Wherein we are introduced to Dickens’s five Christmas books (the first of which, A Christmas Carol, is the tenth read of our Dickens Chronological Reading Club 2022-24), along with the accompanying travelogue Pictures from Italy; with a glance at the context of Dickens’ life at the time–and other considerations. Finally, we have an overview of the whole of the reading schedule from 20 December through 6 February; with a look ahead to the coming week.
Yo ho, Ebenezers! Today we’re embarking on a magical journey through the Christmas books of Charles Dickens!
“Old Fezziwig laid down his pen, and looked up at the clock, which pointed to the hour of seven. He rubbed his hands; adjusted his capacious waistcoat; laughed all over himself, from his shoes to his organ of benevolence; and called out in a comfortable, oily, rich, fat, jovial voice:
‘Yo ho, there! Ebenezer! Dick!’”
But first, some quick links:
- General Mems
- A Christmas Carol: A General Introduction
- The Other Christmas Books
- Pictures from Italy
- Adaptations and Additional Media
- Reading Schedule
- A Look-Ahead to A Christmas Carol (20-26 December, 2022)
- Works Cited
Rach recently chatted about The Old Curiosity Shop and Barnaby Rudge with our dear #DickensClub member, Deacon Matthew, on his beautiful podcast on seminary life, faith, and literature. The latest segment, on Barnaby, can be found here, and begins at approximately 34 minutes in. Look out next week for a three-way chat on A Christmas Carol with Deacon Matthew, Boze, and Rach! We agreed it was “our best yet!”
If you’re counting, today is day 351 (and week 51) in our #DickensClub! This week we’ll be reading, appropriately, A Christmas Carol, our tenth read of the group. Please feel free to comment below this post for any thoughts on A Christmas Carol, or use the hashtag #DickensClub if you’re commenting on twitter.
No matter where you’re at in the reading process, a huge “thank you” for reading along with us. Heartfelt thanks to our dear Dickens Fellowship, The Dickens Society, and the Charles Dickens Letters Project for retweets, and to all those liking, sharing, and encouraging our Club, including Gina Dalfonzo, Dr. Christian Lehmann and Dr. Pete Orford. Huge “thank you” also to The Circumlocution Office (on twitter also!) for providing such a marvelous online resource for us, and to The Charles Dickens Page and The Victorian Web for such fantastic background information and illustrations.
And for any more recent members or for those who might be interested in joining: the revised two-and-a-half year reading schedule can be found here. If you’ve been reading along with us but aren’t yet on the Member List, we would love to add you! Please feel free to message Rach here on the site, or on twitter.
A Christmas Carol: A General Introduction
What is the measure of a person’s life? Is redemption possible for someone whose own foolish choices have shattered his or her chances at happiness? What do we owe to each other?
Charles Dickens’s novella A Christmas Carol, one of the five or ten most beloved, adapted, celebrated books ever written, grapples in a nimble and profoundly entertaining fashion with these and other questions. Political and moral issues are never far from the surface of Dickens’s text, but are handled with such a light touch that many readers (or viewers) don’t even notice, so captivating is the story and so emotionally gripping is the arc of Scrooge’s transformation. As Rach was recently saying, the story is so archetypal that it almost seems to have an existence independent of Dickens, as if he was merely transcribing an ancient tale. Doctor Who paid homage to this feeling by suggesting in a 2010 episode (entitled “A Christmas Carol”) that the story exists in every world, wherever the midwinter festival is celebrated. Russell T. Davies, himself a Doctor Who showrunner, said, “Just how brilliant was Dickens in coming up with that? It’s now replacing the Nativity as the Christmas story. What a man!”
A Christmas Carol is significant not only as a treasure of world literature and culture; it marked a critical turning point in Dickens’s life. His last few books—Barnaby Rudge, Martin Chuzzlewit, American Notes—had not been successful, and the last book in particular had provoked a public backlash in the United States. There was a growing sense that Dickens’s well of creativity had run dry, that he was spent as an author, that the early success of Pickwick Papers, Oliver Twist, and The Old Curiosity Shop had been a mere fluke and that now, at the advanced age of thirty-one, the sun was setting on the career of the Inimitable. Needing to pay off debts to his publishers Chapman & Hall, and hoping to salvage his reputation as a storyteller, he pitched to them the idea of a Christmas novella—an idea without much precedent at the time, given the relatively low esteem that Christmas had in the English imagination prior to Dickens, and therefore a risky proposition financially. If the book had failed, Dickens’s career would have been as dead as a door-nail.
