A Christmas Carol A Christmas Carol discussion


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message 1: by Peter (last edited Dec 01, 2018 07:44AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Peter Stave One

Our December tradition is to read together one of the five Christmas Books that Dickens wrote. This year it is the first of his books, and I think it fair to say the most famous of the Christmas books. A Christmas Carol was published in December of 1843 and rapidly became a classic. I imagine we have all uttered the words “bah humbug,” called someone a Scrooge, and can recall Tiny Tim’s famous last words of the story. As for the main character Scrooge, his name is now synonymous with those who are misery with their money and harbour cold in their hearts.

Since most - if not all of us - know the story, to prepare this commentary I thought we could look at some of the novella’s interesting stylistic features. Please feel free to add your own comments and questions. As we sit around our fires, gaze upon our trees, and share the season with family and friends, let us enjoy the magic of the season with our reading Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol.

The novella opens on Christmas Eve with one of the many classic opening lines that Dickens is famous for: “Marley was dead, to begin with. There was no doubt whatever about that.” Two sentences. Clear, short, and assertive. But why begin a Christmas story with a death? Death and door-nails? Quite a pairing, yet appropriate as Dickens points out. The reader is then given a quick reference to Shakespeare’s Hamlet and then a touch of London with the mention of St. Paul’s Churchyard. Death all around. Did you, however, note the tone of the narrator’s voice? It has a touch of humour, almost of whimsy. The voice of this Christmas tale is one to pay attention to as there always seems to be a glint of light, much like moonlight on freshly fallen snow, as our tale unfolds.

Another stylistic touch that may be interesting to follow is how Dickens blends sounds into the story. Consider how the following sentence has a discordant, unpleasant, edge to it:

“Oh! but he was a right-fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge! a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner ! Hard and sharp s flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire;”

The poetic word is onomatopoeia. The words and the character of the man form a perfect match. Dickens then follows this description of Scrooge with multiple “s” sounds which tend to soften, but, at the same time, help establish his frozen features. Scrooge is depicted as “secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster.” Again, sounds are present and in the forefront of the story. Scrooge is so solitary even “the blind men’s dogs ... tug their owners into doorways.”

Thoughts

Scrooge is one of the best known characters in literature, and has also appeared in numerous movies, theatrical productions, commercial advertisements, and private readings. What are your most vivid impressions of Scrooge in stage, screen, television and, of course, the novella itself?


In Scrooge’s office we meet his nephew and his clerk Bob Cratchit. Both characters are warm, friendly individuals. Scrooge’s nephew asks Scrooge to dine with him and his family on Christmas Day. Scrooge has no time for either his nephew or Christmas. As for Bob Cratchit, Scrooge reluctantly gives him Christmas Day off. Scrooge sends his nephew out the door with the comment that love and marriage are the one thing more ridiculous than Christmas. Next, two “portly gentleman” come to Scrooge and ask for a donation. Scrooge refuses. Scrooge believes that since prisons, Union workhouses, the Treadmill and the Poor Law exist they should continue their “useful course” in taking care of the poor. Scrooge claims he supports the institutions he just mentioned and, if the poor should wish to die, then so be it.


Thoughts

Scrooge pays his taxes. That, he believes, is enough. The gentlemen seeing it useless to press Scrooge and leave. To what extent do you think such situations and attitudes continue to this day?


The day wanes, darkness comes, and, along with it, comes a fog. The setting changes from one of commerce during the day to the presence of night and loneliness. Again Dickens employs verbal sounds to create a sound picture. The night is “[p]iercing, searching, biting cold.” Scrooge takes his “melancholy dinner in his usual melancholy tavern” and heads towards his “dreary” home to go to bed. As Scrooge approaches his door he notices that his door knocker has inexplicably formed into the shape of his dead partner Marley’s face. Strange yes, upsetting perhaps, but Scrooge continues into his home, taking the slight precaution to double lock himself in. Sitting in his chair, Scrooge sees a disused bell begin to ring, followed by every bell in the entire house. Here again we have a soundscape. Bells, Christmas Eve. Dickens, however, takes this trope and invests a new meaning to it. More sounds, this time a “booming sound. And then Marley, or that would be Marley’s ghost, is in the room.


Thoughts


To what extent do you think Dickens has borrowed some elements of ACC from his Gothic predecessors? The Victorian reader was accustomed to ghostly tales at Christmas. In PP we remember the story of Gabriel Grub. Why might Gothic and ghostly tales have been so popular to the Victorian reading public?


Scrooge manages to ask the ghost of his business partner “What do you want with me?” to which he receives the cryptic answer “Much !” Marley’s ghost tells Scrooge that ghosts are “doomed to wander through the earth and witness what it cannot, but might have shared on earth, and turned to happiness.” Marley tells Scrooge that he never wandered “beyond the narrow limits of our money-changing hole; and weary journeys lie before me.” There is more clanking of chains. This Christmas Eve is one of grating noise not joy and celebration. Is life one of business or one to celebrate Humankind? Marley tells Scrooge that he is here on earth to tell Scrooge that he has a chance of avoiding his fate. Marley also tells Scrooge that he will be visited by Three Spirits. Ever the businessman, Scrooge tries to negotiate a different timetable for the visits of the Spirits, but apparently Spirits operate on their own patterns and timetables. Marley’s ghost leaves Scrooge’s rooms and when Scrooge goes to the window he sees that “the air was filled with phantoms ... moaning as they went.” Everyone wore chains like Marley. Noise, more noise.

