A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens
A Christmas Carol Charles Dickens
The following entry presents criticism on Dickens's novella A Christmas Carol (1843). See also Charles Dickens Short Story Criticism, A Tale of Two Cities Criticism, Little Dorrit Criticism, Our Mutual Friend Criticism, and Hard Times Criticism.
A Christmas Carol (1843) is one of the most recognizable stories in English literature. With its numerous literary, stage, television, radio, and cinematic adaptations, the tale has become a holiday classic, and the character Ebenezer Scrooge has become a cultural icon. First published in 1843, the novella garnered immediate critical and commercial attention and is credited with reviving interest in charitable endeavors, the possible perils of economic success, and festive traditions of the Christmas season. It is the first work in Dickens's series of Christmas stories known collectively as the Christmas Books, as well as the most popular and enduring.
Plot and Major Characters
Set in the 1840s on Christmas Eve, A Christmas Carol chronicles the personal transformation of the protagonist, Ebenezer Scrooge, the proprietor of a London counting house. A wealthy, elderly man, Scrooge is considered miserly and misanthropic: he has no wife or children; he throws out two men collecting for charity; he bullies and underpays his loyal clerk, Bob Cratchit; and he dismisses the Christmas dinner invitation of his kind nephew, Fred. Moreover, Scrooge is a strong supporter of the Poor Law of 1834, which allowed the poor to be interned in workhouses. As he prepares for bed on Christmas Eve in his solitary, dark chambers, Scrooge is visited by the ghost of his former partner, Jacob Marley. In life Marley was very similar in attitude and temperament to Scrooge: remote, cruel, and parsimonious. In death he has learned the value of compassion and warns Scrooge to reform his ways before it is too late. Marley announces that Scrooge will be visited by three more specters: the Spirits of Christmas Past, Present, and Yet to Come. The Ghost of Christmas Past takes Scrooge back to his unhappy childhood, revealing that the young boy's experiences with poverty and abandonment inspired a desire to succeed and gain material advantage. Unfortunately, Scrooge's burgeoning ambition and greed destroyed his relationship with his fiancée and his friends. The Ghost of Christmas Present is represented by a hearty, genial man who reminds Scrooge of the joy of human companionship, which he has rejected in favor of his misanthropic existence. Finally, the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come appears in a dark robe and shrouded in mystery. Silently, the ghost reveals the ambivalent reaction to news of Scrooge's own death. Scrooge realizes that he will die alone and without love, and that he has the power and money to help those around him—especially Bob Cratchit's ailing son, Tiny Tim. Scrooge begs the ghost for another chance and wakes in his bed on Christmas morning, resolved to changing his life by being generous and loving to his family, employees, and the poor.
A Christmas Carol has been deemed a biting piece of social commentary by some. Critics have underscored the scathing criticism of 1840s London, an economically and socially stratified city that Dickens believed imprisoned its poor and oppressed its lower classes. The prevailing socio-economic theory of that time held that anyone who was in debt should be put in a poorhouse. In his story, Dickens contended that the reformation of such a materialistic, shallow society can be achieved gradually through the spiritual transformation of each individual. The story is well regarded for its expression of a fundamental faith in humanity and its unflagging censure of social injustice, which was inspired by Dickens's troubled background and his visit to the Cornish tin mines where he observed young children laboring under appalling conditions. As Scrooge transforms from a cruel, embittered miser to a kindly philanthropist, Dickens advocates a more forgiving, generous society that values spiritual growth, not material wealth. Other major thematic concerns in A Christmas Carol include the role of memory, the importance of family, and the soul-deadening effect of greed on the human spirit.
Upon its initial publication, A Christmas Carol was greeted with mixed reviews. Some commentators derided the tale as too sentimental and laden with exaggeration; other critics maintained that A Christmas Carol lacked the complexity of Dickens's later work. Yet the novella remains a Christmas favorite. Commentators praise Dickens's evocative portrayal of 1840s London and his passionate exploration of social and political issues. Dickens's fervent belief in social justice as depicted through A Christmas Carol is credited with inspiring an outpouring of charitable endeavors during his time and a revival of Christmas spirit and traditional celebrations. Critics have also explored the fairy-tale and gothic elements in A Christmas Carol, and many praise Dickens's use of wry humor in the story. The relevance and power of Scrooge's transformation from forlorn old niggard to benignant philanthropist is regarded as the key to the novella's unflagging popular appeal. Several scholars have debated the nature of Scrooge's conversion, which is known as “the Scrooge problem.” Some critics, including Edmund Wilson, conclude that the transformation is a temporary one; others have maintained that it is total and irrevocable. Scrooge's metanoia has also been placed within its historical and literary context, and critics have related it to the religious revival then fervent in nineteenth-century England. A few full-length studies of the novella have traced the impact of the story on English and American culture and have discussed the copious imitations, adaptations, and modernized versions of the tale.