The book was written in six weeks, Dickens only occasionally interrupting the flow of work to finish a number from the concurrent Martin Chuzzlewit. In the flush of inspiration, as Peter Ackroyd has noted, Dickens drew upon not only the major social issues of the day—the prisons, the workhouses—but also his own most formative griefs and recollections—reading alone in a decaying building (the schoolroom which Scrooge visits standing in for the blacking factory in which he was forced to work at the age of twelve), his love for his sister Fan, the terraced house in Bayham Street, Camden Town that becomes the home of Bob Cratchit and family, the adult Dickens and his often Scrooge-ish preoccupation with being paid what he was owed. “Some of his earliest memories are here fused together,” writes Ackroyd, “creating such an entirely new shape that it is perhaps pointless to look for the various scattered ‘sources’ of which A Christmas Carol is made up. It is enough to say that much of its power derives from the buried recollections which animate it.”
The book’s ubiquity can make it difficult to detach the story from the cultural detritus surrounding it. As you read it again this Christmas, pay close attention to how Dickens’s faith informs his perspective—his concern for the destitute and forgotten, his hope for redemption in even the most miserable lives, his sense that the most cruel judgment is to die alone and unloved. Notice, too, how A Christmas Carol plays almost like a piece of orchestral music as Scrooge journeys from stage to stage—the bleakness of his childhood slowly giving way to the light of Christmas morning as he walks alongside the Second Ghost through the thronged streets of London. Revisit “The Story of the Goblins Who Stole a Sexton” from the Christmas number of Pickwick Papers and note how Grub seems to anticipate Scrooge, and the goblins the ghosts, suggesting that Dickens attempted several variations on this story before inscribing it in its most perfect form. Observe how the gentleman in a white waistcoat in Oliver Twist, who prophesies with a grim relish that young Oliver will be hanged, turns up here in the form of a ghost who wishes to assist a starving mother and her child, and cannot.
Best of all, Dickens approaches a peak of his descriptive powers in this book (as he had done in the Dingley Dell scene in Pickwick—Christmas awoke something nameless and secret in him). At times his language approaches Shakespeare, as in his descriptions of London in winter, which evoke the unnaturally chilly winters of the 1810s when he was a child, and which he always remembered:
“It was cold, bleak, biting weather: foggy withal: and he could hear the people in the court outside, go wheezing up and down, beating their hands upon their breasts, and stamping their feet upon the pavement stones to warm them. The city clocks had only just gone three, but it was quite dark already—it had not been light all day—and candles were flaring in the windows of the neighbouring offices, like ruddy smears upon the palpable brown air. The fog came pouring in at every chink and keyhole, and was so dense without, that although the court was of the narrowest, the houses opposite were mere phantoms. To see the dingy cloud come drooping down, obscuring everything, one might have thought that Nature lived hard by, and was brewing on a large scale.“
Or the description of the men at sea and the miners in the bowels of the earth, which so often gets excised from screen adaptations:
“Again the Ghost sped on, above the black and heaving sea—on, on—until, being far away, as he told Scrooge, from any shore, they lighted on a ship. They stood beside the helmsman at the wheel, the look-out in the bow, the officers who had the watch; dark, ghostly figures in their several stations; but every man among them hummed a Christmas tune, or had a Christmas thought, or spoke below his breath to his companion of some bygone Christmas Day, with homeward hopes belonging to it. And every man on board, waking or sleeping, good or bad, had had a kinder word for another on that day than on any day in the year; and had shared to some extent in its festivities; and had remembered those he cared for at a distance, and had known that they delighted to remember him.“
Dickens is no sentimentalist, however, which explains much of the story’s enduring power. It was Bob Cratchit and Tiny Tim who most powerfully engaged the novelist’s sympathies; it was the twin phantoms, Ignorance and Want, who became the book’s central metaphor; it was the hope of stirring the hearts and stoking the guilt of those in a position to improve the fortunes of their less privileged neighbors, that drove him to compose a Christmas classic.
The Other Christmas Books
When A Christmas Carol proved successful—it became the bestselling book of the season, and went through multiple printings—Dickens the businessman realized there was money to be made in the printing of holiday-themed books. In short succession there followed The Chimes, The Cricket on the Hearth, The Battle of Life and The Haunted Man. Though none of them would prove to have the enduring power of his first Christmas book (Dickens’s own predictions to the contrary), The Chimes is notable both for its origins—Dickens’s rage at the case of a poor woman condemned to death for drowning her infant child in the Thames—and for its remarkable opening passage, in which Toby Veck walks along the London streets against a fierce wind.
