Friday, December 15, 2006

A Christmas Carol

"The poulterers' shops were still half open, and the fruiterers' were radiant in their glory. There were great, round, pot-bellied baskets of chestnuts, shaped like the waistcoats of jolly old gentlemen, lolling at the doors, and tumbling out into the street in their apoplectic opulence."

Over the last few days, I read Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol for the first time. Of course, I have seen the story done on stage a number of times (mostly as a child), and the various movies are a yearly Christmas tradition. (My favorite, as many of you might know, is Albert Finney's portrayal in the early 1970's British musical version "Scrooge." I've already watched it once this year, and may do so again.) But despite being very familiar with the story itself through stage and film, and despite having bought a copy of the book some years back, I had never taken the time to sit down and read the story.

So, having bought a new edition of the book after Christmas last year, I finally sat down a few days ago and began the original story.

It was absolutely sublime!

As much as I love the film and stage adaptations of the story, the book was just wonderful. So full of color and imagination and description - you could fairly feel the 19th century London cold, the piles of apples and oranges on the street carts, the hawkers calling out to passers-by bundled head-to-toe in woolen coats and boots.

This really is the quintessential Victorian Christmas story. I suppose I'm only about 170 years late in determining that, but now that I have read the story, I can see why it was such an instantaneous hit with readers. It was so successful during his lifetime, in fact, that Dickens began a tradition of writing Christmas stories every year. The edition of A Christmas Carol that I purchased last year has two other Dickens Christmas stories in it as well, although I have not yet dived into those two.

So I highly recommend this book. If you have seen any or most of the various Scrooge movies that have been made over the years, much of the book will be familiar, but there are a few scenes here and there that I have never seen re-enacted in a play or a movie, including a trip out to a mining colony on the coast of England, and a hovering ride over the English Channel to view Christmas on a Navy ship.

Even after all these years of watching movies and plays based upon this story, I was still moved, emotionally, while reading this book, particularly during the scenes with the Cratchit family. And at the end, I almost felt a tear well up when Scrooge showed up on his nephew's doorstep for Christmas Lunch.

I'll end this post with one of the more poignant passages from the book. The Ghost of Christmas Present has just reminded Scrooge of his harsh words about how if the poor are going to die "then they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population." The Ghost told him this after Scrooge expressed concern about whether or not Tiny Tim would die. The Ghost goes on to say the following:

"Man," said the Ghost, "if man you be in heart, not adamant, forbear that wicked cant until you have discovered What the surplus is, and Where it is. Will you decide what men shall live, what men shall die? It may be, that in the sight of Heaven, you are more worthless and less fit to live than millions like this poor man's child. Oh God! To hear the Insect on the leaf pronouncing on the too much life among his hungry brothers in the dust."

That last line, in particular, strikes a powerful chord. How relevent, 170 years downstream, and in another country, for the self-righteous protestations of the wealthy American!


Anonymous said...

I love A Christmas Carol. I've actually never read a bad book by Dickens. They are all wonderful and whimsical and so full of wonderful irony.

"Mind! I don't mean to say that I know, of my own knowledge, what there is particularly dead about a door-nail. I might have been inclined, myself, to regard a coffin-nail as the deadest piece of ironmongery in the trade. But the wisdom of our ancestors is in the simile; and my unhallowed hands shall not disturb it, or the Country's done for. You will therefore permit me to repeat, emphatically, that Marley was as dead as a door-nail."

Scott said...

Yeah, I was surprised by how much dry humor there was in the book. I hadn't necessarily expected that. I guess I think of Dickens as rather dark and serious.

Anonymous said...

Oh God, not at all! Sure, he's making a commentary on the state of his world--Hard Times is an example that comes to mind--but he's always doing it with a sort of tongue in cheek attitude. Even the names he gives his characters are a reflection of this at times.