Sketches by Boz [as Boz] 1836
*A Christmas Carol 1843
*The Chimes 1844
*The Cricket on the Hearth 1845
*The Battle of Life 1846
*The Haunted Man and the Ghost's Bargain 1848
Reprinted Pieces 1858
The Uncommercial Traveller 1861
The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club [as Boz] (novel) 1837
Oliver Twist (novel) 1838
The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickelby (novel) 1839
Barnaby Rudge (novel) 1841
The Old Curiosity Shop (novel) 1841
American Notes for General Circulation (travel essay) 1842
The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit (novel) 1844
Pictures from Italy (travel essay) 1846
Dealings with the Firm of Dombey and Son (novel) 1848
The Personal History of David Copperfield (novel) 1850
Bleak House (novel) 1853
Hard Times for These Times (novel) 1854
Little Dorrit (novel) 1857
A Tale of Two Cities (novel) 1859
Great Expectations (novel) 1861
Our Mutual Friend (novel) 1865...
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SOURCE: “Thackeray on Dickens,” in Famous Reviews: Selected and Edited with Introductory Notes, by R. Brimley Johnson, Sir Isaac Pitman & Sons, Ltd., 1914, pp. 469–73.
[In the following review, originally published in 1844, Thackeray applauds the popular appeal of A Christmas Carol.]
MR. TITMARSH, IN SWITZERLAND, TO MR. YORKE
… This introduction, then, will have prepared you for an exceedingly humane and laudatory notice of the packet of works which you were good enough to send me, and which, though they doubtless contain a great deal that the critic would not write (from the extreme delicacy of his taste and the vast range of his learning) also contain, between ourselves, a great deal that the critic could not write if he would ever so; and this is a truth which critics are sometimes apt to forget in their judgments of works of fiction. As a rustical boy, hired at twopence a week, may fling stones at the blackbirds and drive them off and possibly hit one or two, yet if he get into the hedge and begin to sing, he will make a wretched business of the music, and Labin and Colin and the dullest swains of the village will laugh egregiously at his folly; so the critic employed to assault the poet … But the rest of the simile is obvious, and will be apprehended at once by a person of your experience.
The fact is, that the blackbirds of...
(The entire section is 1716 words.)
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SOURCE: “A Christmas Carol Criticizes England's Economic System,” in Reading on Charles Dickens, edited by Clarice Swisher, The Greenhaven Press, 1998, pp. 86–93.
[In the following excerpt from a 1952 article published in the American Scholar, Johnson deems Dickens's novella as a biting critique of nineteenth-century England's economic system.]
Everyone knows Dickens's Christmas Carol for its colorful painting of a rosy fireside good cheer and warmth of feeling, made all the more vivid by the contrasting chill wintry darkness in which its radiant scenes are framed. Most readers realize too how characteristic of all Dickens's sentiments about the Christmas season are the laughter and tenderness and jollity he poured into the Carol. What is not so widely understood is that it was also consistently and deliberately created as a critical blast against the very rationale of industrialism and its assumptions about the organizing principles of society. It is an attack upon both the economic behavior of the nineteenth-century businessman and the supporting theory of doctrinaire utilitarianism.1 As such it is a good deal more significant than the mere outburst of warm-hearted sentimentality it is often taken to be.
Its sharper intent is, indeed, ingeniously disguised. Not even the festivities at Dingley Dell, in Pickwick Papers, seem to have a...
(The entire section is 2894 words.)
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SOURCE: “Dickens Time and Again,” in Dickens Studies Annual, Vol. 2, 1971, pp. 163–96.
[In the following essay, Patten examines the sudden conversion of Scrooge, contending that it is related to the surge in popularity of religious tracts during the 1840s.]
My purpose was, in a whimsical kind of masque which the good humour of the season justified, to awaken some loving and forbearing thoughts, never out of season in a Christian land. I have the happiness of believing that I did not wholly miss it.
