A Christmas Carol
For over a decade my Christmas tradition began Thanksgiving night with a reading of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”. Not to a crowd or to a child, just to myself. Usually I finished it before the long weekend. Now with a wife, a child, work, writing and games it takes about a week, haha.
I love the story in all its incarnations. I love the movies, the TV spoofs and once got to see a stage production in St. Louis.
The plot is … well, if you don’t know, stop reading right now.
The story behind the story is almost as interesting. (taken liberally from Wikipedia, but I did check the facts …) Dickens was concerned about the plight of poor children. In early 1843, he toured a tin mine where children worked. The conditions of the FieldLaneRaggedSchool he visited that year were equally appalling to him. In February 1843 a parliamentary report exposed the effects of the Industrial Revolution upon poor children; it was called Second Report of the Children’s Employment Commission. Dickens planned to publish an inexpensive political pamphlet tentatively titled, “An Appeal to the People of England, on behalf of the Poor Man’s Child” in May of that year but changed his mind, deferring the pamphlet’s production until the end of the year.
In a fund-raising speech on 5 October 1843 at the Manchester Athenæum (a charitable institution serving the poor), Dickens urged workers and employers to join together to combat ignorance with educational reform, and realized in the days following that the most effective way to reach the broadest segment of the population with his social concerns about poverty and injustice was to write a deeply-felt Christmas narrative rather than polemical pamphlets and essays. It was during his three days in Manchester, he conceived the plot of Carol.
Dickens had already written a tale of Christmas redemption as part of “The Pickwick Papers” in 1837; Gabriel Grub was a lonely and mean-spirited sexton, who undergoes a Christmas conversion after being visited by goblins who show him the past and future.
Although Dickens made little money from it at first, it was an immediate success – stage productions and readings (some by Dickens himself) developed quickly. The first was February 1844 (it was published two months earlier). It has since become as much a holiday classic as “A Visit from St. Nicholas”.
It has been called an indictment of 19th-century industrial capitalism and Scrooge’s redemption underscores the conservative, individualistic, and patriarchal aspects of Dickens’s ‘Carol philosophy’, which propounded the idea of a more fortunate individual willingly looking after a less fortunate one. Personal moral conscience and individual action led in effect to a form of “noblesse oblige” which was expected of those individuals of means. I knew I liked the story for some reason…
This idea would make some In this politically-charged atmosphere faint dead away. “Use our means to help the poor!? Why on earth would we want to do that?” Because Jesus told you to. And as of 1843, so does Charles Dickens.
The current state of observance of Christmas is largely the result of a mid-Victorian revival of the holiday spearheaded by A Christmas Carol. Hutton argues that Dickens sought to construct Christmas as a self-centred festival of generosity, in contrast to the community-based and church-centered observations, the observance of which had dwindled during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. In superimposing his secular vision of the holiday, Dickens influenced many aspects of Christmas that are celebrated today in Western culture, such as family gatherings, seasonal food and drink, dancing, games, and a festive generosity of spirit.
This simple morality tale with its pathos and theme of redemption significantly redefined the “spirit” and importance of Christmas, since, as Margaret Oliphant recalled, it “moved us all those days ago as if it had been a new gospel.” and resurrected a form of seasonal merriment that had been suppressed by the Puritan quelling of Yuletide pageantry in 17th-century England.
I enjoy reading through the small bits and pieces you usually do not see during the films and plays – the many religious references for one (other than Tiny Tim’s hoping his being in church would remind others of who made lame men walk, etc.). “Carol” has turned into a secular Christmas tale, but I was surprised how many references to the birth of Christ, the visit of the Wise Men, and so forth, are peppered – lightly, but still peppered – throughout the story. I also enjoy Scrooge’s political debate with the Ghost of Christmas Present. Scrooge is thoroughly back-handed by the ghost, who all but says Scrooge is no Jack Kennedy.
This was a nice bit taken from IMDB about the 1938 movie. It’s a good description of Scrooge: The word “humbug” is misunderstood by many people, which is a pity since the word provides a key insight into Scrooge’s hatred of Christmas. The word “humbug” describes deceitful efforts to fool people by pretending to a fake loftiness or false sincerity. So when Scrooge calls Christmas a humbug, he is claiming that people only pretend to charity and kindness in an scoundrel effort to delude him, each other, and themselves. In Scrooge’s eyes, he is the one man honest enough to admit that no one really cares about anyone else, so for him, every wish for a Merry Christmas is one more deceitful effort to fool him and take advantage of him. This is a man who has turned to profit because he honestly believes everyone else will someday betray him or abandon him the moment he trusts them.
From now until Christmas I will be reviewing three adaptations of “A Christmas Carol” in each blog. One will be a well known, often-played version; a rarely-seen version; and a version I have not seen. How can I review something I’ve not seen? Oh please, happens all the time. It won’t be a comprehensive list, but I’ll do my best to keep to the format.
I enjoy watching all the different versions of the story – there have been dozens and dozens. How closely these various adaptations follow the story is fun to discover – what they add and what they leave out are intriguing. Most of the cuts, especially in the early films, are economical – we have five minutes to tell this story, we’re not spending a lot of time on where Cratchet’s daughter Martha works; but in some cases they producers have to add bits to fill in two hours of content. Sometimes it’s a song, sometimes it’s an entirely new scene. That’s half the fun of watching. The other half is enjoying a jolly good tale!
More to come!