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Britain is haunted by Dickensian ghosts Loneliness stalks the Christmas season

Christmas is a time for regret. Credit: Bridget Jones's Diary/Universal Pictures

Christmas is a time for regret. Credit: Bridget Jones's Diary/Universal Pictures


December 24, 2022   7 mins

In the Celtic fringes of Europe, the idea of “thin places” persists — locations where the boundary between this reality and others is claimed to be at its most fragile, even permeable. Originally, these were seen as portals to the Otherworld of Ancient Gaelic belief and the realm of faerie folk, or Sidhe, and other mythological entities. Recognising their appeal and resilience, the church absorbed these stories and superstitions into the faith; the mountains, lakes and islands that had served as pagan thin places gradually became sites of pilgrimage, areas where the distance between this world and the Christian afterlife might be at its most tenuous. Just as there are thin places, thin times might also be posited — the period, for example, at the end of October and beginning of November when Halloween, All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day fall in succession and, it is claimed, spirits walk the earth.

Even in our supposedly rationalist secular era, we find one of these thin places or times in the unlikely guise of Christmas and its rich repository of ghost stories. The supernatural was not banished by the developments of modernity but rather it evolved and adapted, moving from enchanted woods to gothic houses to the streets and rooms of Victorian cities. Just as in earlier times, they found their place where it is dark, in the dead of winter, when the nights close in and fireside stories cause the mind to play tricks and shadows to seemingly change their forms.

Among the many writers who have tried their hand at yuletide ghost stories, none loom larger than Charles Dickens who, with A Christmas Carol (subtitled Being a Ghost Story of Christmas), fundamentally influenced the way we perceive and celebrate the festivity. To fully understand how and why Christmas became a thin place and remains so, we have to delve into a scourge at the very heart of Dickens’s story and our society still — loneliness.

Christmas is one of those times when, as a much earlier writer, Dante, put it: “There is no greater sorrow than to recall in misery the time when we were happy.” And what time is happier, or more melancholic when irretrievable, than a childhood Christmas? Victorian writers knew that when we are alone at Christmas, a time that seems intrinsically meant for loved ones congregating (the perpetual renewal of the Nativity scene), our ghosts, borne by memory, absence and regret, would instead arrive.

Dickens knew the power of myth, and how the beautiful lie might reveal the hidden truth. Determined to speak out about the horrors of child labour and poverty he had directly experienced and witnessed, Dickens first toyed with writing a strident but fairly unwieldly political jeremiad until he realised, correctly, that there was a much more seductive approach available, through the Trojan Horse of storytelling. It was all too easy to turn away from a lecture or respond with platitudes and fallacies, but a heart-stirring tale had the ability to get under one’s skin. His characters and settings were constructed not just from satirical observations of the powerful but from encounters Dickens had had with the powerless, during his lengthy night walks around London. He was also deeply inspired, and haunted, by macabre tales that his cockney nursemaid Mary Weller used to delight in telling him as a child — full of Faustian pacts, treacherous innkeepers, poisons “distilled from toads’ eyes and spiders’ knees”, the Black Cat and Captain Murderer. To add to the unease, Weller would claim the horrors were true and she had witnessed them herself or had heard them from relatives who were eyewitnesses. As Dickens later recounted, in The Uncommercial Traveller, she “took a fiendish enjoyment of my terrors, and used to begin, I remember — as a sort of introductory overture — by clawing the air with both hands, and uttering a long low hollow groan”.

A Christmas Carol has this oral tradition feel, albeit delivered in a short, and affordable, novella form. It also rebalances Dickens’s heavy lean towards sentimentality (the pitiable figure of Tiny Tim, for instance) with the resolutely unsentimental tactic of terrifying child readers. This was necessary for reasons of veracity — existence was unsentimental in those days — but also as a myth-making technique. There are few lessons that stay with us longer and deeper than those which strike mortal fear in us and then propose a way out.