—Charles Dickens, Preface to the Cheap Edition, Christmas Books1
Justly admired though his essay on “Dickens: The Two Scrooges” is, Edmund Wilson surely does not reflect the response of most readers of A Christmas Carol when he posits that Scrooge's conversion is temporary. For Wilson, the melodramatic dual world of early Dickens included only two types of characters, good and bad. Scrooge embodies both types, and his transformation is the sheerest flummery.
We have come to take Scrooge so much for granted that he seems practically a piece of Christmas folklore; we no more inquire seriously into the mechanics of his transformation than we do into the transformation of the Beast in the fairy tale into the young prince that marries Beauty. Yet Scrooge represents a...
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SOURCE: “The Ceremony of Innocence: Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol,” in PMLA, Vol. 90, No. 1, 1975, pp. 22–31.
[In the following essay, Gilbert considers the “Scrooge problem,” or the issue of the credibility of Scrooge's conversion during the course of A Christmas Carol.]
As in their birth, wherein they are not guilty …
It is impossible to get into a serious discussion of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol without sooner or later having to confront “the Scrooge problem.” Edmund Wilson stated that problem succinctly and dramatically in his well-known essay “The Two Scrooges” when he wrote:
Shall we ask what Scrooge would actually be like if we were to follow him beyond the frame of the story? Unquestionably, he would relapse, when the merriment was over—if not while it was still going on—into moroseness, vindictiveness, suspicion. He would, that is to say, reveal himself as the victim of a manic-depressive cycle, and a very uncomfortable person.1
Other critics have made much the same point about Scrooge. Humphry House, for example, remarked about the old man's conversion that
it seems to be complete at a stroke, his actions after it...
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SOURCE: An introduction to The Annotated Christmas Carol, Clarkson N. Potter, 1976, pp. 1–51.
[In the following introductory essay, Hearn places Dickens's novella within a literary, political, and historical context and recounts the circumstances surrounding the publication of the story as well as the critical reaction to it.]
A Christmas Carol remains the most popular work of England's most popular novelist, and it has had something of a life of its own beyond its author's reputation. Should all of Charles Dickens' marvelous creations, from Mr. Pickwick to Edwin Drood, be suddenly threatened with extinction, the story of Mr. Scrooge would certainly survive. It has become a part of Christmas folklore. All misers are Ebenezer Scrooge, all plum puddings the same as that devoured by the Cratchits. Besides having written a thoroughly entertaining narrative, Dickens possessed the special ability of defining better than anyone before or since the spirit of the holiday season. In what he called “the Carol philosophy,” he went beyond merely venerating Christmas for “its sacred name and origin” to acknowledging its basic humanism: “a good time: a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time: the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of other people below them as if they really were...
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SOURCE: “Notes from Charles Dickens's Christmas Carol,” in Interpretation, Vol. 7, No. 1, 1978, pp. 52–73.
[In the following essay, Anastaplo examines the timing of and the reasons for Scrooge's conversion.]
One cried “God bless us!” and “Amen!” the other, As they had seen me with these hangman's hands, List'ning their fear. I could not say “Amen!” When they did say “God bless us!”
Consider it not so deeply.
But wherefore could not I pronounce “Amen”? I had most need of blessing, and “Amen” Stuck in my throat.
Shakespeare, Macbeth II, ii
A classical scholar, in assessing the Greek dramatists, has remarked on the “extraordinary creative power that [Aeschylus] shares with Shakespeare and Dickens.” An Encyclopaedia Britannica article observes that Charles Dickens stands second only to Shakespeare in English literature, that he is “[g]enerally regarded as the greatest English novelist.” Thus, one finds again and again, in critical discussions, elevations of Dickens to the most exalted heights.1
Whatever reservations one may have about the ultimate soundness of these assessments, no English author ever enjoyed during his lifetime the popular acclaim which...
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SOURCE: “Fairy-Tale Form in A Christmas Carol,” in Readings on Charles Dickens, edited by Clarice Swisher, The Greenhaven Press, 1998, pp. 74–81.
[In the following excerpt from Stone's 1979 study Dickens and the Invisible World: Fairy Tales, Fantasy, and Novel-Making, Stone asserts that Dickens uses fairy-tale elements in A Christmas Carol.]
