I adore Christmas. I also equally adore Charles Dickens. It does not, therefore, take a genius to realise that A Christmas Carol is a book which holds a dear place in my festive heart. I cannot recall the time I first read this book, or indeed first saw the film adaptations. A Christmas Carol seems to have been a permanent fixture within my life for as long as my memory can recall. It is now, as many people will agree, regarded as a Christmas tradition, a story which is told and retold, without loosing any of its original charm and brilliance.
Whilst I already own this book, I was ridiculously lucky to have been gifted the stunning original manuscript edition for my birthday (haul here). Published by Norton (a company with whom I became very accustomed to during my University time), this edition features the original handwritten manuscript on one side, with the typed text on the other. For someone so in love with both the story and Dickens himself, it really was the perfect gift!
This edition also features two introductions of sorts. There is a foreword by Colm Tobin, and an introduction by Declan Kiely, who is the chief literary curator for the Morgan Library and Museum, home to the original manuscript. Whilst I found the foreword by Tobin to be enjoyable, highlighting the areas of great interest within the story, the introduction by Declan Kiely is what really grabbed my attention. It provides a fascinating insight into the conditions through which Dickens wrote the story, and indeed how the story came into existence. For anyone who loves either the story or Dickens, it really is a brilliantly written piece, full to bursting with fascinating facts and information. I especially liked the fact that it talked readers through how the manuscript actually ended up at this museum, and the process required to photograph the antique pages to produce this stunning edition.
After deliberating for a long time, I realised it was going to be exceptionally difficult to try to review a A Christmas Carol. It is something I am so accustomed to that I feel I am too closely involved with the story and the text to be able to offer a fresh, insightful view, free from a nostalgic prejudice. So rather than a strict review, this post will be more of a celebration of some of my favourite aspects of the novel.
The opening paragraph of this novel is quite rightly famous. ‘Old Marley’, we all know, ‘was dead as a door-nail’ (p. 5). When you actually stop to think about it, this is certainly a strikingly bold simile to start an opening with. It shows not only the confidence with which Dickens was capable of writing, but also immediately grabs the readers attention. Considering most of Dickens’s novels were serialised through monthly installments, this was assuredly a device he was rather accustomed to. What I particularly like about this line, is that it is a more subtle foreshadowing of Scrooge. Whilst the ghost of Christmas present provides a much more explicit example of this, Scrooge’s deceased partner is just as much of a warning. The harshness of this brutally blunt simile, combined with the fact that Scrooge was his ‘sole friend and sole mourner’, yet is ‘not so dreadfully cut up by the sad event’ (p. 5), is remarkably similar to what Scrooge is so chillingly shown of his own future. Partner’s in life, these men are likely to be partner in the pitiful mourning surrounding their death.
If Dickens is capable of captivating his reader’s from the get go, he is equally as talented at providing us with rich, vivid descriptions which are regarded as so iconicly Dickensian today. For me, these are especially true when Dickens takes the time to describe the weather. At one point, describing the night before the spirits visit, we are told:
‘The city clocks had only just gone three, but it was quite dark already – it had not been light all day – and candles were flaring in the windows of the neighbouring offices, like ruddy smears upon the palpable brown air. The fog came pouring in at every chink and keyhole, and was so dense without, that although the court was of the narrowest the houses opposite were mere phantoms. To see the dingy cloud come drooping down, obscuring everything, one might have though that Nature lived hard by, and was brewing on a large scale’. (p. 9)
The scenes, the senses, the atmosphere which this one paragraph evokes, is just superb. Dickens is able to do what we so earnestly want from all writers; the ability to transform us, and to take us within their imagination.
Whilst these particular scene are not necessarily the cheeriest, they are a needed element to make the Christmas spirit shine ever the more brightly. As Scrooge’s own nephew remarks, Christmas is ‘a good time: a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time: the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts, freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on others journeys’. (p. 11).
As you can tell, this message really does say it all much more eloquently than I could ever state.
One of the great things about this book, is that it is such an accessible read for people new to either Dickens or Classic literature in general. Yes, this is a short story, and is thus easier to get through, but more than that, it is a story with a warm message, with lighter themes and ideas than many of the other full length novels Dickens published. That is not, however, to say that this story does not contain a serious social commentary, or critique of society, but it is done through a lighter subject matter, with more obvious morals, concluding with a satisfying ending. If, by some miracle, you have yet to experience A Christmas Carol, I really cannot stress enough the heart warming, brilliant moral which superbly encapsulates the true Christmas spirit.