Book Review: A Christmas Carol (revisited)

A Christmas Carol (revisited)
Charles Dickens, 1843

In preparation for reading and watching a bunch of things related to A Christmas Carol, I thought I should first refresh my memory of the original. 

It continues to be a delight. Looking back, I am somewhat appalled by my casual dismissal of its brilliance in this blog's first year; I heartily regret that. 

When I read it this time, what most delighted me were little details, turns of phrase, and metaphors that I'd either forgotten, overlooked, or not bothered to examine in depth during previous readings. So I thought I'd share a few of those with you now.

In the Preface, Dickens makes a pun about his ghost story containing the "Ghost of an idea" and hopes that it might "haunt" the readers "pleasantly, and no one choose to lay it." What a cute and playful way to say: this book has a point; it should bother you; don't ignore it.

I'm a sucker for an amusing Shakespeare reference. "If we were not perfectly convinced that Hamlet's Father died before the play began, there would be nothing more remarkable in his taking a stroll at night, in an easterly wind, upon his own ramparts, than there would be in any other middle-aged gentleman rashly turning out after dark in a breezy spot."

Early on, Bob Cratchit tries to warm himself at a candle, and "not being a man of a strong imagination, he failed." I believe this may be a humorous reference to a folk tale about a man who can warm himself by the light of a distant candle by thinking about warmth. As recently retold for public radio:

Also, did you notice that Scrooge tells his nephew Fred that he would go to hell before coming to dinner during their argument? That doesn't make it into most adaptations. "Scrooge said that he would see him--yes, indeed he did. He went the whole length of the expression, and said that he would see him in that extremity first."

Scrooge is not unrelentingly angry. He amuses himself with his sniping at the charity collectors, thinking himself witty. "Scrooge resumed his labours with an improved opinion of himself, and in a more facetious temper than was usual with him."

The luminescence of Marley's ghost is described as being "like a bad lobster in a dark cellar." And yes, some rotting fish do glow in the dark.

During Scrooge's initial disbelief of Marley's ghost, he asks the spirit to sit down because he's curious to see what will happen if the ghost can't touch the chair. You could read this as a further test of the reality of the situation or just him screwing with the ghost.

The description of Marley's Ghost is so fun. The buttons on the back of his waistcoat can be seen by looking through from the front, and he constantly moves in an unfelt wind, "as by the hot vapour from an oven."

The metaphors overall are great. Marley's chains are so loud they break noise pollution laws: "clanked its chain so hideously in the dead silence of the night, that the Ward would have been justified in indicting it for a nuisance."

Moving on to Christmas Past, some more charming descriptions: "In came Mrs. Fezziwig, one vast substantial smile. In came the three Miss Fezziwigs, beaming and lovable. In came the six young followers whose hearts they broke." So each of Fezziwig's three daughters has (at least) two aspiring suitors: a bit generally ignored by the adaptations that make Belle part of that family. 

Belle herself is described as "a fair young girl in a mourning-dress," although it's never specified if she is in fact in mourning for a family member or friend, or choosing more symbolic mourning for their relationship. (Also, FYI she is only named in the scene following the breakup where she is seen with her eventual husband and family.)

Another detail generally skipped over by many adaptations is how many Londoners (including the Cratchits) at the time didn't have full kitchens, and brought their larger dinner items to roast in the big ovens at baker's shops. This is first mentioned when Scrooge attempts to needle Christmas Present by accusing him of depriving people of their dinners by suggesting that businesses close on Sundays. The Spirit vehemently objects to this idea and all people "who do their deeds of passion, pride, ill-will, hatred, envy, bigotry, and selfishness in our name." 

One more fun detail about Christmas Present: the lengthy montage of revelry that he leads Scrooge through is not one night, as most adaptations would have it, but twelve. He departs after "they left a children's Twelfth Night party."

One more and we're done. The Spirit of Christmas Yet to Come is actually sympathetic to Scrooge although it will not speak to him. Right at the end, as Scrooge pleads for the chance to transform his life, the Spirit's hand shakes, then more specifically, "The kind hand trembled."

Okay, that's enough. A Christmas Carol is classic and it's short and it's free. Go find your own new favorite part!