Dickens wrote five Christmas books: A Christmas Carol (1843), The Chimes (1844), The Cricket on the Hearth (1845), The Battle of Life (1846), and The Haunted Man (1848). … The Christmas books draw their innermost energies from fairy tales: they exploit fairy-tale themes, fairy-tale happenings, and fairy-tale techniques. Indeed the Christmas books are fairy tales. As Dickens himself put it, he was here taking old nursery tales and “giving them a higher form.” …
The design could hardly be simpler or more direct. A protagonist who is mistaken or displays false values is forced, through a series of extraordinary events, to see his errors. This familiar, almost pedestrian given is interfused with fairy-tale elements, a commingling that shapes and transfigures every aspect of the design. Storybook signs set the mood, herald the onset of the action, and enforce the moral lessons. Magical happenings dominate the story. The crucial action takes place in a dream or vision presided over by...
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SOURCE: “Christmas at Scrooge's,” in Victorian Fantasy, Indiana University Press, 1979, pp. 38–74.
[In the following essay, Prickett delineates the defining characteristics of Victorian literature and regards A Christmas Carol as a prime example of the Christmas book genre.]
The ‘internalization’ of fantasy in the early nineteenth century meant, in effect, the evolution of a new language. The worlds of dreams and nightmares, madmen and children were areas of human experience which had hitherto been all too often ignored or even denied. Their recognition helped to open up a new view of the human mind in which conventional distinctions between aesthetics and psychology were blurred by a growing awareness of the unconscious in shaping our mental processes. As we have seen, it is possible to trace something of this evolution by looking at various key figures in the development of late-eighteenth-century sensibility, yet such men as Walpole and Beckford, or their successors of the next generation like Coleridge or Keats, Martin or Pugin, at best perhaps arbitrarily selected to illustrate a point, only give us a part of the picture. A new ‘language’ of the mind does not come into being through a few innovators alone, however important they may be; it has also to reflect a genuine shift in the climate of feeling in a whole society. If we are to try and understand such a cultural sea-change...
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SOURCE: “The Day of Atonement in Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol,” in Tradition, Vol. 22, No. 3, Fall, 1986, pp. 66–76.
[In the following essay, Sable debates Dickens's familiarity with Judaism and finds parallels in Scrooge's conversion to the three main aspects of the Jewish Day of Atonement: repentance, prayer, and charity.]
A Christmas Carol is a permanent fixture in Western literature and popular culture, if only because it is retold at Christmas-time annually. As a morality tale it is a favorite of all age groups, not only because of its sincerity but due also to its emotional appeal.
Dickens completed the work in approximately two months during the autumn of 1843, and in December of that year it was published by Chapman and Hall of London.1 The plot is a simple one: Ebenezer Scrooge, a miserly old bachelor, has outlived his business partner, Jacob Marley, in a firm which employs one underpaid, overworked clerk, Bob Cratchit. It is almost Christmas eve and we perceive Scrooge's detestable qualities as he deals with Cratchit and the other moral, humanitarian personalities who call upon him in his office: his nephew, and two gentlemen who request donations for the poor.
That night, in his rooms, Scrooge is visited by Marley's ghost, doomed to wander the world as punishment for being the kind of man Scrooge is: hard-hearted and...
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SOURCE: “Retelling A Christmas Carol: Text and Culture-Text,” in American Scholar, Vol. 59, Winter, 1990, pp. 109–15.
[In the following essay, Davis explores how the innumerable retellings of Dickens's novella have changed the essential story and have kept the tale relevant in modern times.]
The words of a dead man Are modified in the guts of the living.
—W. H. Auden, “In Memory of W. B. Yeats”
So far from the Christmas Ghost Story being a colourable imitation of [Dickens's] book, numerous incongruities in the Carol, involving the unhinging of the whole plot, have been tastefully remedied by Mr. Hewitt's extended critical experience of dramatic effect and his ready perception of harmonies … to … a more artistical style of expression and of incident.
—Brief defending Hewitt's piracy of the Carol, 1844
Dickens is a terrible writer. In the original, Scrooge was mean and stingy, but you never know why. We're giving him a mother and father, an unhappy childhood, a whole background which will motivate him.
—President of Screen Gems, 1968
I cannot remember when I first knew the story of A Christmas Carol. I may have heard it read aloud before a Christmas...
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SOURCE: “Dreams of Authority and the Authority of Dreams,” in Dreams of Authority: Freud and the Fictions of the Unconscious, Cornell University Press, 1990, pp. 17–69.
