Why did I want to read it?
Because I already know and love the story so well (mainly via Scrooged and A Muppet Christmas Carol) and I’ve been meaning to read the original around Christmas-time for years!
When was it published?
First published in December 1843. I read Gerard’s Great Writers Library edition (1987), which is a facsimile of the 1910 Chapman and Hall edition. The book also features other novellas by Dickens: The Chimes and The Cricket on the Hearth.
What’s it about?
Nasty old Ebenezer ‘Bah! Humbug!’ Scrooge is visited by his dead colleague Marley and the spirits of Christmas past, present and future.
Tell us more about the author.
So, what did I think? Does it deserve to be a classic?
A resounding yes. A Christmas Carol obviously has one of the most memorable plots (and characters) in history. And the book has probably done more than anyone can imagine to contribute to the warm-hearted message as to what Christmas is really ‘about’. No matter what religion or nationality you are, or even whether you celebrate Christmas, the message is that kindness is absolutely vital.
While reading, I thought about how the anti-greed message was something instilled in me in childhood (perhaps in part through encountering this story and discussing it with my parents). This led to a lot of confusion as I got older and realised that the capitalist system was feeding me contradictory messages: that I should desire and have everything (and a new version, too); that I deserved to treat myself. Self-help culture also encourages us to be selfish. Of course, our system is morally dubious in more ways than one (I’m thinking of vast environmental degradation here). So, Scrooge today can also symbolise the one percent (as a whole), sitting there counting piles of money and having little regard for anyone or anything else. The descriptions of Scrooge toward the beginning are delightfully funny. I particularly like the line: ‘Foul weather didn’t know where to have him’.
The book leaves with you a series of dark images, like Marley’s face as the door knocker, the chilling spirit that does not speak, and the child spirits of Ignorance and Want—‘Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy [Ignorance], for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased’. The prospect of seeing your own name on a gravestone is also confronting and eerie.
Marley’s ghost and the three Christmas spirits are inventive and exciting. As I read I recalled how frightening I found them in different adaptations as a child. I had forgotten about how Scrooge attributes the vision of Marley to indigestion: ‘You may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of an underdone potato. There’s more of gravy than of grave about you, whatever you are!’
And poor little Tiny Tim. The story may be earnest, but the humour and the cleverness of the plot mean that it’s effectively able to move you. And maybe it moves me, too, because of the despair I sometimes feel about issues mentioned above. But then again, like Scrooge at the end I often feel that ‘I don’t know anything. I’m quite a baby’.
I’m still reading Gogol’s Dead Souls, and then I was thinking either more Nabokov or Muriel Spark’s Memento Mori.