was well aware that anything from his pen would be snapped up, published, distributed, and then become part of the Dickens legend; he was determined that this one work would receive no such treatment. When Charles Dickens said that The Life of Our Lord was purely for his family, he meant it. Georgina Hogarth, Charles's sister-in-law, wrote this about his refusal to publish The Life of Our Lord:

I must now tell you about the beautiful little New Testament, which he wrote for his children. I am sorry to say it is never to be published...He would never have it printed, and I used to read it to the little boys in manuscript before they were old enough to read writing themselves...I asked Charles if he did not think it would be well to have it printed, at all events for private circulation, if he would not publish it. He said he would look over the manuscript and take a week or two to consider. At the end of the time he gave it back to me and said he had decided never to publish it, or even to have it privately printed. He said I might make a copy of it for Peggy (Mrs. Dickens) or any one of his children, but for no one else, and he also begged that we would never even hand the manuscript, or a copy of it, to anyone to take out of the house.

The Dickens family felt that in return for such a wonderful gift, they must honor their father's wishes. The clan closed ranks and protected their secret with great zeal.

On Dickens's death, in 1870, the manuscript passed, along with all of his private papers, to Georgina Hogarth and, from her, to my great-grandfather, Henry Fielding Dickens. His wife, Marie (or Mumsey, as she was known in the family), carefully hid it under her mattress and my father tells me that marks from her bedsprings are clearly visible!

At the time, Henry, a well-respected lawyer, was somewhat torn because he was a great protector of his father's legacy -- Charles's wishes must be honored and there was no question of publishing The Life of Our Lord. However, Henry was also justly proud of his father's works, and I believe that he wanted this short volume to be more widely read. He put his legal mind to the problem and came up with a solution. In his will, Henry wrote:

I give and bequeath to my wife the original manuscript of my father's "Life of Our Lord" which was bequeathed to my aunt Georgina Hogarth in my father's will, and given by her to me to hold, on the following trusts:

Being his son I have felt constrained to act upon my father's expressed desire that it should not be published, but I do not think it right that I should bind my children by any such view, especially as I can find no specific injunction against such publication.

I therefore direct that my wife and children should consider this question quite unfettered by any view of mine, and if by majority they decide that the manuscript should not be published, I direct my wife to deposit it with the trustees of the British Museum upon the usual terms, but if they decide by a majority that it should be published, then I direct my wife to sell the same in trust, to divide the net proceeds of such sale among my wife and all my children in equal shares.

Upon Henry's death in 1933, the family thought long and hard over the question of The Life of Our Lord and decided that the time was now right to publish it. Thus, in 1934, the last published work of Charles Dickens became available to a wider audience, one hundred years after his very first piece, "A Dinner at Poplar Walk," the first of the Sketches by Boz, was published.

The Life of Our Lord tells us so much about Charles Dickens. It outlines his faith, which was simple and deeply held, but, for me, above all else it tells of his relationship with his family -- my family. When I read the first line of The Life of Our Lord, "My Dear Children, I am very anxious that you should know something about the History of Jesus Christ," I picture the scene in the Dickenses' nursery vividly: Charley, age twelve; Mamie, eleven; Katie, ten; and Walter, eight; all listening intently as their father explains the miracles of Christ. I envision Francis, five; Alfred, four; and Sydney, two; playing happily as their father reads, changing the narrative now and then to keep their interest. "You never saw a locust, because they belong to that country near Jerusalem, which is a great way off. So do camels, but I think you have seen a camel. At all events, they are brought over here, sometimes; and if you would like to see one, I will show you one."

And then, in the corner is a baby, not even a year old: Henry Fielding Dickens. My great-grandfather hearing, but not listening to, the voice of Dickens.

Now we have come full circle. I have three children: Georgia, eight; Jasmine, six; and Cameron, seven months. My children are almost of the same age as Walter, Francis, and Henry. My daughters are learning about Jesus Christ, and they are as fascinated by the miracles and parables as were their counterparts exactly one hundred and fifty years ago. It is time for me to read to them, "My Dear Children, I am very anxious that you should know something about the History of Jesus Christ..." And I invite you to become part of this wonderful family. Read The Life of Our Lord not as a Dickens novel -- that is the last thing my great-great-grandfather would have wanted. Read it as an honorary family member and draw from it the rich meaning that Charles Dickens intended when he first presented this gift to us.

Burwash, East Sussex, England
Summer 1999

Copyright © 1999 by Gerald Charles Dickens

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Life of Our Lord: Written for His Children During the Years 1846 To 1849 2.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
wktarin on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Diluted by the re-telling.
scheibe on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I think that Dickens misses the whole point of the life of Christ. He defines Christianity as doing your best to earn God's forgiveness. While I agree that it is good, noble, right, etc. to be kind to others, that is not the essential component to Christianity. I also was struck with what appeared to be antisemitism (Jesus vs. the Jews). That idea ignores the fact that Jesus and his 12 disciples were Jews themselves.
bogopea on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A sweet, sweet story. I can picture his children at his knees while DIckens reads this to them.