[In the following excerpt, Thomas provides a Freudian interpretation of A Christmas Carol.]
A very, very brief time, and you will dismiss the recollection of it, gladly, as an unprofitable dream, from which it happened well that you awoke.
—Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol
The fundamental claim Freud would make about the origin of dreams is that they are expressions by the dreamer of a wish. The wish may be repressed and hence not immediately recognizable as a wish, and its expression may be disguised for a number of important reasons. But the dream is nevertheless an expression of the dreamer's desires. One of Freud's achievements was to establish the dream as a disguised wish and then to shift the center of the discussion about the significance of dreaming from the question of its origins to the tactics of its representation and decoding. The Interpretation of Dreams set out to repeat and undo the distortions and disguises of the dream work in the course of the dream analysis, and thereby to expose the wish at the root of the dream's “expression.”
Wordsworth's Arab dream expresses the poet's desire to speak in a...
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SOURCE: “The Greening of Scrooge,” in The Lives and Times of Ebenezer Scrooge, Yale University Press, 1990, pp. 173–212.
[In the following essay from his full-length study of Dickens's novella, Davis contrasts the British and American versions, adaptations, and modernizations of A Christmas Carol.]
Consciousness III sees not merely a set of political and public wrongs, such as a liberal New Dealer might have seen, but also the deeper ills that Kafka or the German expressionists or Dickens would have seen.
—Charles Reich, 1970
When one observes that we devote a lion's share of our national budget to war and destruction, that capble scientists are tied up in biological and chemical warfare research that would make Frankenstein and his science-fiction colleagues look like Doctor Doolittle, we cannot avoid the question, do Americans hate life?
—Philip Slater, 1970
Comparing A Christmas Carol with Herman Melville's “Bartleby the Scrivener,” Pearl Solomon noted that in the American story the workingman takes the role that the master takes in the British tale: “Each is free to be a hero, set free by certain political, social, and ideological circumstances of their cultures to select their own paths.” Scrooge uses his freedom to...
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SOURCE: “Dickens's A Christmas Carol,” in The Explicator, Vol. 50, No. 4, Summer, 1992, pp. 211–12.
[In the following essay, Burleson compares the characters of Scrooge and his nephew, Fred.]
It would seem that there could be no clearer or more unambiguously delineated an opposition than that which occurs in Dickens's A Christmas Carol when Scrooge's nephew comes to invite his uncle to Christmas dinner. The nephew delivers his oft-quoted encomium of Christmas as “a good time: a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time,” and Scrooge makes his own distaste for the Yuletide season abundantly plain. The opposition is one universally familiar: the Christmas-loving nephew's outgoing good-heartedness versus Scrooge's Christmas-hating miserliness and meanness of spirit. However, this supposedly stable bipolarity is one that the text itself subtly deconstructs in such a way as not merely to make problematic the logic of the opposition, but to deepen, as well, the textual significance of the famous Christmas eve encounter.
Scrooge's visitation by his nephew creates the impression of being a sort of ritual dance, a double posturing wherein each partner is a complementation-figure to the other. The chorus-like, stichomythic exchanges—“Uncle!” and “Nephew!”—tend to heighten this impression. But it is precisely in this ritualistic exchange that the textual voices...
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SOURCE: “Charles Dickens: The First (Interpersonal) Psychoanalyst or—A Christmas Carol: A Literary Psychoanalysis,” in American Journal of Psychoanalysis, Vol. 52, No. 4, December, 1992, pp. 351–62.
[In the following essay, Shainess maintains that A Christmas Carol “is more than a story or satire—it is a literary psychoanalysis, largely of the interpersonal variety though with a hint of the Freudian as well.”]
Charles Dickens appeared on the British scene in 1812, approximately 300 years after Shakespeare. It may seem to some an exaggeration to connect him with the preeminent writer of all time, William Shakespeare, but I think not. Dickens was primarily a storyteller, not a playwright or poet. But in his understanding of character and society, in the variety, richness, and compelling nature of his storytelling, the comparison holds.
In addition to all his writer's gifts—his marvelous storytelling, use of humor, irony, turns of plot—Dickens offered a relentless social commentary on the pitiful plight of the poor and underprivileged of his time, and on the insensitivity and hypocrisy of the privileged. Just as Shakespeare presented hidden depths in his plays, offering the ethics and values of the society—often unnoticed, as they are in life—Charles Dickens did the same. His experience of having to work in a blacking factory at age 12 because his father was...
