A Christmas Carol: Staves 4-5

This post contains spoilers for the entirety of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.

My apologies for the lateness of this post. I had hoped the holidays wouldn’t interfere too much with my blogging schedule BUT ALAS.

Thoughts? Feelings? Check out the #carolalong for others’ thoughts and feelings.

On to the fourth stave! When we left off last time, Scrooge was watching a member of the Nazgul float toward him and was, understandably, frightened nearly out of his stockings. Stave Four enters in with a rhythmic description:

“It was shrouded in a deep black garment, which concealed its head, its face, its form, and left nothing of it visible save one outstretched hand. But for this it would have been difficult to detach its figure from the night, and separate it from the darkness by which it was surrounded.”

giphy-60

[My headcanon is that one of the Ringwraiths escaped and hung out for a while in the basement levels of shopping malls until Mandos caught him and gave him the job of Christmas Future. That’s the kind of shenanigan Mandos would pull, lbr.]

In Stave One we saw how the narrator gave human characteristics to buildings. Here we have a really great moment where it does the same but with the entire city: “They scarcely seemed to enter the City, for the City rather seemed to spring up about them, and encompass them of its own act.” 

Scrooge’s attitude has really improved. He assures Christmas Future that “I know your purpose is to do me good,” which is pretty trusting of him considering his situation, alone at night in some timeless timeline with a Nazgul for company. What if the ghosts WEREN’T armed with good intentions? That’s the horror movie version, I guess. In any case, Christmas Future shows Scrooge a couple of seemingly-innocuous conversations between his former colleagues. It’s pretty obvious to the reader what’s going on, but Scrooge is blissfully ignorant, although he has no doubt that “they had some latent moral for his own improvement.” Scrooge is still a very self-centered guy, did you notice? But at least he’s realized that he has a problem that needs to be improved upon.

The scene with the charwoman, the laundress, and the undertaker is pretty upsetting. I’m not sure if the line “If we haven’t all three met here without meaning it” is a reference to Macbeth but it reminded me of it. Their behavior and theft of the dead man’s things is horrifying to Scrooge, but their attitudes reflect his as they were at the beginning of the story. “Every person has a right to take care of themselves. He always did!” It isn’t explicitly said that his contempt for human life made them become contemptuous as well, but it’s interesting to think about. If Scrooge turns his life around, will these three be influenced by his change of heart and be better, too? On the other hand, I can’t imagine Bob Cratchit acting the way these three do, even given the means and opportunity. The narrator, with his usual lack of chill, compares the three to “obscene demons, marketing the corpse itself.”

source-1
The Narrator, Revealed.

I’m always surprised that we don’t get to “see” the Cratchit’s response to Scrooge’s death. Do they just not care? The only people with a Feeling about Scrooge’s death are the debtors who suddenly have a lot more time to get their money together (ps I want to know more about them). Anyway, the Cratchits. They make me happy and sad both together.

Seriously, I am such trash for the setting descriptions in this book: “Here, then, the wretched man whose name he had now to learn lay underneath the ground. It was a worthy place. Walled in by houses, overrun by grass and weeds, the growth of vegetation’s death, not life; choked up with too much burying, fat with repleted appetite. A worthy place!”

giphy-61

Christmas Future, in spite of his scary appearance, is revealed to be “kind” in the last page of Stave Four. He doesn’t speak at any point, and has more in common with Past the record-keeper than Present, who has a brief but joyful life and has more influence on actual events.

I’ve mentioned previously how much time and the function of time is emphasized in this story. But I didn’t remember the culminating moment with Scrooge, when he proclaims to Christmas Future: “I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me.” (emphasis mine) Scrooge has learned his lesson, and is determined to keep it by remembering the lessons of his past, and his present, and his possible future. SO INTERESTING.

Stave Five is short and sweet and definitely my favorite bit. Scrooge is such a rascal – especially to Bob, poor guy! Scrooge: “Now that I’m good, I’m going to PRETEND TO BE EVIL and make Bob sad! Bwahahaha!” Bob needs therapy. I like how we finally see the familial resemblance between Scrooge and his nephew and it is their laugh. Scrooge shows himself to have “a splendid laugh, a most illustrious laugh. The father of a long, long line of brilliant laughs.” Awww.

There are two jokes in particular in this chapter that I love.