At the heart of the story and its extraordinary legacy is loneliness. Rereading A Christmas Carol, its power initially comes from its status as a social tract and a fable. What is crucial, however, is its existential quality. It shows that the system then in place, and perhaps still, not only oppresses and squanders but it also alienates. Dickens takes the traditional Christmas theme of visitation (the announcing angel, the wandering star leading to the Christ child, the shepherds, the Magi) and makes it sinister. Salvation can come only through the painful process of facing the truth (“Without their visits,” said the Ghost, “you cannot hope to shun the path I tread”). It can only emerge from Scrooge seeing that he has betrayed and marginalised not only his fellow human beings but himself, acknowledging that he belongs to the Malthusian “surplus population” he castigates, that he is alone and bereft (“Will you not speak to me?” he begs the final phantom), and the only precious hope he has left is to be found through gratitude and selfless communion with others.

There are many reasons why A Christmas Carol still resonates so much in the 21st century, not least Dickens’s vivid scene-setting and skill at characterisation, but one overlooked factor is that, although times are very different, we are still beholden to its curse. In 2017, the cross-party Jo Cox Commission stated that nine million people in the UK were stricken by loneliness, with all manner of health and societal issues emanating from this (depression, obesity, alcoholism, drug use and so on).

Loneliness can also have a horrifically brutal side to its tragedy. Before she was murdered by a radicalised recluse, a man who according to the police “never held down a job, never had a girlfriend, never any friends to speak of”, Jo Cox declared: “I will not live in a country where thousands of people are living lonely lives forgotten by the rest of us.” The reality, however, is that we do live in such a country.

Scrooge’s damnation (and redemption) is a personal one, but it is also societal. He cuts himself off partly because he cannot deal with the ethical complications and emotional demands of the world. He becomes impervious to weather and humane interaction. His is the reason of the counting house. He knows the cost of everything and the value of nothing. “Bah humbug” becomes a device to shut down any intrusive altruistic or life-affirming thoughts. His self-diminishment reaches a strange kind of perfection. He is the creation of an entire society that has been moving, in dedicated even pious fashion, in entirely the wrong direction and at great cost. Yet there must be great profit to be made in maintaining such a miserable situation. One of the most chilling scenes in A Christmas Carol, one I had entirely forgotten until rereading, is when Scrooge looks out over London and finds: “The air was filled with phantoms, wandering hither and thither in restless haste, and moaning as they went. Every one of them wore chains like Marley’s Ghost; some few (they might be guilty governments) were linked together; none were free.”

The story feels evergreen because, like Christmas, it renews. And it calls on us to look again at our times, as Dickens did his, and see that Scrooge, though wretched, is a product of his age. What are the ghosts of our current Christmas? Well, chief among them remains loneliness, adding to the unseen miseries of food banks, child poverty, domestic abuse, heating, and housing crises. A consumerist and media-driven cult of youth encourages us to, hubristically, treat the neglected old as redundant. Simultaneously, the young are betrayed with the atomisation that comes with a life of screens, increasingly devoid of extended family, subject to risk-averse short-termism and apocalyptic anxieties in the long-term, all compounded by the as-yet-unquantified impact of lockdown upon child development.

Adults hardly fare much better. A 2019 YouGov survey showed that 18% men did not have a close friend, with 32% having no one they regarded as a best friend. Women fared better, but still enough for concern, with 12% and 24% respectively. Despite, or because, of the proponderence of dating apps, there are a plethora of studies showing each successive generation of adults is having less sex than the last (in hetereosexual circles at least). Urbanisation has also played a significant role in this with the “Lonely in a crowd
” study, published last year in Nature, finding that “being in overcrowded environments increased loneliness by up to 38%”. While it’s important to acknowledge the benefits of voluntary solitude and the underrated qualities of introversion, the study sets out what might be a definitive summation of the problem: “Loneliness, defined as the ‘perceived sense of disconnection from others’, refers to the subjective emotional experience of not having one’s social need for relationships adequately met.” It is arguable that the needs contemporary society focuses on are not those we actually need.