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SOURCE: “A Christmas Carol and the Masque,” in Studies in Short Fiction, Vol. 30, No. 1, 1993, pp. 63–9.
[In the following essay, Butterworth probes Dickens's familiarity with the masque form and determines its influence on A Christmas Carol.]
In his Preface to the First Cheap Edition of A Christmas Carol, Dickens wrote of his intention in writing his Christmas books of awakening some “loving and forbearing thoughts” by means of “a whimsical kind of masque” (xiv).1 Commentators have not made much of this comment, perhaps on the assumption that Dickens's familiarity with masques could not but be slight. This, however, is an unwarranted assumption. Examination of the contents of Dickens's library, as listed in the inventory of his belongings made when the family went to Italy in 1844 (Letters 4: 711–25) reveals that it was at least possible for the writer to have been thoroughly acquainted with the masque form. He could, for instance, have found full accounts of the court masque and its development in Collier's “Annals of the Stage,” which assiduously follows the form through, starting from a contemporary description of the first masque presented in England, in which Henry VIII and eleven others dressed “in garmentes long and brode, wrought all with golde, with visers and cappes of gold … came in with the sixe gentlemen disguised in silke, beryng...
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SOURCE: “The Genres of A Christmas Carol,” in Dickensian, Vol. 89, No. 3, Winter, 1993, pp. 193–203.
[In the following essay, Miller offers a stylistic analysis of A Christmas Carol.]
I had meant to ask some solemn questions about the genre or genres of A Christmas Carol. Re-reading it has put all that out of my mind. As is always the case for me when I read anything by Dickens, the inordinate linguistic exuberance of A Christmas Carol makes all formal questions seem beside the point. I shall return to the question of genre by way of its relation to this exuberance. First, however, what can be said about Dickens's linguistic virtuosity beyond calling it ‘inimitable’? Perhaps all that can be done is to put ‘Wow!’ in the margin of the text or adjacent to a citation. Such marginal comments, I am told, have formed an important part of Chinese literary commentary through the centuries.
The extraordinary stylistic verve of A Christmas Carol takes four main forms: lists and parataxis, prosopopoeia, facetious paronomasia, and hyperbole. Especially hyperbole. I use the ponderous rhetorical terms in order to show that I have kept my head and can say more than ‘Wow!’ after all. Philip Collins once said that ‘one might as readily undertake a rhetorical analysis of the Lord's prayer as a criticism of the Carol’.1 I hope I shall not...
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SOURCE: “Dickens and the Construction of Christmas,” in History Today, Vol. 43, December, 1993, pp. 17–24.
[In the following essay, Rowell underscores the powerful religious and social overtones of A Christmas Carol, particularly the revival of Christmas traditions.]
One hundred and fifty years ago, in October 1843, Charles Dickens began the writing of one of his most popular and best-loved books, A Christmas Carol. It was written in six weeks and finished by the end of November, being fitted in in the intervals of writing the monthly parts of Martin Chuzzlewit, a work which was causing him some financial anxiety because the public did not seem to have taken to it as readily as to his earlier serials. A Christmas Carol would, he hoped, bring a better financial return.
John Forster, Dicken's biographer, noted how the story, once conceived, gripped Dickens. ‘He wept over it, and laughed, and wept again, and excited himself to an extraordinary degree’. ‘He walked thinking of it fifteen and twenty miles about the black streets of London’, often at very late hours of the night. He kept Christmas that year with an extraordinary zest; ‘such dinings, such dancings, such conjurings, such blindman's buffings, such theatre-goings, such kissing-out of old years and kissing-in of new ones, never took place in these parts before’. Savouring the atmosphere...
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SOURCE: “Spectacular Sympathy: Visuality and Ideology in Dickens's A Christmas Carol,” in PMLA, Vol. 109, No. 2, March, 1994, pp. 254–65.
[In the following essay, Jaffe maintains that A Christmas Carol is “arguably Dickens's most visually evocative text” and explores the circular relationship between spectatorship and ideologies of identity in nineteenth-century England.]