“And a breezy, goose-skinned, blue-nosed, red-eyed, stony-toed, tooth-chattering place it was, to wait in, in the winter-time, as Toby Veck well knew. The wind came tearing round the corner—especially the east wind—as if it had sallied forth, express, from the confines of the earth, to have a blow at Toby. And oftentimes it seemed to come upon him sooner than it had expected, for bouncing round the corner, and passing Toby, it would suddenly wheel round again, as if it cried ‘Why, here he is!’”
Pictures from Italy
As we did with American Notes, I would like to make a personal appeal to the readers of this blog to check out Pictures from Italy. Rach and I recently read it aloud together and were dumbstruck by the creative fury of Dickens’s descriptions, his endless lists, and his unfailing sense of fun. Whereas the first travel book occasionally got stuck in cul-de-sacs of political and social commentary, his Italian travelogue is pure joy. The chapter introducing the Goblin of Avignon, whom Dickens encountered in the Palace of Popes and who has a habit of shouting, “Voila les oubliettes! Les oubliettes de l’Inquisition!” with a sort of deranged glee, is a personal favorite.
Adaptations and Additional Media
Rach, Chris & I recently contributed a post for Dickens December showcasing some of our favorite Dickens-adjacent Christmas media.
There are several hundred film, radio, and TV adaptations of A Christmas Carol of varying quality, but we would both like to recommend the criminally neglected 1970 musical Scrooge starring Albert Finney and Alec Guinness. It’s been mandatory viewing in both Rach’s home and mine since we were kids and become an indispensable holiday tradition. The songs (by Leslie Bricusse, of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory) are irrepressibly catchy, the characters (particularly Tom the Hot-Soup Man) are indelible, and the script is weird, inventive, and steeped in Dickens. (Kenneth More’s Ghost of Christmas Present owes more to the goblin in “The Story of the Goblins Who Stole a Sexton” than he does to Dickens’s original ghost.) It’s one of the few adaptations that depicts Scrooge in hell, and likely the only one featuring a crowd song-and-dance number on Scrooge’s coffin.
|Week One: 20-26 December||A Christmas Carol||This is the beginning of our sequence of Christmas Books and Pictures from Italy. As reluctant as we were to break up the sequence of Christmas Books with Pictures and Dombey, it was between that or going out of chronological order.|
|Week Two: 27 December 2022-02 January 2023||The Chimes|
|Week Three: 03 January-09 January 2023||The Cricket on the Hearth|
|Weeks Four, Five and Six: 10-30 January, 2023||OPTIONAL: Pictures from Italy||Since we won’t have a break until after this sequence, Pictures from Italy is an optional work and can be used as an additional break, or to catch up.|
|Week Seven: 31 January-06 February, 2023||The Battle of Life|
A Look-Ahead to A Christmas Carol (20-26 December 2022)
Friends, this week we’ll be reading A Christmas Carol in its entirety. If you’d like to read it online for free, it can be found at The Circumlocution Office, or downloaded at sites such as Gutenberg.
There are so many fabulous audiobook versions, too! Patrick Stewart, Frank Muller, Hugh Grant, Simon Prebble, Anton Lesser…
Here’s a free unabridged reading by the marvelous Simon Prebble (who has also–brilliantly!–read books such as The Pickwick Papers and Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell):
Ackroyd, Peter. Dickens. New York: HarperCollins, 1990.
Davies, Russell T. and Benjamin Cook. Doctor Who: The Writer’s Tale: The Final Chapter. Random House, 2010.
Greetings, Boze, Rachel, and Inimitables All!
Wishing you and yours a marvelous holiday season and a very merry Christmas!
What rich thoughts about “A Christmas Carol” and the wondrous vehicle (Dickens) for this eternally resonating story of transformation, of redemption, of reclamation.
Here are a few things you wrote about, Boze, which evoked thoughts in me . . . .
1. Excellent questions: What is the measure of a person’s life? Is redemption possible for someone whose own foolish choices have shattered his or her chances at happiness? What do we owe to each other?
Perfectly framed. Nothing like a question to stir and spur resources of the soul, of the spirit. Thank you for these!
2. Rachel’s astute observation: “so archetypal that it almost seems to have an existence independent of Dickens, as if he was merely transcribing an ancient tale.”
That makes such sense. Many writers allude to a Muse, a Force that seems to move through them. Of course, this story emerges from the soil of Dickens’ soul. Like biblical text, however, the message transcends the writer, the “transcriber” of revelation. Dickens’ story, to my mind, is truly and forever revelatory.