Throughout his books, Dickens returned to the theme of loneliness and many of his passages feel prescient. In A Tale of Two Cities, he observes “a multitude of people, and yet a solitude!” In Great Expectations, he touches upon a scene that chimes with our current crisis of homelessness: “I looked at the stars, and considered how awful it would be for a man to turn his face up to them as he froze to death, and see no help or pity in all the glittering multitude.” So much has changed and yet so little.

We have more ways than ever to communicate, except the tangible ones that actually matter. We may have moved on from old-fashioned firesides and pan-generational environments, banquets and carol services, midnight masses and midnight toasts, for the sophistication of empty rooms filled with nothing but technological phantoms. Scrooge the miser does not seem a contemporary figure in our age of profligacy, but this would be a misreading, for it is the solipsism of his ego that leads Scrooge to where he’d languished and transcending that is what redeems him in the end and helps him find his place. Solipsism takes many different forms but there’s only one path out of it. This is the nature of the true thin place, a portal through which we leave our echo-chambers and egos and meet in one another’s worlds. We must reach and wander outside of ourselves, lest we diminish into shades of ourselves. As it is put in A Christmas Carol: “It is required of every man,” the ghost returned, “that the spirit within him should walk abroad among his fellow-men, and travel far and wide; and, if that spirit goes not forth in life, it is condemned to do so after death.”

The beauty and grace of Christmas comes because it is a temporary reprieve from hardship and the rebirth of hope in the depths of winter. It is an island, full of lights, cheer, charity and togetherness, in a sea of darkness. Or, at least, it could be. The more we forget this as an individual or a society, the more we risk finding ourselves out there in the dark, shut off from the world, like ghosts of what we could have been.


Darran Anderson is the author of Imaginary Cities and Inventory.


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Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
1 year ago

We are social creatures. My wife provided home made scones to a few people in our church who had been gardening there and was urged to repeat it next week and slowly the number of those coming each week grew. One of the ladies who came and brought a friend revealed that it was the only time she spoke to anyone if her daughter did not visit during the whole week apart from speaking to the check out girl in the supermarket.
This sort of social gathering was delivered a fearful blow as a result of lockdown. Many social organisations are folding because the elderly have been terrified of meeting others and catching covid and many of those younger have got out of the habit of supporting such social gatherings. The previous habit have been diverted. However, like my wife’s gatherings I believe the urge to fight back at this isolation still remains if it is not strangled by official saftyism.

Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
1 year ago

We are social creatures. My wife provided home made scones to a few people in our church who had been gardening there and was urged to repeat it next week and slowly the number of those coming each week grew. One of the ladies who came and brought a friend revealed that it was the only time she spoke to anyone if her daughter did not visit during the whole week apart from speaking to the check out girl in the supermarket.
This sort of social gathering was delivered a fearful blow as a result of lockdown. Many social organisations are folding because the elderly have been terrified of meeting others and catching covid and many of those younger have got out of the habit of supporting such social gatherings. The previous habit have been diverted. However, like my wife’s gatherings I believe the urge to fight back at this isolation still remains if it is not strangled by official saftyism.

Paul Nathanson
Paul Nathanson
1 year ago

I’m not sure that A Christmas Carol is primarily about loneliness or alienation due to social, economic and political conditions (although, as Dickens clearly intended, it’s surely about those things as well). For me, at any rate, it’s primarily about despair due to personal failure and the need for personal renewal or rejuvenation. It’s about the possibility of spiritual regeneration and therefore of hope.
When I watch–and I watch it at least once a year in one version or another–the most disturbing scene comes near the beginning. Scrooge meets the ghost of Jacob Marley, who moans while dragging around the heavy chains that he had forged in life, one sinful link after another. I do the same thing, dragging around the ugly memories of my own mistakes. Lest I sound too melodramatic, I generally think of these in terms of stupidity or inadequacy in relationships, not of malicious intentions with evil consequences.) If only, I keep thinking, I could have a lobotomy to erase those tormenting memories or, better still, change my past. If only I could have been a better son or a better friend.
The most joyful scene, not surprisingly, comes near the end. Scrooge wakes up in bed and realizes ecstatically that he still has enough time to change and redeem himself, to escape from the torment of his own past through compassion and reconciliation. I experience this as a powerful antidote to the prevailing cynicism. Why go on living without being worthy of life, after all, and therefore without hope?
A Christmas Carol is not a sociological or psychological treatise in narrative form. Nor is it merely a story, let alone a ghost story. It is a myth that reveals a profound and universal truth about the human condition.