In a well-known essay, Sergei Eisenstein describes literature in general and Dickens in particular as cinema's predecessors because of their evocation of visual effects. Literature, Eisenstein writes, provides cinema with “parents and [a] pedigree, … a past”; it is “the art of viewing” (232–33). What Eisenstein construes as aesthetic development, however, may also be regarded as a persistent “regime of perception” in Western culture—one in which appeals to the eye play a significant role in the production and circulation of ideology.1 An emphasis on visuality, whether literary or cinematic, promotes spectatorship as a dominant cultural activity. But such an emphasis also reinforces, and thereby naturalizes, forms of spectatorship already inscribed in the social structures within which particular cultural representations are produced. The idea of a continuity between literature and film may thus be significant less for what it reveals about the genealogy of cinema than for what it...
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SOURCE: “Sponging the Stone: Transformation in A Christmas Carol,” in Dickens Quarterly, Vol. 11, No. 4, December, 1994, pp. 172–76.
[In the following essay, Patterson contends that to “understand the significance of the Carol is to integrate the psychological and its spiritual message.”]
I don't remember reading the book until my adult years, yet Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol seems always to have been with me. The Carol entered my life when I lay on the living room floor with a belly full of Christmas turkey avoiding adult conversation at my grandmother's dinner. My first recollection of the story is in the form of the 1951 American film version Scrooge. Alister Sim, the most robust interpreter of Scrooge, fascinated me by his depiction of a man who starts off as “solitary as an oyster” and winds up a “second father” to orphans, the best neighbor one could possibly imagine. With the annual retelling of the tale I luxuriate in the images of sad Tiny Tim, plump Fezziwigian celebrations, social injustice, cruel indifference, and deep regrets that end in transformation.
To the central invocation of Scrooge's “bah humbug” are added supplementary incantations, some humorous and others instructive. There is Marley's plaintive confession: “Mankind was my business.” And Scrooge's cynical materialism: “… you may be an...
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SOURCE: “Scrooge, Falstaff, and the Rhetoric of Indigence,” in English Language Notes, Vol. 32, No. 3, March, 1995, pp. 43–6.
[In the following essay, Simmons detects the influence of William Shakespeare's character Falstaff on the protagonist of A Christmas Carol.]
During his lifetime, Charles Dickens read a vast array of literature, and none influenced him more than the plays of William Shakespeare. Dickens so revered Shakespeare's work that his friend John Forster noted that they celebrated Shakespeare's birthday “always as a festival,”1 and in fact Dickens's prize possession was a pocket edition of Shakespeare's plays that he carried with him constantly. Forster had given him the book as a gift, and Dickens later wrote to Forster to thank him, commenting, “What an unspeakable source of delight that book is to me!”2
Of all of Shakespeare's characters, Dickens's favorite was by far Falstaff from 1 Henry IV, 2 Henry IV, and The Merry Wives of Windsor. Dickens often quoted or paraphrased Falstaff in his letters and in conversation, as for example when he told Forster of a speaking engagement at which “He would try, he said, like Falstaff, ‘but with a modification almost as large as himself,’ less to speak himself, than to be the cause of speaking in others.”3 In his letters, he often did the same, as for example when he...
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SOURCE: “The Incorporation of A Christmas Carol: A Tale of Seasonal Screening,” in Dickens Studies Annual, Vol. 24, 1996, pp. 93–118.
[In the following essay, McCracken-Flesher judges the impact of A Christmas Carol on the economic success of Christmas.]
In February 1844, just a few months after A Christmas Carol's publication, Thackeray called the book “a national benefit, and to every man or woman who reads it a personal kindness” (Collins 149). Dickens' tale certainly has proved a national benefit, but not, perhaps, as he would have hoped or as Thackeray meant. In Britian, and particularly in America, it has benefited not so much national morality, as the national economy. From Russell Baker's perspective, the germ of “the secular mass-marketing exercise that Americans celebrate nowadays” lies in “The Christmases Dickens admired Scrooge for keeping ever afterward.” “Scrooge,” Baker writes, “stood on the threshold of the modern Christmas—a ‘festival of consumption’ …—in which a monthlong celebration takes place not in the church, but in the department store” (Baker 23). And without doubt, A Christmas Carol stands central not just to our experience of Christmas, but to the season's commercial success. As I will argue, in fact, and as television and cinema versions of Dickens' tale will demonstrate, A Christmas Carol has become...
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SOURCE: “The Primitive Keynesianism of Dickens's A Christmas Carol,” in Studies in the Literary Imagination, Vol. 30, No. 1, Spring, 1997, pp. 51–66.
[In the following essay, Erickson provides a Keynesian economic interpretation of Dickens's novella.]
