This Week in the Dickens Club: The Chimes

A “General Mems” post: this week (27 Dec 2022 to 2 Jan 2023), the Dickens Chronological Reading Club 2022-24 will read Dickens’s second Christmas Book, The Chimes.

(Banner images by Richard Doyle)

“The Old Church,” by Clarkson Stanfield

by Rach

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all members, and Happy Day 357 of our magical #DickensClub! Boze and I hope you are all well and safe in this wintry, windy, Goblin-haunted weather, and are enjoying some Pickwickian good cheer and warmth with loved ones.

Boze and I have had some discussion on how to do the “wrap-up” post(s) for the shorter Christmas books. For one, A Christmas Carol is likely to inspire livelier conversation than the other books; for another, we don’t want to end the conversation too abruptly on the former when everyone is still enjoying the holidays, and might be behind on the reading. (The comments shared already–like entire essays, really–are absolutely marvelous! I hope you have a chance to read and “chime” in–so to speak.) The other consideration is that, as we are going in chronological order, the Christmas books aren’t tidily read all together, but are broken up by Pictures from Italy (for those venturing with us on that travelogue) and Dombey and Son.

So, in order to give everyone ample time to comment on all the Christmas books, we’ll do one wrap up for all five books once the final one (The Haunted Man) is complete: 10 April, 2023. This will have the added benefit of comparing/contrasting the themes running through each one individually, and all together.

In other news: the Stationmaster shared a recent post on the 2009 adaptation of A Christmas Carol. Chris shared a link to an essay by Robert Patten which has led to her insightful essay in the comments last week. Also, see Gina’s post about “Christmas” in Dickens!

“The Spirits of the Bells” and “The Tower of the Chimes,” by Daniel Maclise

Notes on The Chimes (27 Dec 2022 to 2 Jan 2023)

“A new heart for a New Year, always!”

This week we’ll be reading Dickens’s second Christmas book, The Chimes: A Goblin Story of Some Bells that Rang an Old Year Out and a New Year In. This is our eleventh read as a group.

Though a “Christmas book,” The Chimes, published in 1844, might be said to be a story of the New Year the way A Christmas Carol is the consummate story of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. The idea came to Dickens while traveling in Italy, awed by the sound of the bells in Genoa. A theater buff always, Dickens then wrote to Forster, “We have heard THE CHIMES at midnight, Master Shallow!” Meanwhile, the book was timely. As in A Christmas Carol, Dickens pokes fun at political economists and magistrates such as Sir Peter Laurie (who intends to “put down” the vices of the laboring poor). Dickens champions not only the poor and downtrodden, but those among them driven to desperate acts, like the real-life woman who, in a failed suicide attempt to keep herself and her baby from the workhouse, was accused of infanticide. Society, Dickens argues, must take its responsibility.

A note on the illustrations: The Chimes had four original illustrators for their wood engravings: Richard Doyle, Clarkson Stanfield, Daniel Maclise, and John Leech. (John Leech, if you recall, did the now-famous illustrations for A Christmas Carol.) See the Charles Dickens Page and the Victorian Web for fabulous more info on the illustrations.

For the group discussion, feel free to comment below for thoughts regarding The Chimes, or use the hashtag #DickensClub if you’re commenting on twitter. Feel free to also continue the conversation on A Christmas Carol in the comments below, or under Boze’s marvelous introduction post to the Christmas books and Pictures from Italy!

If you’d like to read The Chimes online, here’s a link to it at The Circumlocution Office, or it can be downloaded at sites such as Gutenberg.

Various sites also offer a free audiobook narration, such as on YouTube, but I HIGHLY recommend our wonderful member Rob Goll’s audiobook duet. He has links for purchase here. Here is a sample:

14 Comments

  1. Inimitables All!

    I’m writing this little entry on the third (of twelve) days of Christmas–which, as we well know, lasts all the year round.

    A merry Christmas to you and yours!

    I’m eager to experience “The Chimes,” which I have not heretofore read or heard.

    Rob, I LOVE your rendering with the female reader, glimpsed in the excerpt here! I’m definitely going to get your audiobook! It is a true grace to be in Dickensian fellowship with you.