3. Necessity, the mother of invention: “If the book had failed, Dickens’s career would have been as dead as a door-nail.”
This makes me think of the situation presented in delightful and poignant “The Man Who Invented Christmas.”
Dickens, wonderfully presented by Dan Stevens, is running out of steam. He faces blank pages; he is antsy, almost manic-depressive in his frustration. The press of money woes seems to drive him to pitch the idea of a Christmas story.
Nice touch, Boze: his career “would have been as dead as a door-nail.” Nice.
4. Dickens’ “cosmology,” faith: “. . . how Dickens’s faith informs his perspective—his concern for the destitute and forgotten, his hope for redemption in even the most miserable lives, his sense that the most cruel judgment is to die alone and unloved.”
Is there any wonder that we love Dickens with our whole heart and soul?!?
5. Conscience of the day: “Dickens is no sentimentalist, however, which explains much of the story’s enduring power. It was Bob Cratchit and Tiny Tim who most powerfully engaged the novelist’s sympathies; it was the twin phantoms, Ignorance and Want, who became the book’s central metaphor; it was the hope of stirring the hearts and stoking the guilt of those in a position to improve the fortunes of their less privileged neighbors, that drove him to compose a Christmas classic.”
I repeat: Is there any wonder that we love Dickens with our whole heart and soul?!?
Such a wonderfully engaging and enriching introduction to “A Christmas Carol”!
Thank you very much! (Pun/allusion intended–from “Scrooge,” Tom dancing on Dickens’ coffin)
Blessings, and may we “reflect upon your present blessings—of which every man has many—not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some.”
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“Scrooge’s name was good upon ‘Change, for anything he chose to put his hand to.” (Stave 1)
As my son and I were reading “A Christmas Carol” aloud we discussed how the abbreviated word “‘Change’” sort of trips up the reader. It is clipped, hard, and doesn’t roll off the tongue, causing the oral reader to think about pronouncing it, or the silent reader to pause much longer than the comma after it might suggest. We understand this to be a colloquial term, quite in keeping with the tone of the story, but we wonder if its choice is more significant. We wonder if, perhaps, it is used purposely to trip us up, to make us pause, to take note, however unconsciously, of the sentence. And so we took note of the sentence – “Scrooge’s name was good upon ‘Change, for anything he chose to put his hand to.” – and theorized that it may be the defining sentence of the whole piece. After his experiences of the spirits, and continuing for 179 years, Scrooge’s name becomes synonymous with (good upon) change because (for anything) he chose to put his hand to doing so.
In looking for more recent articles regarding patterning, repetition, etc., in Dickens’s novels I came across Robert L. Patten’s 1972 articles entitled “Dickens Time and Again”. It seemed a promising title. I was further intrigued because “A Christmas Carol” is the focus of Patten’s article – timely in terms of our Group’s schedule.
The pattern Dr Patten points out is Dickens’s “concern with the dynamics of conversion”:
“Moreover, [“A Christmas Carol”] shares with Dickens’ other writings of that decade – [OCS, MC, Chimes, D&S, Hunted Man, DC] – a concern with the dynamics of conversion. Starting with Dick Swiveller, and developing in complexity and subtlety as the decade passes, Dickens presents a series of imperfect characters who are shocked by various circumstances into a new awareness of themselves and a new attitude toward others. The almost obsessive repetition of this pattern confirms that the process of reformation was vitally important to Dickens, and not merely a melodramatic interlude between two opposing selves. Studies of the regeneration of sinners are the very staple of his fiction during the forties, are treated with increasing seriousness and prominence, and resurface in subsequent decades in the lives of Gradgrind, Pip, and Bella Wilfer.” (164)
That said, the article turns its attention to focusing on how Dickens uses Time as a vehicle for Scrooge’s conversion – past, present and yet to come must converge to facilitate Scrooge’s conversion. Patten identifies six categories of Time:
One – “calendrical and quantitative”, “a concrete fact, hard, impersonal, unyielding” (167). This Time equals money and is that which Scrooge inhabits at the opening of the story;
Two -“circular . . . recurrent (instead of repetitive), ceremonial, emotional, and, by virtue of the similarity of response called up in all men and women each time, oddly stationary” (that is, every Christmas evokes the same emotion thus never changes). This is the Time inhabited by Scrooge’s nephew, Fred, and is that which Scrooge rejects when he dismisses the charity gentlemen and shoos the singing boy from his door;
Three – “the span of one human life, from birth to death” (167-168);
Four -“the time after death” which Dickens depicts as “when the characteristics of this life are reversed”, for example, because Marley was “cold and impervious” in life, in death his hair & clothing are “agitated as by the hot vapour from an oven”, and because he remained shut up in his counting house in life, in death he must “wander through the world” in death. (168-169);