In the transformation of Ebenezer Scrooge's character and in the very appearance and production of A Christmas Carol as a Christmas gift book, we can see Dickens's understanding of the psychological basis of economic activity and his intuitive solutions both to the financial depression that gripped England in 1843 and also to the specter of bankruptcy that loomed over him when his readers could no longer afford to buy his novels in numbers as large as before. By seeing both the psychology of Scrooge and also the physical form of A Christmas Carol in terms of Keynesian economic principles and in the larger context of early Victorian economic history, we can understand them as aesthetic responses to the depressed English economy of 1843 that seek to fulfill in themselves both the author's and the audience's wishes for a more prosperous future. The simple, traditional interpretation of Scrooge has been that he is a sad, selfish, avaricious miser who is graced by visions of the Spirits of Christmas Past, Present, and Yet to Come and so converted into a joyous, generous celebrator of Christmas.1 In adding to our...
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SOURCE: “A Christmas Carol: Giving Nursery Tales a Higher Form,” in The Haunted Mind: The Supernatural in Victorian Literature, edited by Elton E. Smith and Robert Haas, The Scarecrow Press, 1999, pp. 11–18.
[In the following essay, Stone praises the stylistic framework of Dickens's novella, perceiving the story as “a myth or a fairy tale for our times, one that is still full of life and relevance.”]
In the interval between the beginning of Martin Chuzzlewit and the completion of Dombey and Son, Charles Dickens wrote five Christmas books: A Christmas Carol (1843), The Chimes (1844), The Cricket on the Hearth (1845), The Battle of Life (1846), and The Haunted Man (1848). The Haunted Man, the last of the Christmas books, straddles the later limits of the interval. The Haunted Man was conceived and partly written in the interval, but it was not finished until Dombey was completed. With the exception of The Battle of Life, which depends for its central mechanism on a straightforward analogy between life and the ancient battlefield, the Christmas books rely on fairy-tale machinery to gain the characteristic effect. But this puts the matter too restrictively. The Christmas books draw their innermost energies from fairy tales: they exploit fairy-tale themes, fairy-tale happenings, and fairy-tale techniques. Indeed the...
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SOURCE: A Christmas Carol and Its Adaptations: A Critical Examination of Dickens's Story and Its Productions on Screen and Television, McFarland & Company, 2000, 11–36, 87–115.
[In the following excerpts, Guida considers the literary, political, and economic roots of Dickens's novella and traces the various cinematic adaptations of the story in the twentieth century.]
A true feast actually has nothing to do with what you eat … but with what you remember.
Jeff Smith, the Frugal Gourmet
“Dickens dead? Then will Father Christmas die too?”1 This remark, reportedly overheard by the English writer and critic Theodore Watts-Dunton and attributed to a young female street vendor upon hearing of Dickens's death in 1870, tells us much about the unique position that Charles Dickens occupied on the Victorian landscape during his relatively short lifetime as a writer and public figure. His work touched everyone, including the desperate poor, many of whom could not read but nevertheless knew him well by listening to others read aloud.
Not many of us, sad to say, read aloud these days; and there is certainly sufficient evidence to suggest that far too many of us read far too little. Nevertheless, the printed word in general—i.e., a book that one takes off the shelf and actually reads—seems to be...
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Churchill, R. C., ed. A Bibliography of Dickensian Criticism, 1836–1975. Garland Reference Library of the Humanities, Vol. 12. New York: Garland Publishing, 1975, 314 p.
Guide to writings about Dickens published between 1836 and 1975.
Johnson, Edgar. Charles Dickens: His Tragedy and Triumph. 2 vols. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1952.
Definitive modern biography. Johnson makes use of much previously unavailable material.
Brown, John Mason. “Ghouls and Holly.” In Seeing More Things, pp. 161–67. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Co., 1948.
Traces Scrooge's spiritual development in A Christmas Carol and describes his conversion as “divided, like a symphony, into movements.”
Chesterton, G. K. “Dickens as Santa Claus.” In G. K. C. as M. C.: Being a Collection of Thirty-Seven Introductions, edited by J. P. de Fonseka, pp. 90–5. New York: Books for Libraries Press, 1967.
Originally published in 1929; emphasizes the “dramatic importance” of The Christmas Carol in English history.
Davis, Paul. The Lives and Times of Ebenezer Scrooge. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1990, 283 p.
Traces the literary...
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