RE Diggins
RE Diggins
1 year ago
Reply to  Paul Nathanson

What a beautiful, candid comment. Even if you can’t change the past at least you’ve had the self awareness to reflect on it. “Footfalls echo in the memory. Down the passage which we did not take. Towards the door we never opened. Into the Rose Garden.”

Margaret Donaldson
Margaret Donaldson
1 year ago
Reply to  Paul Nathanson

I would go further and suggest that at the heart of this story Dickens is reminding us about the transformative power of love. Scrooge chose love and was liberated. And of course, ‘Love came down at Christmas, love all lovely, love divine’. Dickens’s readers would have all known that. Thank you for such a thoughtful article and such thoughtful responses.

Paul Nathanson
Paul Nathanson
1 year ago

Yes, you’re correct, and I thank you for adding to the depth of this discussion. I used the word “compassion” instead of “love,” because the latter is so often trivialized as an emotion. Historically, theologians and philosophers have understood that love in its many forms–these include love for family, community, nation, friends, sex partners and so on but also compassion for complete strangers–is an act of will (and often courage). Ultimately, it has little to do with sentimental attachment or even knowing those on whom we bestow love. The early Christians called this level of love agape, self-sacrifice (following the pattern of Christ). Both Dickens and many of his early readers understood all this. But you don’t have to be Christian to do so. I, for example, am Jewish. Many religious traditions have words of their own to describe this central feature of the human condition. Nor do you have to be religious at all. Millions of non-religious people even now find the story very powerful for reminding them that transformation remains a possibility.

Last edited 1 year ago by Paul Nathanson
Stuart Rose
Stuart Rose
1 year ago
Reply to  Paul Nathanson

And the Jewish word is chesed.
Love, of course, as in agape love is a crucial virtue, as Margaret says, but I fear you’re correct that people nowadays largely consider love as an emotion, and a highly personalized one.
That said, agape love doesn’t have to be impersonal at the same time it can be shown to people whose personality or qualities you especially like.

Jeremy Sansom
Jeremy Sansom
1 year ago
Reply to  Paul Nathanson

“Whatever you did for the least of these, you did for me.” Compassion is always redemptive no matter what your religious affiliation.
A fascinating article and a privilege to read such thoughtful comments.

Stuart Rose
Stuart Rose
1 year ago
Reply to  Paul Nathanson

And the Jewish word is chesed.
Love, of course, as in agape love is a crucial virtue, as Margaret says, but I fear you’re correct that people nowadays largely consider love as an emotion, and a highly personalized one.
That said, agape love doesn’t have to be impersonal at the same time it can be shown to people whose personality or qualities you especially like.

Jeremy Sansom
Jeremy Sansom
1 year ago
Reply to  Paul Nathanson

“Whatever you did for the least of these, you did for me.” Compassion is always redemptive no matter what your religious affiliation.
A fascinating article and a privilege to read such thoughtful comments.

Paul Nathanson
Paul Nathanson
1 year ago

Yes, you’re correct, and I thank you for adding to the depth of this discussion. I used the word “compassion” instead of “love,” because the latter is so often trivialized as an emotion. Historically, theologians and philosophers have understood that love in its many forms–these include love for family, community, nation, friends, sex partners and so on but also compassion for complete strangers–is an act of will (and often courage). Ultimately, it has little to do with sentimental attachment or even knowing those on whom we bestow love. The early Christians called this level of love agape, self-sacrifice (following the pattern of Christ). Both Dickens and many of his early readers understood all this. But you don’t have to be Christian to do so. I, for example, am Jewish. Many religious traditions have words of their own to describe this central feature of the human condition. Nor do you have to be religious at all. Millions of non-religious people even now find the story very powerful for reminding them that transformation remains a possibility.