  1. “[Scrooge] had no further intercourse with Spirits, but lived upon the Total Abstinence Principle ever afterward…” Get it? Because alcohol is also called “spirits” and he didn’t see any ghosts but also he didn’t drink ever again? Bahahaha. Love it.
  2. “‘I don’t know what to do!’ cried Scrooge, laughing and crying in the same breath, and making a perfect Laocoon of himself with his stockings.” I don’t understand why Dickens would compare a hysterical old man with a guy who gets murdered by snakes because he defied the gods, but I’m into it. I’m really into it.
Laocoon_and_His_Sons.jpg
Laocoon and his sons are not having a Merry Christmas.

 

I’d like to end on that note, but Scrooge’s newfound enthusiasm for Christmas is fun, funny, and worthy of emulation.

“Oh, glorious! Glorious!”

“An intelligent boy! A remarkable boy!”

“It’s a wonderful knocker!”

“He looked so irresistibly pleasant.”

“[He] found that everything could yield him pleasure.”

“Nice girl! Very.”

“Wonderful party, wonderful games, wonderful unanimity, won-der-ful happiness!”

 

Advertisements

#CarolAlong

If you’ve been participating in our readalongs and haven’t checked out the hashtags, you are missing out. For A Christmas Carol, I’ve done the work for you and put the #carolalong tweets into a Storify.

If you think I missed some, link me and I’ll add them.

Of course, the readalong isn’t over yet and I anticipate many more excellent tweets.

A Christmas Carol: Stave 3

This post contain spoilers through Stave Three of A Christmas Carol.

Now this is the kind of cuddly Christmas story I’m talking about: family dinners, friendly gatherings, games, jokes and – OH WOW THAT GOT DARK FAST, DIDN’T IT.

giphy-56

WHAT THE DICKENS

NOBODY ASKED FOR THIS

“He felt that he was restored to consciousness in the right nick of time” (Stave Three). Okay but what IS the right nick of time? You can’t just keep jumping back to 1 AM, that’s, that’s rude and uncalled for. That’s a repeated nick. It’s improper!

So far, this visitation starts out a lot more promising than the last one, based on an actual throne of food and that “The walls and ceiling were so hung with living green that it looked a perfect grove” (Stave Three). Interesting choice to have Christmas Present to have so much greenery. I need to research Christmas trees, garlands, and wreaths now.

Whoops I learned too much.

So mistletoe was used by Druid priests back in the day as a symbol of fertility. Somehow it stuck in the Celtic traditions and got into the Roman celebration of Saturnalia, which was replaced by Christmas later. Victorians were the ones who popularized using it as a kissing bough, so I can blame them, yay!

Holly and ivy were used by Romans in Saturnalia festivities as well. Holly was considered a male plant and was entwined with ivy, the female one, to call upon the divine to bring about winter’s end (since these plants are evergreen and not affected by winter). Here’s a link that has comparisons on the Christian and “pagan” uses for the plants.

Besides all the greenery and his food-couch, Christmas Present has a glowing torch made out of “Plenty’s horn” (Stave Three), i.e. a cornucopia. A cornutorchia, if you will. I have a lot of questions about how and why you would use a cornucopia as a torch. He also uses it in a way that makes me think of a thurible, except he’s spreading Christmas joy instead of incense.

giphy-57
I hope you did, too.

Okay, so we’ve got Christmas Present in the house. We learn he’s got a big family with “More than eighteen hundred” brothers. Get it because the story is set sometime during the 1800s….. Later, when he’s done hanging out with Scrooge, he says, “My life upon this globe is very short.” So he gets 24 hours, I guess? Pretty dark, Dickens, come on. Size-wise, he’s a Giant but “he could accommodate himself to any place with ease.” So basically he’s Santa and can fit into any chimney! Cool. Feel free to discuss the scene where Scrooge is accusing Present of taking away the poor’s ability to dine well…I have no idea what they were talking about, or why Present got so mad and said not to blame what humans do on him. How was Present sprinkling them with cornutorchia juice keeping them from getting a meal? Because they’re going to church???? Or????? I’m completely lost and I believe in honesty.

Christmas Present is having none of Scrooge’s shenanigans, though, as demonstrated in that conversation and also when he keeps quoting Scrooge and making him ashamed: “If he be like to die, and he had better do it, and decrease the population” in regards to Tiny Tim, and “Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?” in regards to the starving children Ignorance and Want. Scrooge feels horrible, so either he has a soft spot for kids or once he has his words applied to specific individuals that he can see in front of him, he has regrets. I….can relate to that. I mean, it’s a lot easier to be compassionate when the situation is right in front of you rather than a hypothetical or intellectual question. We should treat them the same, though.