Five and Six – These inhabit the same ground, so to speak. There is “the historical time of the story” that is “London, circa 1843” with its landmarks, society, and culture. (169) Set within the historical Time is a “fictive” Time that is the story of Scrooge’s encounter with the spirits. (170)
Through the next 20 pages, Patten explains how these six Times converge to elicit and effect Scrooge’s conversion from the “squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner” in Stave One to the man who was “as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew” who “knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge” (Stave Five). The six Times lead Scrooge to a seventh Time, which Patten calls Christian Time:
“the ever-present possibility of renewing our existence and giving it fresh meaning. The past is valuable insofar as it has been integrated into our being and has become a part of us. The future is valuable insofar as it can be integrated into our being and can renew it. The present . . . is valuable because it can both anticipate and actualize the future and take hold of our past to give it new meaning and transform it into an entirely different future.” (191, Patten quoting the Catholic theologian Jean Mouroux)
Scrooge “has moved out of quantitative time into qualitative time”; “what was chronos becomes kairos” (191); and quoting Frank Kermonde).
Which brings Patten back to patterns, repetition:
“The parable concerning the uses of time which underlies the Carol appears again and again in Dickens’ work: men of business vie with men whose business is mankind; the wisdom of the head . . . contends against the more potent and lasting wisdom of the heart.” (194)
Patten’s article is a lengthy read at 40 pages, and Patten himself acknowledges that “to explicate so elaborately, and to employ such portentous terminology, may appear to register sheer insensibility to the tone and comedy of Dickens’ Christmas book.” (196) But if you find the Time during this busy holiday week please give it a read. In my opinion Patten provides a superb analysis which shed much light on the text of “A Christmas Carol” and the genius of the man who wrote it.
Echoing Daniel above, I wish you all the best of holidays! Indeed, God bless Us, Every One!
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Pardon the terrible pun, but maybe Dickens used “‘change” instead of the London Exchange to foreshadow Scrooge and his future changing over the course of the story.
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BTW, I really enjoyed the article, but I’d like to ask you a question. It references another article by John Butt about Dickens’s Christmas books that “has traced the topics that were on Dickens’s mind in the months preceding the Carol’s composition and shown how many of these subjects appear in his Christmas book.” Do you know where I could read that? It sounds very interesting.
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Stationmaster – Amazon has some inexpensive used copies, or I’d check with my local library.
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This article was a great read… thanks for sharing 🙂
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Besides being the most popular thing Dickens wrote (even people who don’t like Dickens will have something good to say about it), A Christmas Carol has his most famous opening sentence. “Marley was dead: to begin with.” Perhaps it’s not a coincidence that the book begins by reminding us of mortality. And it may be significant that the first words of dialogue are “A merry Christmas, Uncle! God save you!” Merry Christmases are a big part of the book and Scrooge is a character who needs to be saved. Of course, the famous last words are a universal benediction.
Some readers find it unbelievable that the icy Scrooge would immediately start crying after the Ghost of Christmas Past takes him to his childhood neighborhood, but I buy it. I mean there’s no way of knowing how someone would react to an impossible situation like that. Scrooge’s violent emotional response seems as likely as any to me.
There’s something appropriate about the scene in the future of the charwoman, laundress and undertaker’s man. In life, Scrooge only valued people to the extent that he could make use of them. Now he is being treated the same way-or rather he would have been.
A minor detail that’s easy to overlook is that in Christmas Present, the Cratchits are excited about Peter getting a job, but in Christmas Future, only a year later(!), they’re eager to find him “a better situation,” implying his employer turned out to be another Scrooge. This makes the moment in Christmas Present kind of depressing in retrospect.
Speaking of which, it’s odd that we never get Scrooge’s nephew’s response to his uncle’s death in Christmas Future. Wouldn’t he, if nobody else, grieve over it? Did Dickens just forget about him? (In his preface to the Christmas Books, Dickens apologized that he “never attempted great elaboration of detail in the working out of character” in them due to their brief length.) Or did he before Scrooge? That’s pretty depressing!