Scrooge went to bed without undressing and fell asleep.


Thoughts

Sounds, all kinds of sounds, mostly discordant. To what extent do/did you recall ACC to be one of sound? What might be the reason for the presence of such sounds?



Marley, in death, is warning Scrooge to change his life. Why might it be more effective for a ghost to change a person’s perspective on life than a living person?

Any other initial comments on this wonderful text?


A random thought from me. I have just finished reading Francine Prose’s What to Read and Why In this book is a chapter on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. The chapter outlines the essential parts of a Gothic novel. I was preparing this commentary as I read this chapter and it struck me how much A Christmas Carol has many of the characteristics of a Gothic tale. For instance, some of the characteristics of a Gothic novel include elements of the supernatural, presence of the grotesque, the theme of flight and pursuit, and the presence of terror. The narrative of a Gothic novel is frequently framed by multiple sources of story telling which may include such techniques as letters, multiple narrators, and flashbacks which will combine to braid the plot together. Often, more than one story is presented, with each story forming a part of the overall text. There is often a central love interest or revelation that occurs in the story.

Now, I won’t be presenting my next commentary from the Gothic perspective, but thought it might be of interest to offer the suggestion that A Christmas Carol could be wrapped in some of the traditional Gothic elements of literature. A little extra present for you this season.


message 2: by Peter (last edited Dec 01, 2018 07:50AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Peter If you are interested in reading a study of sound in Victorian Literature John Picker’s Victorian Soundscapes is very worthwhile.

My review of it will give you more of an idea of the book, - or at least what I thought of it.


message 3: by Chris (last edited Dec 05, 2018 02:09AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Chris Angelis Wow, such an excellent commentary. I rarely see such in-depth comments on general discussion boards such as this one.

One element that, if I may humbly suggest, is missing from your excellent outline is the use of temporal distortion in ACC. That is, behind the obvious time-travel aspects of the story, there is a vast multitude of interconnected meanings and allegories, the full extent of which is far beyond the scope of a single message.

I will only mention one example.
(the text below is an excerpt from my literature blog and my doctoral dissertation on Gothic Temporality.)

Scrooge visits (with the the help of the Ghost of Christmas Past) an instance of his past where Belle is married and has children. He notices whom he initially thinks to be Belle, but instead it is her daughter. Effectively, the daughter does not merely allude to the future, but also to a version of the present – which for Scrooge, the viewer, is still the past.

It is only fitting that someone outside time and space is the one who voices thoughts that should not be expressed so explicitly. Scrooge notices the numerous children. That this daughter possesses the double function of being Scrooge’s potential daughter as well as being seen as the younger Belle, only emphasizes the idea of transgression, underlining the taboo nature of the situation.

This is further accentuated by Scrooge vicariously experiencing the scene also as one of the children. Essentially, this visitor from the future exists in three temporal states simultaneously: as a child, seeing the daughter as a mother figure; as a partner, seeing her as his lover; and, implicitly, as a father, seeing her as a daughter that could have been his:

[The daughter] got pillaged by the young brigands most ruthlessly. What would I not have given to be one of them! Though I never could have been so rude, no, no! I wouldn’t for the wealth of all the world have crushed that braided hair, and torn it down; and for the precious little shoe, I wouldn’t have plucked it off, God bless my soul! to save my life.

As to measuring her waist in sport, as they did, bold young brood, I couldn’t have done it; I should have expected my arm to have grown round it for a punishment, and never come straight again. And yet I should have dearly liked, I own, to have touched her lips; to have questioned her, that she might have opened them; to have looked upon the lashes of her downcast eyes, and never raised a blush;


In this quite remarkable excerpt, Scrooge very obviously describes a conflict. It is the conflict between sexual desires and the pureness and pristine nature of domestic life. What is important to realize is that this gender-related conflict is expressed through a temporal one.

In particular, Scrooge is able to notice and acknowledge the presence of his desires through the hindsight offered by his time-travel. It is the distortion of space-time that allows him to spot the conflict between the normative domestic life and the unacknowledged but pressingly existent acceptance of the woman as a sexual being. Belle, like so many other Gothic characters, signifies a rich nexus of ideas in her short and perhaps partly unwritten presence.


Peter Chris wrote: "Wow, such an excellent commentary. I rarely see such in-depth comments on general discussion boards such as this one.

One element that, if I may humbly suggest, is missing from your excellent outl..."


Hi Chris

I enjoyed your comments very much. They have given me much to think about.

This “thread” is one that I actually posted incorrectly. Although I have been enjoying the role as one of the moderators for the Curiosities I wish I was better with a computer. If you check for the Goodreads group the Old Curiosities you will find a link to our discussion of A Christmas Carol. My commentary is there as well, and other members as you will notice have added much wonderful discussion. Also, there is posted a full series of the various illustrations of ACC from various illustrators.

I apologize for the mix-up. On the other hand, you managed to find my glaring mispost.

Please join the other discussion. If you have difficulty finding us just post on this thread because it will show to me.

Someone should write a Gothic tale that centres around computers... or has that happened already?


Chris Angelis No worries :)
It was a happy error, as I discovered the group (which I joined). As I mentioned, I wrote my doctoral dissertation on ACC (plus Dracula and Frankenstein), so I'm always interested in discussing the Gothic


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