I think it’s interesting that Ignorance and Want are attached to Christmas Present rather than also to Past and Future. It highlights the fact that these are problems RIGHT NOW, not problems we solved or problems we have to prevent from happening.

Scrooge seems to be changing, against all odds: “He was not the dogged Scrooge he had been.” But he still hasn’t taken action, he’s just had Feelings and Regrets.

In contrast to Scrooge, we see lots of people celebrating Christmas in this chapter, but primarily focus on the Cratchits and the family of Scrooge’s nephew’s fiancee. In particular we get some of the best food descriptions in English literature. Go back and read them now, and savor every word. The best descriptions are when Christmas Present and Scrooge are traveling down the street and see all the shopkeepers and their wares, and the Cratchits’ dinner. Go on. I’ll wait. I don’t have anything to say about them except that they’re amazing.

giphy-58

All right, are you hungry now?

What I love about the Cratchits is that there’s not actually anything extraordinary about them. “They were not a handsome family” or well-dressed, but they have love for each other and joy, and that makes them amazing and wonderful and the kind of people you would want to hang out with, even if they don’t have anything fancy.

Meanwhile, the nephew and his friends are gifted with laughter, at the very least.“If you should happen, by any unlikely chance, to know a man more blessed in a laugh than Scrooge’s nephew, all I can say is, I should like to know him, too.” Their group has a grand time eating and talking and joking. Scrooge could be hanging out with them too, if he wasn’t a sad old panda.

The Cratchits and the nephew’s group have one more point of comparison: their attitude toward Scrooge. Bob Cratchit and the nephew are more inclined to pity Scrooge, but their families are very contemptuous and disrespectful toward him, treating him like a Christmas grinch of some kind. I like the nephew’s insightful description of his uncle:

“He’s a comical old fellow,” said Scrooge’s nephew, “that’s the truth; and not so pleasant as he might be. However, his offenses carry their own punishment, and I have nothing to say against him.” And further: “His wealth is of no use to him. He doesn’t do any good with it. He doesn’t make himself comfortable with it. He hasn’t the satisfaction of thinking – ha, ha, ha! – that he is ever going to benefit us with it.”

Despite their dislike of him, both conversations ironically end with a toast to Scrooge.

The narrator is back to being super weird, in my opinion, when he describes the nephew’s fiancee. Seriously, is it just me? Why is the narrator SO WEIRD about everything? “Perfectly satisfactory,” indeed!

giphy (59).gif

Shakespeare reference for the day: “The grocer and his people were so frank and fresh that the polished hearts with which they fastened their aprons behind might have been their own, worn outside for general inspection, and for Christmas daws to peck at, if they chose.” This is an allusion to Othello, when Iago says “I will wear my heart upon my sleeve/ For daws to peck at.” Iago is saying the day will never come when he will show everyone what he is secretly thinking or feeling. PS Iago is terrible and you don’t want to be like him. So for the narrator to describe these grocers as being goodhearted and showing their emotions openly, he is complimenting them as best he can, even if people like Iago, or Scrooge, look down on them.

This chapter ends with the revealing of Ignorance and Want, Christmas Present’s imminent death, and a real live Ringwraith flying toward Scrooge.

TO BE CONTINUED

A Christmas Carol: The Novella’s Influence

Today’s post will is a link-dump. There are no spoilers in this post, but beware of spoilers inside of the links!

chickenghost.jpg
I’m always here for grammar jokes. source

This post is very well-written and emphasizes how greatly A Christmas Carol affected the popularity and celebration of the Christmas holiday, especially in regards to religion.

There is no doubt that A Christmas Carol is first and foremost a story concerned with the Christian gospel of liberation by the grace of God, and with incarnational religion which refuses to drive a wedge between the world of spirit and the world of matter.

Discuss.

This post by is LONG but has bunches and bunches of literary, historical, religious, and social contextual information around the novel’s publication and reception. The bits I found most interesting were the antipathy toward Christmas by some sects of Christians (anti-Christmas sentiment is going to my next research project, probably), and Dickens’ precursor to Ebenezer Scrooge (I’m always fascinated by story evolution).

This post is similar to the above but much shorter.

workhouse12001
This is pretty dark….source.

I’ve really appreciated The Victorian Web’s write-ups on authors and themes. Here’s a post by them on this subject (don’t be scared by their ugly website).

But while Dickens may not have created Christmas, his contributions, most notably his propagation of what the festival should mean, are essential to the establishment of the culture of Christmas.