I’m sorry so much of this comment is about dark implications when A Christmas Carol is so much fun. You’ve got to love all the humorous touches Dickens included, like the easily overlooked bit with Scrooge’s old schoolmaster “sending out a meagre servant to offer a glass of ‘something’ to the postboy, who answered that he thanked the gentleman, but if it was the same tap as he had tasted before, he had rather not.” LOL.
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I really agree with what Boze quoted Rachel as saying about A Christmas Carol feeling like it’s been around forever. Actually, I feel like that about all of Dickens’s plots including the ones I don’t like. I mean there are plenty of myths and fairy tales that don’t make dramatic sense, but they still feel “real” somehow. They’re like the Earth itself somehow. Once I’ve heard one, I feel like I’ve always known it. There’s something so obvious, for lack of a better term, about them.
Harking back to my earlier comment, there are a number of other signs in A Christmas Carol that Dickens was thinking about the hard lives of employees, like the young Scrooge and Dick Wilkins having to sleep under counters in the back shop. (And remember Fezziwig is the most positive authority figure in the book unless you count Mr. and Mrs. Cratchit as parents.) Or there’s Martha “who was a poor apprentice at a milliner’s, then told them what kind of work she had to do, and how many hours she worked at a stretch, and how she meant to lie abed to-morrow morning for a good long rest; to-morrow being a holiday she passed at home.”
Speaking of Dick Wilkins, a minor detail that I’d noticed before is that Scrooge refers to him as “poor Dick,” implying that he died somehow. Since he was apparently a contemporary of Scrooge’s, he wouldn’t have died of old age like Fezziwig. I wonder what kind of death Dickens imagined for him. Must have been pretty tragic.
It’s interesting that in the middle of the highly creepy scene of Scrooge in the dark bedroom with his own future corpse, Dickens includes an uplifting passage.
“Oh cold, cold, rigid, dreadful Death, set up thine altar here, and dress it with such terrors as thou hast at thy command: for this is thy dominion! But of the loved, revered, and honoured head, thou canst not turn one hair to thy dread purposes, or make one feature odious. It is not that the hand is heavy and will fall down when released; it is not that the heart and pulse are still; but that the hand was open, generous, and true; the heart brave, warm, and tender; and the pulse a man’s. Strike, Shadow, strike! And see his good deeds springing from the wound, to sow the world with life immortal!”
By the way, I looked up the scripture quotation that Peter Cratchit reads in Stave IV. (“And He took a child and set him in the midst of them.”) Apparently, this is either from Matthew 18, Mark 9 or Luke 18. Judging by the wording, I’d say Mark, but it’s possible there are aspects of the other versions that Dickens had in his head when he chose the quote. If you haven’t looked the passage up yourself before now to find out its thematic relation to Tiny Tim, you’re going to have do so because this comment of mine is going to be long enough as it is.
I’d like to give a shoutout to some kids’ books that take A Christmas Carol as their inspiration. There’s this series called Cracked Classics by Tony Abbott. It’s about a couple of middle school students who hate reading but keep transported into the world of whatever classic book their teacher has assigned via a pair of magical library security gates. The only way they can get back home is to read the entire book. (All the classics covered by the series are well known, so it’s a bit ridiculous that the kids would quite as ignorant as they are, no matter how little interest they have in literature. I mean who doesn’t know John Silver is a bad guy? Or that A Christmas Carol is a ghost story? Or that Romeo and Juliet come from feuding families? At least they didn’t need to be told that Dracula is a vampire.)
It may sound strange that I’d enjoy this series since I’m an adult who often reads actual classics for fun. But I find Cracked Classics very engaging in their unchallenging way and Humbug Holiday is topnotch. The writing and the humor may not be as great as Dickens, but they make me laugh. (“I thought Christmas was a happy time. This is more like school. Marley’s sending these ghosts to teach us a lesson.”) And they benefit from the fact that Dickens, like some of the other authors of classics the series has cracked, already included a lot of humor in the book. It can even get effectively dramatic at times-well, as dramatic as the prose style allows, which isn’t very, but you can Tony Abbott tried.
Of more interest to readers of this blog, is Bah! Humbug! by Michael Rosen. It’s about a school production of A Christmas Carol. The father of the young boy playing Scrooge is always complaining about how much money it costs whenever the family does anything fun. He ditches the performance to go work on his company’s website. The book interweaves scenes from the play with scenes of the dad and each functions as a commentary on the other. (Scrooge seeing Marley’s face on the knocker is intercut with Dad imagining he sees his deceased friend for a second. Belle releasing Scrooge from their engagement is intercut with Dad reminiscing about how he and his wife almost separated. You get the idea.) Needless to say, the father undergoes a Scrooge-like transformation over the course of the night.
