While “The Battle of Life” is one of Charles Dickens’ Christmas Books – his annual release of a story just before Christmas – this one breaks the tradition by not being concerned with Christmas. Rather, its subtitle, “A Love Story”, reveals more of the plot. The major events of this book take place on land that once was a battleground. That is just a backdrop for Dickens’ idea of the real battle of life – finding and winning the right partner, so that life will go on to the next generation. The family that lives there is rather confused in its affections and intentions regarding who should end up with whom. We are thrust into the fight to make things work out, and, happily for a Christmas book, Dickens leads us on to a happy ending. (Summary by Mark F. Smith)
Two sisters, Grace and Marion, live happily in an English village with their two servants, Clemency Newcome and Ben Britain, and their good-natured widower father Dr. Jeddler. Dr. Jeddler is a man whose philosophy is to treat life as a farce. Marion, the younger sister, is betrothed to Alfred Heathfield, Jeddler's ward who is leaving the village to complete his studies. He entrusts Marion to Grace's care and makes a promise to return to win Marion's hand.
Michael Warden, a libertine who is about to leave the country, is thought by the solicitors Snitchey and Craggs to be about to seduce the younger sister into an elopement. Clemency spies Marion one night in her clandestine rendezvous with Warden. On the day that Alfred is to return, however, it is discovered that Marion has run off. Her supposed elopement causes much grief to both her father and her sister.
Six years pass. Clemency is now married to Britain and the two have set up a tavern in the village. After nursing heartbreak, Alfred marries Grace instead of Marion and she bears him a daughter, also called Marion. On the birthday of Marion, Grace confides to Alfred that Marion has made a promise to explain her so-called "elopement" in person. Marion indeed appears that evening by sunset and explains her disappearance to the parties involved. It turns out that Marion has not "eloped" but has instead been living at her Aunt Martha's place so as to allow Alfred to fall in love with Grace. Tears are shed and happiness and forgiveness reign as the missing sister is reunited with the rest. Warden also returns, and, forgiven by Dr. Jeddler, marries Marion.
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