Last edited 1 year ago by Paul Nathanson
Phillip Bailey
Phillip Bailey
1 year ago
Reply to  Paul Nathanson

“I do the same thing, dragging around the ugly memories of my own mistakes. Lest I sound too melodramatic, I generally think of these in terms of stupidity or inadequacy in relationships, not of malicious intentions with evil consequences.) If only, I keep thinking, I could have a lobotomy to erase those tormenting memories or, better still, change my past. If only I could have been a better son or a better friend”
Gosh – my own thoughts writ large…

Jeremy Sansom
Jeremy Sansom
1 year ago
Reply to  Phillip Bailey

I understand that with his rejection of Christianity, ‘A Christmas Carol’ was Dickens attempt to harness compassion, unrestrained from religious sentiment, to transport us out of our melancholy. Although he identifies the right mechanism, the agape love of Christ is a powerful antidote to the crushing weight of our past misdemeanours.
To know the phenomenal love of God – that we are loved, utterly, despite our ‘wicked’ (here insert your own ghosts) past – is wonderfully cathartic and releases our dormant, always redeeming, pent-up compassion.
Before lobotomy, please consider Jesus Christ! There is a tried and tested cure for loneliness.

Jeremy Sansom
Jeremy Sansom
1 year ago
Reply to  Phillip Bailey

I understand that with his rejection of Christianity, ‘A Christmas Carol’ was Dickens attempt to harness compassion, unrestrained from religious sentiment, to transport us out of our melancholy. Although he identifies the right mechanism, the agape love of Christ is a powerful antidote to the crushing weight of our past misdemeanours.
To know the phenomenal love of God – that we are loved, utterly, despite our ‘wicked’ (here insert your own ghosts) past – is wonderfully cathartic and releases our dormant, always redeeming, pent-up compassion.
Before lobotomy, please consider Jesus Christ! There is a tried and tested cure for loneliness.

Bruno Lucy
Bruno Lucy
1 year ago
Reply to  Paul Nathanson

Beautifully written but as pointed out below many people chose solitude without feeling lonely….. especially at Xmas where horror stories of family feuds abound.
I for one models on Pr Higgins……and I get myself a tailor made Xmas ….a day I relish and even more the time before.
Can you imagine people selling the presents they don’t like? Good God how did we come to become what we are as a society……objectifying everything and erasing the emotional value of a present even if not exactly to our taste ?
To me….it means the person who gave it to you is a replaceable as the object you are sending back to Amazon

RE Diggins
RE Diggins
1 year ago
Reply to  Paul Nathanson

What a beautiful, candid comment. Even if you can’t change the past at least you’ve had the self awareness to reflect on it. “Footfalls echo in the memory. Down the passage which we did not take. Towards the door we never opened. Into the Rose Garden.”

Margaret Donaldson
Margaret Donaldson
1 year ago
Reply to  Paul Nathanson

I would go further and suggest that at the heart of this story Dickens is reminding us about the transformative power of love. Scrooge chose love and was liberated. And of course, ‘Love came down at Christmas, love all lovely, love divine’. Dickens’s readers would have all known that. Thank you for such a thoughtful article and such thoughtful responses.

Phillip Bailey
Phillip Bailey
1 year ago
Reply to  Paul Nathanson

“I do the same thing, dragging around the ugly memories of my own mistakes. Lest I sound too melodramatic, I generally think of these in terms of stupidity or inadequacy in relationships, not of malicious intentions with evil consequences.) If only, I keep thinking, I could have a lobotomy to erase those tormenting memories or, better still, change my past. If only I could have been a better son or a better friend”
Gosh – my own thoughts writ large…

Bruno Lucy
Bruno Lucy
1 year ago
Reply to  Paul Nathanson

Beautifully written but as pointed out below many people chose solitude without feeling lonely….. especially at Xmas where horror stories of family feuds abound.
I for one models on Pr Higgins……and I get myself a tailor made Xmas ….a day I relish and even more the time before.
Can you imagine people selling the presents they don’t like? Good God how did we come to become what we are as a society……objectifying everything and erasing the emotional value of a present even if not exactly to our taste ?
To me….it means the person who gave it to you is a replaceable as the object you are sending back to Amazon