Even though a workaholic dad needing to spend more time having fun with his family is a tired cliche (Dickens arguably did a version in Dombey and Son), I’ll allow it because I love how down-to-earth and downright relatable the Scrooge character comes across. It demonstrates how, in the words of John Ruskin, “Dickens’s caricature, though often gross, is never mistaken.” We may not say what Scrooge initially says about “decreasing the surplus population” out loud, but it’s easy to resent the less fortunate when others urge us to help them, and we really just want to enjoy our own fortune. It’s not an admirable attitude but it’s a relatable one. Bah! Humbug! is a great little reminder that we’ve all got a Scrooge inside of us who needs, in the Ghost of Christmas Past’s words, “reclamation.”
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The series on my blog going through the 2009 Christmas Carol movie is complete! I think it also ended up being a bit of a commentary on the book by default since I was constantly comparing and contrasting the two. For a taste:
“…while mortality is definitely a theme in this part of the story, a careful reading of the text shows that what Scrooge really fears is not death itself (after all, he’s going to die eventually whether or not he persists in his miserly ways) but, like Marley, never being able to turn his life or public perception of him around. An immediate threat of death distracts from that crucial point.”
Check it out here. https://theadaptationstation.com/tag/a-christmas-carol-in-prose/
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Here’s a question I’d like to ask people. Would A Christmas Carol be considered something Dickens wrote early in his career or midway through? I’m trying to determine whether he wrote more of my favorites in his early days or later and A Christmas Carol could be the book to tip the scales.
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Stationmaster, just as to your question, I’d say it’s still relatively early in his career, just over 1/3 of the way through, if we’re judging by the overall length of our chronological reads. ACC was 1843, and though there were Sketches prior to Pickwick, Pickwick, as the first novel, was as recent as 1836-37. After the Carol, he still has not only his other Christmas Books, but most of his best-known & best-loved novels, from Copperfield to Bleak House, to A Tale of Two Cities & Great Expectations. Drood and Our Mutual Friend weren’t until the mid-to-late-’60s.
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Friends…wow! First Boze’s intro, and then these marvelous *essays* (far more than “comments”!) from Daniel, Chris, and the Stationmaster…WOW! I am at a loss for words. I still want to read the Patten article Chris shared, and Dana shared a few with me privately (which I might be able to share here), and there is just so much to talk about with this most perfect holiday masterpiece.
I wonder: just to give anyone who might still wish to a chance to chime in before the wrap-up, shall I just make an announcement tomorrow about our reading of The Chimes in the coming week, but wait to wrap up both of those Christmas Books until the following Monday? I have a feeling that, due to the holidays, there is a delay, & that we will be getting some wonderful comments coming in in the days ahead. Thoughts?
(It would be interesting to compare/contrast ACC and The Chimes, too…)
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Are you going to recap A Christmas Carol and The Chimes whenever you do a wrapup post for them? Since they’re both short and A Christmas Carol is so famous, you can argue we won’t need them to be recapped. But I confess I’d like to read yours.
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p.s. MERRY CHRISTMAS and HAPPY HOLIDAYS to all of our dear Dickens Club members!!! This group has been a bright light this year 🙂
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Rach – I vote to wait to wrap-up until after reading The Chimes.
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Me too 🙂
Greetings, Fellow Dickensians!
You all shared such rich insights and resources above. Chris, thanks so much for the various citations and perspectives.
I was particularly struck by this one: Scrooge “has moved out of quantitative time into qualitative time”; “what was chronos becomes kairos” (191); and quoting Frank Kermonde).
As I am now listening to my second reading of “A Christmas Carol” (Hugh Grant, now Simon Prebble), I am struck by the “thin veil” between the material and spiritual realms: the “intersection” of kronos and kairos dimensions of time and space.
I contend that Dickens had the “sight” of a mystic–perceiving the transcendent in the here-and-now.
Dickens is singularly capable of “effing about the ineffable”–borrowed from a rabbi friend.
Thanks for this wonderful Dickensian fellowship through the holidays and into 2023!
Merry Christmas Rach, Boze and all Dickensian friends! I loved reading the thoughts and comments about A Christmas Carol!
Just like John, after reading here about the fate of Dickens and his writing of “A Christmas Carol”, I also thought of the film “The Man Who Invented Christmas” (which I recently saw with my family again) and in which I also consider it as a new Holiday-Dickensian Classic to watch in every Holiday season.