    For me, Dickens’ inexhaustible imagination coupled with his great moral convictions makes him an imagineer par excellence. A truly reliable guide to the complexities of life and the chiaroscuro human condition.

    Blessings, All, as we move through the Christmas season and into 2023!

    Daniel

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thanks, Daniel (and forgive the late reply… I’m trying to catch up with myself)

      I’m glad you liked my reading with Amanda. I partnered with her on all of the five Christmas Books. We also have a joint reading of A Tale of Two Cities ๐Ÿ˜€

      Liked by 1 person

  2. OK, so I don’t like The Chimes, but I do admire a lot of things about it. The prose is just as great as that of A Christmas Carol. (“There are not many people…who would care to sleep in a church. I donโ€™t mean at sermon-time in warm weather (when the thing has actually been done, once or twice), but in the night, and alone.”) Tugby, Filer, Alderman Cute, Sir Joseph and Lady Bowley are all excellent examples of Dickens’s satire. Will Fern is a memorable social critic. (“Gentlefolks, Iโ€™ve lived many a year in this place. You may see the cottage from the sunk fence over yonder. Iโ€™ve seen the ladies draw it in their books, a hundred times. It looks well in a picter, Iโ€™ve heerd say; but there anโ€™t weather in picters, and maybe โ€™tis fitter for that, than for a place to live in.”) And I’d like to reiterate what I wrote in a comment about A Christmas Carol, that while I may not always like Dickens’s plots, they feel “real” somehow like the plots of ancient myths and fairy tales. I’m half inclined to say problems with them aren’t his fault. That’s just how the story goes.

    But if we refrain from criticizing Dickens on those grounds, it will really limit the discussion, so…

    There’s a certain satisfaction in reading about Scrooge being freaked out by the ghosts since he’s established as such a jerk at the beginning of his story. But Trotty’s only fault seems to be being too easily influenced, so it really doesn’t feel like he deserves the nightmare visions to which he’s subjected. He even immediately apologizes and recants when the spirit of the bell first reprimands him before he’s seen anything. If anyone should be punished in the story, it feels like it should be the rich people who made him feel so bad about the poor, though I’m not sure how Dickens could have done that without turning The Chimes into a retread of A Christmas Carol and The Goblins Who Stole a Sexton.

    It’s actually kind of ironic that I’m making that argument since these days I’m rather cynical about people who rant against irresponsible social media posts. Not that I like irresponsible social media posts or the people who post them! But some people strike me as angrier at those who write the posts than those who acted on them of their own free will. I mean the people who criticize them obviously read the inflammatory posts without believing them. Those who are influenced by them to act violently choose to do so. Why don’t I feel this way about Trotty? Maybe it’s because he doesn’t really act on the philosophies of Filer, Cute, etc. In fact, he acts against them by helping Will Fern and Lillian. He just gets really depressed. (According to the book, Pope, Dickens and Others by John E. Butt, Trotty’s crime made more sense in Dickens’s original outline. If anyone knows the differences between that original outline and final plot, I’d be fascinated to learn about them.)

    Honestly, I’m even cynical about the book’s message that “Love perverted” is still good. I guess it’s better than hatred, but I don’t believe love that leads you to abuse or, in this case, kill the recipient is very praiseworthy. It strikes me as a way to excuse just about anything. Of course, the main message is more that you shouldn’t judge people’s actions without understanding their circumstances and I can get behind that more, but it’s a pretty hard philosophy to put into practice, especially for someone as naturally judgmental as Dickens. I mean the gist of The Chime is basically that poor women who drown themselves and their young children are victims but that people who disagree with Charles Dickens about political and social issues are inhuman monsters. That’s pretty ridiculous.

    I once wrote that Hard Times was arguably a rare case of Dickens’s anger getting in the way of his entertainment value. I wouldn’t say that about The Chimes because it’s objectively true, not arguably! Just about the whole second half is a grim slog, which I suppose makes it better as a portrayal of the miserable lives of the poor than other Dickens books. But it’s rare for me to feel like rereading the book. It smacks of something you read because It’s Good For You, because it Has An Important Message, etc.