Paul Nathanson
Paul Nathanson
1 year ago

I’m not sure that A Christmas Carol is primarily about loneliness or alienation due to social, economic and political conditions (although, as Dickens clearly intended, it’s surely about those things as well). For me, at any rate, it’s primarily about despair due to personal failure and the need for personal renewal or rejuvenation. It’s about the possibility of spiritual regeneration and therefore of hope.
When I watch–and I watch it at least once a year in one version or another–the most disturbing scene comes near the beginning. Scrooge meets the ghost of Jacob Marley, who moans while dragging around the heavy chains that he had forged in life, one sinful link after another. I do the same thing, dragging around the ugly memories of my own mistakes. Lest I sound too melodramatic, I generally think of these in terms of stupidity or inadequacy in relationships, not of malicious intentions with evil consequences.) If only, I keep thinking, I could have a lobotomy to erase those tormenting memories or, better still, change my past. If only I could have been a better son or a better friend.
The most joyful scene, not surprisingly, comes near the end. Scrooge wakes up in bed and realizes ecstatically that he still has enough time to change and redeem himself, to escape from the torment of his own past through compassion and reconciliation. I experience this as a powerful antidote to the prevailing cynicism. Why go on living without being worthy of life, after all, and therefore without hope?
A Christmas Carol is not a sociological or psychological treatise in narrative form. Nor is it merely a story, let alone a ghost story. It is a myth that reveals a profound and universal truth about the human condition.

Michael O'Phull
Michael O'Phull
1 year ago

I am a 61 year old man. I have been single for over 20 years and I’ve lived alone for 10 years. My life is not lonely, it is solitary. I prefer it this way. Sartre said “hell is other people” and I couldn’t agree more. I abhor crowds and parties. I’ve got the life I’ve always wanted. My own house, part-time job, and no-one to bother me. On Christmas day I will walk miles to the park and back, watch The Big Lebowski, and cook myself a vegetarian meal. I expect to be in bed by about 11pm as per normal. It’s no big deal.

Milton Gibbon
Milton Gibbon
1 year ago

Now imagine how terrible it would be to have your exact life but to be hating every minute of it.

Michael O'Phull
Michael O'Phull
1 year ago
Reply to  Milton Gibbon

Completely understand. No-one should be alone if they don’t want to be. Some can cope whilst others cannot.

Michael O'Phull
Michael O'Phull
1 year ago
Reply to  Milton Gibbon

Completely understand. No-one should be alone if they don’t want to be. Some can cope whilst others cannot.

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
1 year ago

Bravo! My thoughts exactly.

Rod Robertson
Rod Robertson
1 year ago

Is it ironic that you bothered to post this for others to read? You obviously crave at least this much connection. Not trolling. I totally get introversion, but in general we do need to feel connected to something.

Milton Gibbon
Milton Gibbon
1 year ago

Now imagine how terrible it would be to have your exact life but to be hating every minute of it.

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
1 year ago

Bravo! My thoughts exactly.

Rod Robertson
Rod Robertson
1 year ago

Is it ironic that you bothered to post this for others to read? You obviously crave at least this much connection. Not trolling. I totally get introversion, but in general we do need to feel connected to something.

Michael O'Phull
Michael O'Phull
1 year ago

I am a 61 year old man. I have been single for over 20 years and I’ve lived alone for 10 years. My life is not lonely, it is solitary. I prefer it this way. Sartre said “hell is other people” and I couldn’t agree more. I abhor crowds and parties. I’ve got the life I’ve always wanted. My own house, part-time job, and no-one to bother me. On Christmas day I will walk miles to the park and back, watch The Big Lebowski, and cook myself a vegetarian meal. I expect to be in bed by about 11pm as per normal. It’s no big deal.