I also agree completely with Rach, I also feel that A Christmas Carol is a story that has been with us forever in our lives.
I consider very important to read A Christmas Carol (and also to watch any version of it) because it is a humanitarian story. I always compare it (in a different way) to Victor Hugo’s “Les Miserables” because of the humanitarian message. (yes the plots are so different from each other, Les Miserables is a big novel and A Christmas Carol is a novella but they do have one thing in common, the humanity of their messages and their positive impact with the readers) Dickens and Hugo for me, are writers in which their books and characters have a rich, huge touch of humanity that makes us to inspire to be better human beings.
Believe it or not, now in this time, there are people that still act like Scrooge (in which they don’t give a fair payment to their employees, people that still suffer in poverty, people with money that have the power of helping the less fortunate people but they don’t do anything about it, etc) that is why I feel important to read and re-read over and over again (and also to share this wonderful book to many other persons ) and to make the story of Scrooge more alive than ever.
People have the power, of making other’s lives, more easy or heavier (remembering about Mr Fezziwig )
I hope that I don’t sound too romantic but A Christmas Carol is a book that gives me hope. Hope for the poor and also hope for the greedy people that they do have a big chance to change. I do believe in the power of changing and of doing an act of good for the others, even if you are in an older age.
I always wondered if (about Jacob Marley) if Jacob also had a chance, even in the afterlife, of having a redemption, just by the act of warning and helping Scrooge. If Scrooge, in stave 5, changes for good, maybe that made Jacob also to have a redemption in the afterlife and that his spirit doesn’t get to have long chains anymore (just like Clarence, the angel with no wings in Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life )
I also wondered if Ralph Nickleby could have changed earlier, if he had a visit from the three spirits, but that is another Dickens universe 😉 (thinking about the moving ending of the Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby )
I feel that today, the book of A Christmas Carol can be the equal of the Three Spirits or the ghost of Jacob Marley, in warning all people that have a chance of making a change and marking a difference. Unfortunately, we can not have a spiritual visit like the 3 spirits but we do have Dickens to help us (Dickens is for us, the equal of the Spirits )
And about the film adaptations, I agree completely, I also love the musical film from 1970 of Scrooge with Albert Finney, it is a tradition for my family and I to re-watch it in every Christmas, over and over again (along with the Muppet versions ) and the “Thank you very much” moment always gives me a smile 🙂
Anyway, I hope that this was not too long. I wish you all, Rach, Boze, all Dickensian friends a very Blessed Christmas and a wonderful Happy New Year!!!!!
And like Tiny Tim very well says…. “God Bless us Everyone”!
Great questions! Dickens seems to have deliberately refrained from giving us too many details about Marley’s afterlife (“Nor can I tell you what I would. A very little more is all permitted to me.”) The ghost doesn’t seem to have any hope for redemption for himself but, given A Christmas Carol’s general optimism (As The Man Who Invented Christmas points out, it’s a rare case of a saintly sick child in Dickens NOT dying), it’s tempting to hope that his burdens might have been lessened as a reward for his helping Scrooge or at least that he got a brief rest every now and then.
Incidentally, the 1951 movie, Scrooge, portrays Marley as realizing the error of his ways right before he dies but being unable to do anything to save himself by then, which is really depressing, but I suppose a logical outworking of A Christmas Carol’s depiction of the afterlife.
I don’t think there was ever much hope of Ralph Nickleby redeeming himself. Scrooge, for all his nastiness, is more passively evil. He’s rude to his nephew and refuses to visit him, but he doesn’t resent or persecute him the way Ralph does Nicholas. And while Scrooge (initially) wouldn’t lift a finger to help the poor, we never hear that he exposed a sheltered young woman to sexual harassment or that he would help a creep, like Arthur Gride, con a woman into marrying him for money. The similarities between Ralph and Scrooge are pretty much all on the surface IMO.
It is intriguing to imagine what Dickens’s novels without supernatural elements would be like if a few of his ghosts and goblins were dropped into them though.
Dear Fellow Inimitables!
I am eager to sally forth into the world of Dickens’ mid-nineteenth-century travels to France and Italy.
When CD turns his masterful novelist’s eye to people and places (as in the earlier Sketches and American Notes), we are in for a ride!
I hope and trust all are doing well so far in this young 2023!
P.S. Dickens was my novice master in the holy order of Christmas Rightly Observed. I continue to be under his tutelage for growing in understanding about what it means to be human and alive to the good, the true, and the truly strange.