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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Fan's role and fate in A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

Summary:

In A Christmas Carol, Fan is Scrooge's beloved younger sister who plays a crucial role in his early life by showing him love and compassion. She is significant for bringing young Scrooge home from boarding school, highlighting his potential for warmth. Tragically, Fan dies young, leaving behind a son, Fred, which deepens Scrooge's later isolation and bitterness.

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Who is Fan in A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens?

Although Scrooge's beloved sister Fan is only a minor character in A Christmas Carol she has great significance nonetheless. Her presence in Scrooge's vision of the past reminds us that this mean old skinflint once had a heart, once used to enjoy Christmas before he turned into such a grinch. We get the impression that Fan was the only person that Scrooge has ever truly loved. Relations with his father can't have been all that great; after all, it was Ebenezer's old man who used to make him stay at school during the Christmas holidays while all the other boys were at home with their families having fun.

However, all that changed one Christmas when Fan paid an unexpected visit to young Ebenezer at school and took him home with her for the holidays. Apparently, their father had had a change of heart. As we can imagine, Scrooge was overjoyed at the news, and from then, until he became phenomenally rich, he seems to have enjoyed the holiday season immensely.

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Who is Fan in A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens?

In A Christmas Carol, Fan is Ebeneezer Scrooge's sister. Dickens introduces Fan in the second stave of the story when the Ghost of Christmas Past takes Scrooge to revisit his childhood. In this scene, Fan comes to collect the young Scrooge from boarding school. Fan is evidently a loving and caring person, as shown by the fact that she begged her father to have Scrooge home for Christmas:

I was not afraid to ask him once more if you might come home; and he said Yes, you should; and sent me in a coach to bring you.

Moreover, the ghost shares this positive view of Fan's character:

"Always a delicate creature, whom a breath might have withered,'' said the Ghost. "But she had a large heart!''

It is also in this stave that we learn Fan died as a young woman, sometime after the birth of Fred, her only child (and Scrooge's nephew). Fred has clearly inherited many of his mother's character attributes, as shown by his desire to spend Christmas with his uncle, despite Scrooge's miserable character. 

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Who is Fan in A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens?

Ebenezer Scrooge's younger sister, Fan, first appears in Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol in stave 2, "The First Of The Three Spirits." Fan is named after Dickens's older sister, Frances Elizabeth Dickens. In A Christmas Carol, Fan is portrayed as a loving, caring child. (It's odd to think of Fan's name as "Fan," "Fanny," or "Frances Scrooge.") Although Dickens's own sister might well have been a loving and caring child, too, Dickens actually resented her for being favored by their father and for being sent to study at the Royal Academy of Music while he was sent to work ten-hour days at the shoe-blacking warehouse.

In A Christmas Carol, young Ebenezer is spending another lonely Christmas at the desolate boarding school where he lived for much of his youth. Much of Scrooge's revisited past is reminiscent of Dickens's own childhood. The boarding school of "dull red brick" that Dickens describes in A Christmas Carol also describes Wellington House Academy where Dickens attended school for a short time. Wellington House also appears as "Salem House" in chapter 5 of Dickens's David Copperfield.

Back to A Christmas Carol

Scrooge looked at the Ghost, and with a mournful shaking of his head, glanced anxiously towards the door.

It opened; and a little girl, much younger than the boy, came darting in, and putting her arms about his neck, and often kissing him, addressed him as her “Dear, dear brother.”

“I have come to bring you home, dear brother!” said the child, clapping her tiny hands, and bending down to laugh. “To bring you home, home, home!”

“Home, little Fan?” returned the boy.

“Yes!” said the child, brimful of glee. “Home, for good and all. Home, for ever and ever. Father is so much kinder than he used to be, that home’s like Heaven! He spoke so gently to me one dear night when I was going to bed, that I was not afraid to ask him once more if you might come home; and he said Yes, you should; and sent me in a coach to bring you. And you’re to be a man!” said the child, opening her eyes, “and are never to come back here; but first, we’re to be together all the Christmas long, and have the merriest time in all the world.”

“You are quite a woman, little Fan!” exclaimed the boy. (Stave 2)

The Ghost interrupts Scrooge's reminiscences about Fan to interject a bittersweet tone into Scrooge's memories.

“Always a delicate creature, whom a breath might have withered,” said the Ghost. “But she had a large heart!”

“So she had,” cried Scrooge. “You’re right. I will not gainsay it, Spirit. God forbid!”

“She died a woman,” said the Ghost, “and had, as I think, children.”

“One child,” Scrooge returned.

“True,” said the Ghost. “Your nephew!”

Scrooge seemed uneasy in his mind; and answered briefly, “Yes.” (Stave 2)

Scrooge is reminded how poorly he treated his nephew, Fred, that morning, at which time Scrooge uttered the famous curse against people who go around wishing everybody a "Merry Christmas."

"If I could work my will,” said Scrooge indignantly, “every idiot who goes about with ‘Merry Christmas’ on his lips, should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart. He should!” (Stave 2)

In stave 3, when Fred's wife played the harp at their Christmas party, Scrooge has occasion to think back on his sister, Fan, much as Dickens would have thought about his own sister.

Scrooge’s niece played well upon the harp; and played among other tunes a simple little air (a mere nothing: you might learn to whistle it in two minutes), which had been familiar to the child who fetched Scrooge from the boarding-school, as he had been reminded by the Ghost of Christmas Past. When this strain of music sounded, all the things that Ghost had shown him, came upon his mind; he softened more and more; and thought that if he could have listened to it often, years ago, he might have cultivated the kindnesses of life for his own happiness with his own hands. (Stave 3)

In all, Fan has a humanizing effect on Scrooge and on the audience's perception of Scrooge, which allows the audience more readily to accept Scrooge's transformation at the end of the story.

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What happens to Fan in A Christmas Carol?

As part of his voyage with the Ghost of Christmas Past, Scrooge visits several of his old haunts.  He visits his old school, where he sees himself spending some of his Christmases alone.  He later revisits a scene from his past, where his sister, Fan, comes to the school to take Ebenezer home with her.  In the scene, young Ebenezer embraces his sister warmly.  As older Scrooge watches this scene, he sadly tells the Ghost of Christmas Past that his sister died many years ago, and that his nephew, Fred (the one that invited him to the party earlier in the evening) is actually her son.  From there, Scrooge moves on to a different scene, joining Fezziwig's party already in progress.

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