Jonas Moze
Jonas Moze
1 year ago

I write to Unherd

I wish to tell the editor, and the writer, this is the best bit of writing to appear in this magazing in a good wile. You need to commission him more.

Jonas Moze
Jonas Moze
1 year ago

I write to Unherd

I wish to tell the editor, and the writer, this is the best bit of writing to appear in this magazing in a good wile. You need to commission him more.

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
1 year ago

What’s wrong with enjoying loneliness? Hell is indeed other people, and the joy of the internet and social media is that one can interact with other humans to a level that you define entirely to suit yourself. That’s never been possible before.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
1 year ago
Reply to  Ian Stewart

I think the point about enjoying solitude, rather than loneliness, is well made in the article. Otherwise i agree with you 100%

For those of us who’ve enjoyed the ups and downs of family life both as children then as adults and parents, to finally have the peace of one’s own space and the choice of when to interact directly with others, is a form of heaven. This has little to do with enforced atomisation by the way.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
1 year ago
Reply to  Ian Stewart

I think the point about enjoying solitude, rather than loneliness, is well made in the article. Otherwise i agree with you 100%

For those of us who’ve enjoyed the ups and downs of family life both as children then as adults and parents, to finally have the peace of one’s own space and the choice of when to interact directly with others, is a form of heaven. This has little to do with enforced atomisation by the way.

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
1 year ago

What’s wrong with enjoying loneliness? Hell is indeed other people, and the joy of the internet and social media is that one can interact with other humans to a level that you define entirely to suit yourself. That’s never been possible before.

David A. Westbrook
David A. Westbrook
1 year ago

Brilliantly done, especially poetically. The notion of thin — threadbare, hungry, but also permeable, rendable . . . contrast “thick” relations and descriptions, tapestry . . . this is a masterful little essay. Kudos. Enjoy the season!

David A. Westbrook
David A. Westbrook
1 year ago

Brilliantly done, especially poetically. The notion of thin — threadbare, hungry, but also permeable, rendable . . . contrast “thick” relations and descriptions, tapestry . . . this is a masterful little essay. Kudos. Enjoy the season!

Christopher Chantrill
Christopher Chantrill
1 year ago

It is a commonplace that our modern rationalist, individualist, citified world is more alone and solitary and anti-social than the good old days.
But I wonder.

Martin Bollis
Martin Bollis
1 year ago

It’s a fair comment. What I read, and what I see in day to day life, are often quite disconnected.

I did enjoy the essay though.

Last edited 1 year ago by Martin Bollis
Martin Bollis
Martin Bollis
1 year ago

It’s a fair comment. What I read, and what I see in day to day life, are often quite disconnected.

I did enjoy the essay though.

Last edited 1 year ago by Martin Bollis
Christopher Chantrill
Christopher Chantrill
1 year ago

It is a commonplace that our modern rationalist, individualist, citified world is more alone and solitary and anti-social than the good old days.
But I wonder.

David Ryan
David Ryan
1 year ago

A good piece. He’s right about the thin places. Might seem like garbage in the secular 21st century, but the idea that there are places that lie closer to an alternate reality isn’t that far fetched. Think about a shadow or a reflection, that’s as close as we can get to second dimensional reality. Now think about the third dimension, which we inhabit, and how it might appear to the posited inhabitants of a fourth dimension. Is it possible that there are instances where the third and fourth intersect, just as the second and third sometimes intersect? I wouldn’t rule it out.

David Ryan
David Ryan
1 year ago

A good piece. He’s right about the thin places. Might seem like garbage in the secular 21st century, but the idea that there are places that lie closer to an alternate reality isn’t that far fetched. Think about a shadow or a reflection, that’s as close as we can get to second dimensional reality. Now think about the third dimension, which we inhabit, and how it might appear to the posited inhabitants of a fourth dimension. Is it possible that there are instances where the third and fourth intersect, just as the second and third sometimes intersect? I wouldn’t rule it out.