This post emphasizes the influence A Christmas Carol had on your average Joe (or Bob) and their celebration of the holiday.

As mixed as my feelings are on this novella, I had no idea how much it influenced Christmas celebrations! I feel a little better about it. Maybe…..

 

 

A Christmas Carol: Staves 1-2

This post contains spoilers for Staves One and Two of A Christmas Carol.

How is the book so far? I was terrified by this story at an early age and have never grown out of it, but I’ve been told it is a very cozy and redemptive story.

source

I want to talk real quick about the narration, since we’re finally away from first-person, a-character-is-“really”-writing-this-story-which-is-real narrators. The third person omniscient narration in this book is very different from the Dracula narrators, or Jim Hawkins, but it does seem to have a personality of its own. It has a very distinct voice, which we see in Stave One in parts like the opening bit where it insists, confidently and persuasively, that Marley was definitely dead and the reader needs to understand that. In Stave Two, it gets a little more assertive about its existence. When introducing the first spirit, the narrator informs us that Scrooge was as close to the spirit “as I am to you, and I am standing in the spirit at your elbow.” Did anyone else take a moment to look around the room uneasily? No? Just me? Another really disturbing scene is when Scrooge and the spirit are watching some children roughhouse, and the narrator cries “What I would not have given to be one of them!” and then goes on to describe how the boys are totally cavalier about touching a girl and how the narrator would “know its value” if it were allowed the same liberty. I don’t know, guys, it got super weird. But I have a long history of being creeped out by this book so, DISCUSS?

giphy-50
actual footage of the secret narrator of A Christmas Carol

Here’s a discussion question for you: is this book more suitable for Christmas, or Halloween? That opening chapter with Marley’s ghost is a doozy. The part where Scrooge can hear the dragging chains approach, from down in the cellar all the way up to his room, gives me the chilly heebie-jeebies.
Speaking of ghosts, I find it interesting that one of the first things we learn about Scrooge (page 3 in my copy) is that “External heat and cold had little influence on [him]. No warmth could warm, no wintry weather chill him.” That’s a very ghost-like characteristic. Scrooge, you’re dead inside and ghosties want to help you! Further, “Darkness is cheap, and Scrooge liked it” (Stave One): okay, creeper.
I really love Scrooge’s initial reaction to Marley’s face on the knocker.
MARLEY: Hey dude I’m a doorknocker now.
SCROOGE: *stares*
SCROOGE: I refuse to condone this sort of nonsense.
Scrooge: *closes door*
Scrooge: “Pooh, pooh!”

giphy-42
Scrooge, probably

We’ve also got a reference to another classic ghost story just to add to the chaos:

“If we were not 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-say Saint Paul’s Churchyard for instance-literally to astonish his son’s weak mind.”

Sassy Shakespeare reference of the week!

And then of course there’s the Ghost of Christmas Past, AKA A Walking Candle. I’ve read this book and I did NOT remember the first spirit being a giant candle with its very own cap. Not only that, but it’s a candle with no feelings: “I told you these were shadows of things that have been,” said the Ghost. “That they are what they are, do not blame me!” (Stave Two). The ghost is merciless, but not malicious. It’s a record-keeper, like a camera or something.
I am very pleased by camera-candle ghost. Candlamera, if you will.

iab94

Scrooge himself is a malicious, grouchy old dude, but I was noticing that he’s also very child-like. He’s constantly arguing with Marley and the Ghost of Christmas Past, almost petulantly. When Marley tells him he has to receive visiting spirits, his response is “I—I think I’d rather not” (Stave Two). Scrooge denies that Marley could have done anything very wrong in his life, since “You were always a good man of business,” and Marley’s rejoins that “Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forebearance, and benevolence were all my business.” That interaction highlights Marley’s grim reality and realizations and Scrooge’s ignorance, almost childish innocence, of it.
There are two points in Stave Two where we see Scrooge experiencing Charitable Thoughts: one when he sees himself as a boy, and wishes he could have given a Christmas caroler a present; one when he sees himself as a young employee and wishes he could say something nice to his clerk. However, in both cases it’s a very passive wish on Scrooge’s part: he’s not yet to the point where he actively and desperately wants to change.

