illustration of Ebenezer Scrooge in silhouette walking toward a Christmas tree and followed by the three ghosts

A Christmas Carol

by Charles Dickens

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A Christmas Carol

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This story opens on Christmas Eve in the office of Scrooge, a miserly Victorian businessman. Opposed to Christmas as pointless frivolity, Scrooge refuses to make a contribution to Christmas charities, begrudges his employee Bob Cratchit a holiday on Christmas day, and rejects his nephew’s Christmas greeting with the now-famous phrase “Bah! Humbug!”

Returning to his lonely and desolate dwelling, Scrooge is confronted by the ghost of Jacob Marley, his former partner, who promises that he will be visited by three spirits. The first of these, the Ghost of Christmas Past, shows Scrooge scenes from his lonely boyhood at boarding school; from the lively and festive Christmas celebration of Mr. Fezziwig, the man to whom Scrooge had been apprenticed; and of his final encounter with his fiancee, who releases him from their engagement because she realizes that he already loves money more than he loves her.

The next spirit, the Ghost of Christmas Present, shows him a number of celebrations of Christmas, most memorably that of the Cratchit family, who are jovial and happy in spite of their meager income and the threat that their youngest child, Tiny Tim, will die of a disease that has already crippled him. Finally, the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come shows Scrooge scenes of his own death, lamented by no one--his servants have even stolen his bedclothes before his burial--and of the Cratchit family mourning the death of Tiny Tim. Moved by these visions, Scrooge awakens on Christmas morning a new person and engages in a whirlwind of generosity and good fellowship.

A Christmas Carol is the most notable example of the Victorian “Christmas book,” a type of short, attractively printed book designed to be given as a Christmas gift and usually embodying the themes of generosity and joy associated with the season. The degree to which this story and its characters have remained popular indicates how well Dickens succeeded in this genre.


Donovan, Frank. Dickens and Youth. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1968. A discussion of Dickens’ extensive use of children in his novels. A Christmas Carol is considered in detail, in two ways. Scrooge’s unhappy childhood is considered as the major cause for his present loneliness and misanthropy. The children of Bob Cratchit, especially Tiny Tim, are examined as examples of innocents who are happy even when their circumstances are difficult.

Kaplan, Fred. Dickens: A Biography. New York: William Morrow, 1988. A comprehensive biography of the author, with more than 500 pages of text and more than 100 illustrations. The focus is on Dickens’ psychological makeup, and how it affected his written works.

Prickett, Stephen. Victorian Fantasy. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1979. A study of fantasy writings in Victorian England. Chapter 2, “Christmas at Scrooge’s,” discusses the use of fantasy elements in A Christmas Carol and Dickens’ other Christmas stories.

Slater, Michael, ed. Dickens 1970. Briarcliff Manor, N.Y.: Stein & Day, 1970. An anthology of essays on Dickens’ works, on the occasion of the one hundredth anniversary of his death. Particularly of interest is Angus Wilson’s article “Dickens on Children and Childhood,” which focuses on Tiny Tim as a symbol of innocence, hope, and faith.

Stone, Harry. Dickens and the Invisible World: Fairy Tales, Fantasy, and Novel-Making. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1979. A treatment of Dickens’ use of fantasy elements in his literary works. The fifth chapter focuses on five short works, including A Christmas Carol. The emphasis is on the emotions of the characters as reflected in their supernatural experiences.

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A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens