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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
Today’s post will is a link-dump. There are no spoilers in this post, but beware of spoilers inside of the links!
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.
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.
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…..
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???
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)
(mis)treatment of children
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!