Stephanie’s Requirements For Change:

  • Action
  • Desperation

There’s a couple of architectural quotes on this section that I absolutely love, where the narrator gives buildings human characteristics. Both are in Stave One:
• The clocktower outside of Scrooge’s workplace “struck the hours and quarters in the clouds, with tremulous vibrations afterward, as if its teeth were chattering in its frozen head up there.” Perfect. Also, while we’re here, pay attention to mentions of time, clocks, clocktowers, etc, in this book. Time is sort of a character in itself, and one that is very important to Scrooge: when time gets wonky in Stave Two, he is concerned that he’s lost a whole day or that time itself has run amok, which will ruin his business that relies on regular timetables and due dates.
• Scrooge’s house: “one could scarcely help fancying it must have run there when it was a young house, playing at hide-and-seek with other houses, and have forgotten the way out again.” Dark, but also a nice comparison with Scrooge, who was a young man once but got lost in his greed and can’t find his way back to, you know, Christmas and love and joy and stuff.

To wrap up this week’s post, I hunted down a couple of references for you:

  • “Scrooge had often heard it said that Marley had no bowels, but he had never believed it until now. No, nor did he believe it even now” (Stave One).
    Apparently this is an allusion to the Colossians 3:12, which mentions the “bowels of mercies” (KJV translation). So basically, Marley has no mercy, but also it’s a joke, haha funny, because he’s a ghost and doesn’t have any actual bowels.
  • “If the good Saint Dunstan had but nipped the Evil Spirit’s nose with a touch of such weather as that, instead of using his familiar weapons, then, indeed, he would have roared to lusty purpose” (Stave One). Apparently Saint Dunstan, as legend has it, was tempted by the devil and, being a blacksmith, held the devil back with a pair of tongs to his face. Fascinating!

 

Enjoy your reading! I’ll do my best to keep up with posting the rest of this month, in between Christmas madness. If you have questions, comments, let me know here or on Twitter @bahnree or #Carolalong.

 

A Christmas Carol: Opening Notes

Our readalong of A Christmas Carol began this month, but there’s still time to join in! Unlike most of Charles Dickens’ work, this book is very short. Read Staves 1 and 2 by December 7th and you’ll be right on schedule.

Staves? What? Don’t you mean chapters??? NOPE NO I DON’T. If you pull up the tables of contents, you’ll see that the chapters in A Christmas Carol are called “staves.” A stave, among other things, is “a verse or stanza of a poem or song.” Cute, right? Right???

giphy-47

english-novelist-charles-dickens
Source

So, our good friend Charles. He’s sort of a big deal. He wrote 20 novels and novellas, along with several boatloads of articles and short stories. You can find a brief summary of his life here.

There’s a rumor going around that Dickens was paid by the word, and that’s why most of his stuff is so long. That’s sorta true but also sorta not. He was paid in installments, and since many of his stories/novels were published serially (every week, month, etc), it would make sense for him to keep a story going as long as possible. But really, it’s an open discussion on whether his stories are “too long” or “drag on too much.”

A Christmas Carol, however, was published in a single volume all at once on December 19th 1843.

[Tiny honest interruption here: I’m not a huge fan of this book. Dickens is a really, really skilled writer but I don’t enjoy reading him most of the time because he’s so upsetting. That being said, I hope this time is different and that I can relax and appreciate the story.]

For those of you who have read this book or other Dickens before, pay attention to what you notice this time around or what strikes you differently.

For those of you who haven’t read Dickens before, he has a bunch of mega-themes or topics he uses frequently in his stories that it might be helpful to know about ahead of time:

  • the appalling conditions of the working and lower social classes
  • the greed of the upper classes
  • social reform in general (I’m not saying he was a social justice warrior but)
  • redemption/corruption
  • guilt
  • (mis)treatment of children
  • crime
  • workaholics/healthy workers
  • fate vs. free will

There are many more I could put on the list, but the ones above are especially applicable to A Christmas Carol.

Next post will be up on Wednesday or Thursday. Enjoy reading!

 

 

A Christmas Carol: Readalong

Coming December 2016! We will be reading A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.

The discussion hashtag will be: #Carolalong (which sounds sort of like a tea to me)

Do the reading, join the conversation, ask questions or write posts, as you will! This is a very short book so hopefully it won’t be too much of an imposition on an already-busy holiday month. Join us on twitter, instagram, or whatever social media you desire.

childrens379_2000By December 7th, you should have Stave 1 and Stave 2 read.

By December 14th, you should have Stave 3 read.

By December 21st, you should have Stave 4 and Stave 5 read.

As with previous readalongs, I will be posting on this blog a couple of times a week with quotes, observations, resources, and other nonsense.

Please let me know if you have ideas or suggestions for the readalong!