Have you ever read Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol (1843)? You have probably seen one of the many countless adaptations on television, on stage, or at the movies. Like most, I had never read the story. Well, I rectified that gap in my Victorian reading history and read Dickens’ delightful short story. The entire work is about 90 to 100 pages so it should fit nicely into the holiday season. In between wrapping presents, preparing your family’s feast, listening to Christmas Music, and enduring the madness of the malls, I highly recommend a Dickens interlude.
Dickens’s story coincided with the first Christmas Greeting card released the same year. Dickens’s story essentially defines the modern and secular Christmas of today, taking the focus away from biblical tales of the nativity or wise men. Instead, he brings a sense of humanity to what we often dismiss as a time of greed and consumption. In other words, he brings humanity to everyday life in the modern metropolis.
Scrooge is the ultimate miser, but he is also a frail human who realises his wrongs halfway through the story. He endures the lessons of the Ghosts of Christmas Present and Christmas Future because he knows that they are trying to help him. I think that Scrooge is, at heart, a kind-hearted character who, in his old age, regrets the isolated and selfish life he has led. He sees the despair of Tiny Tim, the genuine love of his nephew Fred and realises that he can use his power to help others thrive. There is a sense in Dickens that economic consumption can be channeled for the benefit of humanity and not merely for the benefit of investors.
I was also fascinated by Dickens’ use of horror. The children named Want and Ignorance (pictured above by the talented John Leach from the original book illustrations) symbolise the horrific conditions of child poverty in Victorian England. The moment when Scrooge realises that the corpse lying dead for weeks and forgotten by society is his own is a powerful and disturbing image. Tiny Tim isn’t just on crutches, his weak legs are held straight by iron leggings. As a child, my mother wore leather and metal versions of such braces a hundred years after Tiny Tim and I assure you that no matter the materials, they are a horror to endure.
This story was a rich and rewarding read and I am delighted to realise how many more Victorian Christmas stories I have on my bookshelves by William Makepeace Thackeray, Marie Corelli, Elizabeth Gaskell and more by Dickens. I don’t know if they will delight me the way A Christmas Carol did but I’m looking forward to finding out this year, and in the years to come.