    Which is too bad because my birthday is New Year’s Eve and it’d be great if I had a special Dickens book to read on it.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Stationmaster, I’m behind in the xomments, but belated HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!!! ๐Ÿฅณ๐ŸŽ‰๐ŸŽˆ๐Ÿฅณ๐ŸŽ‰๐ŸŽˆ And Happy New Year!!!! Hope you had some fun & relaxing time to celebrate!!

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  3. Every time I read “The Chimes” I come away feeling there is something familiar about it which I canโ€™t quite put my finger on. Then on Christmas Eve it hit me – โ€œItโ€™s A Wonderful Lifeโ€ was on tv and I realized that George Bailey and Trotty Veck have the same experience. George and Trotty both know better but have to be reminded that life is good and is worth living and that they need to consider the source when listening to the negative things other people say. Both George and Trotty become despondent because life throws them a curve and, when they were at their most confused and vulnerable state, evil forces (Mr Potter and Alderman Cute respectively) spew nonsense and vitriol inspired by their own warped agendas at them. George and Trotty need the intervention of the good forces (Clarence the angel and the Chimes respectively) to allow them to step back and look at their situations from all angles and not be persuaded by the opinion of others before making a final, potentially disastrous, decision.

    โ€œThe Chimesโ€ seems a kind of inverse of โ€œA Christmas Carolโ€ in that the protagonists come from opposite ends of the spectrum to arrive at the same center. Trotty is a simple man, yet social, open-hearted and open-handed but becomes despondent and must re-establish his center; Scrooge is isolated by his tightfistedness and misanthropy and if he is to escape the fate of Marley he must re-establish his center. Both successfully re-center and live, apparently, happily ever after.

    The one thing all three of these protagonists – Scrooge, Trotty, and George Bailey – discover or realize is that their lives touch, and are touched by, many, many others. I think this is part of Dickensโ€™s great lesson of charity – Mankind is my business.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I’d heard people compare The Chimes to It’s a Wonderful Life before. I always assumed they meant that Trotty Veck sees a future in which he’s died (and Richard and Meg never married) and George Bailey sees a present in which he was never born. That felt like a bit of a stretch to me. Your comparison makes so much more sense!

      Liked by 3 people

  4. I know this sounds totally off topic, but I’d like to mention a scene from the 1984 Christmas Carol movie. (I promise it connects to The Chimes eventually.) In it, the Ghost of Christmas Present shows Scrooge a homeless family, the very people whom he dismissed earlier, those who would rather die than go to the Union workhouses. (This is the leadup to Ignorance and Want’s appearance.)

    Well, the wife/mother’s name is Meg and I like to imagine the screenwriter, Roger O. Hirson, did that as an homage to The Chimes. It’s probably unlikely since her husband is named Ben, not Richard, but if not, it’s a notable coincidence that she says, “I’d rather we all drowned in the river rather than go to one of those places (workhouses) and be separated forever,” that being what Meg chose-or almost chose-in Trotty’s vision.

    Incidentally, the scene is arguably untrue to the book since Dickens portrays the Ghost of Christmas Present spreading joy and contentment wherever he goes (at least “where vain man in his little brief authority had not made fast the door and barred the spirit out”) and that family was obviously not joyful or contented. But it’s a powerful scene and certainly fits in with Dickens’s social message.

    P.S.
    BTW, that quote from A Christmas Carol about “vain man” and “his little brief authority” is a reference to Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Friends…HAPPY NEW YEAR!!! ๐Ÿฅณ๐ŸŽ‰๐ŸŽˆ๐Ÿฅณ๐ŸŽ‰๐ŸŽˆ I hope this coming year is full of joy & Dickensian, Pickwickian adventures…in the best way, that is! ๐Ÿ™‚ I just wanted to let everyone know that a few of us (Lenny, Boze, Rob & yours truly!) are a little behind in the comments, though we’ve kept up on the reading, but for my part, I’m planning on coming back to comment on each of the Christmas books, and there will be plenty of time for everyone to do so before the Christmas book wrap-up in April. ๐ŸŽ„๐Ÿ–ค

