‘What if Scrooge were a woman?’

Alison Larkin (Photo contributed)

Charles Dickens is arguably one of the most notable novelists to rise from the Victorian Era. Now more than a century later, his works continue to live on, largely due to his character development. In fact, characters like the crotchety Ebenezer Scrooge are still common household names.
So what would happen if the gender was swapped on some of Dickens’ most iconic characters, like Scrooge?
For Alison Larkin, that question became a fascinating pursuit into Dickens’ work. First up was Pip from “Great Expectations.”
Larkin was attracted to Dickens’ 1861 novel because of the element of adoption to the story of orphan Philip Pirrip, more commonly known as “Pip,” she said. Larkin, an award-winning audiobook narrator and resident of Stockbridge, was born in Washington, D.C. and adopted by British parents. Growing up, she was raised in both England and Africa. Following her graduation from London University and The Webber-Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art, she became a playwright and took to the British stage as a classical actress. At 28, she sought her birth mother, who was living in Bald Mountain, Tennessee, at the time. Her experience, she says, led her to pen the 2008 best-selling novel, “The English American,” which is about an adopted English woman who finds her parents in the U.S. It also led her to the stage as a stand-up comedienne.
Admittedly, Larkin says that Great Expectations frightened her as child.
“I was terrified of it,” she said, pointing to the character of Miss Havisham. “She was a very unpleasant, dreadful character, but what I ended up finding in really falling in love with Dickens’ work.
“I was so excited that the experiment worked, I decided to do the same with ‘A Christmas Carol,’ and make Scrooge a woman.”
The shift, she says, fascinated her. She adapted the text in a way that made sense to her without changing the story line. The story, she says, is still “pure Dickens.”
From there, Larkin took her adaptations and recorded them in two new audiobook releases of Great Expectations and A Christmas Carol, both of which were released last month.
The idea to change the gender of these characters was first prompted after having a conversation with her daughter, Eliza, who was 16 at the time. The conversation, she recalled, went something like this:
“She asked me, ‘What does it matter if you’re gay or straight, or a man wanting to be a woman or a woman wanting to be a man?’ said Larkin. “‘It doesn’t matter,’ I told her. ‘All that matters is love’.”
“Then why do people get so upset about it?” Eliza asked, genuinely perplexed.
“Because,” Larkin said, “We live in a patriarchal society and that’s we have done things for hundreds of years.”
The result of Larkin’s pursuit was creating a world where it was considered normal for a young girl to learn to read and write or fall in love with a woman or walk into a tavern without being molested or have a career and life that, at the time, only men could dream of.
“If gender had been simply irrelevant in the 19th century, where would we all be now?” she said.
That question will also be the topic of discussion at her upcoming launch event on Thursday, Dec. 12 at The Bookloft, located at 332 Stockbridge Road in Great Barrington. During the event, Larkin will read short excerpts from the adapted novels and host a discussion on gender and the patriarchy from 5 to 7 p.m. The event will also be live streamed on her Facebook page “Alison Larkin Presents.” A Christmas Carol will be available as both a book and an ebook.
For more information on Larkin or her work, visit alisonlarkinpresents.com.

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