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
1 year ago

I am trying not to be dismissive or too hard hearted here – it is Christmas after all! But this article does seem to tread well worn territory. Of course there are lots of people, but I’d say a small minority, who are isolated, lonely and quite possibly depressed. But we live in a complicated world.

The trouble is, there is not a wand we can wave to overcome this, not least because some – many? – of these people actively ‘want’ to be on their own as I know from experience with friends, one of whom recently cut himself off for 4 years and has since tragically been found dead in his flat.

A big subject – though I am a gay man and have every reason to be thankful for social freedoms, I do wonder whether a society based largely on individual rights and not social obligations and mutual support isn’t inevitably going to generate these problems. However, it is complicated, we can’t honestly (I don’t think) say that things are obviously better elsewhere or in the past. More collective societies can be utterly stifling and also breed resentments, albeit ones that are largely suppressed. (I recall reading about a small farm in India where the patriarch lived to a ripe old age and held back the independent lives of his children).

Many people like precisely these individual freedoms, they don’t want to be their parents’ carers for one example, and to make things more morally complex, nether do many modern western parents want their children to look after them in their old age. Meanwhile, living in a not desperately affluent part of Southeast London, I see most ordinary people living pretty happily and engaged with their families, warts and all.

Last edited 1 year ago by Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
1 year ago

I am trying not to be dismissive or too hard hearted here – it is Christmas after all! But this article does seem to tread well worn territory. Of course there are lots of people, but I’d say a small minority, who are isolated, lonely and quite possibly depressed. But we live in a complicated world.

The trouble is, there is not a wand we can wave to overcome this, not least because some – many? – of these people actively ‘want’ to be on their own as I know from experience with friends, one of whom recently cut himself off for 4 years and has since tragically been found dead in his flat.

A big subject – though I am a gay man and have every reason to be thankful for social freedoms, I do wonder whether a society based largely on individual rights and not social obligations and mutual support isn’t inevitably going to generate these problems. However, it is complicated, we can’t honestly (I don’t think) say that things are obviously better elsewhere or in the past. More collective societies can be utterly stifling and also breed resentments, albeit ones that are largely suppressed. (I recall reading about a small farm in India where the patriarch lived to a ripe old age and held back the independent lives of his children).

Many people like precisely these individual freedoms, they don’t want to be their parents’ carers for one example, and to make things more morally complex, nether do many modern western parents want their children to look after them in their old age. Meanwhile, living in a not desperately affluent part of Southeast London, I see most ordinary people living pretty happily and engaged with their families, warts and all.

Last edited 1 year ago by Andrew Fisher
Janet G
Janet G
1 year ago

” rebirth of hope in the depths of winter”
Is it possible, then, to celebrate Christmas in the southern hemisphere?

geoffrey cox
geoffrey cox
1 year ago

I think the paragraph about Jo Cox should read: ‘Before she was said to have been murdered by , etc.’. This is an extraordinarily mysterious murder story with dozens of still unanswered questions. Yet it is rarely or never revisited. I wonder why not.

Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
1 year ago
Reply to  geoffrey cox

Tell us more Mr Cox. Don’t leave us dangling.

MĂŽnica
MĂŽnica
1 year ago
Reply to  geoffrey cox

What are you trying to deny? The crime? Its authorship? Her death? Please enlighten us.

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
1 year ago
Reply to  geoffrey cox

There are websites you can go to maintained by like minded individuals and you can raise such questions and discuss them endlessly.

Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
1 year ago
Reply to  geoffrey cox

Tell us more Mr Cox. Don’t leave us dangling.

MĂŽnica
MĂŽnica
1 year ago
Reply to  geoffrey cox

What are you trying to deny? The crime? Its authorship? Her death? Please enlighten us.

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
1 year ago
Reply to  geoffrey cox

There are websites you can go to maintained by like minded individuals and you can raise such questions and discuss them endlessly.

geoffrey cox
geoffrey cox
1 year ago

I think the paragraph about Jo Cox should read: ‘Before she was said to have been murdered by , etc.’. This is an extraordinarily mysterious murder story with dozens of still unanswered questions. Yet it is rarely or never revisited. I wonder why not.