    I must say I just *love* the comments so far here on The Chimes! Boze was commenting on how you kmow you’ve made it as a writer, when you can spend so ling describing the wind & atmosphere at the beginning of a story, as Dickens does here! LOVE the opening descriptions so much!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Ah…yes, Rach–here’s to a great New Year to you and your family and to all the wonderful folks in this wonderful reading club! HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. This whole โ€˜Itโ€™s a Wonderful Lifeโ€™ angle is absolutely fascinating. I always knew that there was something lurking in my mind which The Chimes reminded me of, and here it is! And I say, โ€œAbsolutely!โ€™

    Wikipedia says that the story on which the film is based – “The Greatest Gift” (1943) written by Philip Van Doren Stern, is loosely based on Dickenโ€™s โ€˜A Christmas Carolโ€™ If this be so, then I donโ€™t see why The Chimes would not have been on Mr. Van Doren Sternโ€™s radar too.

    I just watched the final 10 minutes or so of the film, and the action maps pretty tightly to the final section of the novella:

    Trotty uttering heartfelt and earnest pleas to a supernatural entity. George Bailey on the bridge doing the same.

    All of a sudden: Trotty โ€˜might have said more; but, the Bells, the old familiar Bells, his own dear, constant, steady friends, the Chimes, began to ring the joy-peals for a New Year: so lustily, so merrily, so happily, so gaily, that he leapt upon his feet, and broke the spell that bound him.โ€™ While on the bridge in Bedford Falls, the snow begins to fall once more.

    George Bailey then finds himself in his relief and joy running through the town, delighting in his crashed automobile. Fervently appreciating the sights of the town โ€“ the sign, the good old Buildings and Loan, crooning delight at Potter through the bank window, rushing home shaking hands with those inside despite their intention to arrest him. Kisses the loose bit of unfixed ornament on the banister post. Embraces all his children, checks for Zuzuโ€™s petals, greets his wife โ€“ and all of this in a state of wild, exuberant joy and relief.

    Of Trotty, this is said of HIS actions:
    โ€˜You never in all your life saw anything like Trotty after this. I donโ€™t care where you have lived or what you have seen; you never in all your life saw anything at all approaching him! He sat down in his chair and beat his knees and cried; he sat down in his chair and beat his knees and laughed; he sat down in his chair and beat his knees and laughed and cried together; he got out of his chair and hugged Meg; he got out of his chair and hugged Richard; he got out of his chair and hugged them both at once; he kept running up to Meg, and squeezing her fresh face between his hands and kissing it, going from her backwards not to lose sight of it, and running up again like a figure in a magic lantern; and whatever he did, he was constantly sitting himself down in his chair, and never stopping in it for one single moment; beingโ€”thatโ€™s the truthโ€”beside himself with joy.โ€™

    Then in both โ€“ the houses are filled with a stream of people in the mood for all varieties of festive celebration.

    While in the movie, it is Christmas โ€“ Hark the Herald Angels being sung by the crowd. The subsequent singing of Auld Lang Syne gives it a New Year feel too!

    The final โ€œTHE ENDโ€ plate of the movie has a Big Church bell ringing lustily as the backdrop.

    So in conclusion, I think Frank Capra jolly well new the source of the inspiration!

    Remember, Trotty, no man is a failure who has friends.

    Wonderful!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Rob, WOW! What a gem of an insight here–gosh, how did I not see that? There IS/was a familiarity to it, but I couldn’t have placed it…and it is just that: It’s a Wonderful Life. I love the comparison of the post-Spirit scenes, George kissing that irritatingly-loose newel, or whatever it is–running up the stairs and down and every which way, like Trotty. And your note of the plate at “The End,” depicting the peal of bells…how perfect! Alderman Cute acting like the poor hardly have a right to exist or marry (Mr Potter!) and here George Bailey is trying to help the poor families have a decent place to live, as they do “most of the working and paying and living and dying in this community.” That, and the “New Year feel” with Auld Lang Syne…it is just a perfect comparison!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Just relishing the connection between “Chimes” and “It’s a Wonderful Life” and all of the commentary.

    Chris, thanks for evoking that link.

    Rob, thanks for the exquisite rendering–the juxtaposition and interweaving of the tone, themes, behaviors of Trotty and George! Truly “wonderful” (pun fully intended).

    Blessings,

    Daniel

    Liked by 1 person

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