Classic of the Month: A Christmas Carol
Updated: Dec 28, 2022
As you probably recall, I started a new monthly series that will highlight a new "classic" every month. This month's classic is A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. Again I am very loosely basing my idea of classic's on this "A classic is a novel that represents a genre or a writing style, or it can be a novel that makes a contribution to literature. There are all kinds of classics, from horror classics to romance classics, from novels that sold millions of copies to a novel that changed how a genre was written." Due to the widely different views on what a classic is, these books may be considered classics by me but your opinion may be different. This will be the final Classic of the Month.
What is The Christmas Carol?
A Christmas Carol. In Prose. Being a Ghost Story of Christmas, commonly known as A Christmas Carol, is a novella by Charles Dickens, first published in London by Chapman & Hall in 1843 and illustrated by John Leech. A Christmas Carol recounts the story of Ebenezer Scrooge, an elderly miser who is visited by the ghost of his former business partner Jacob Marley and the spirits of Christmas Past, Present and Yet to Come. After their visits, Scrooge is transformed into a kinder, gentler man. Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol during a period when the British were exploring and re-evaluating past Christmas traditions, including carols, and newer customs such as Christmas cards and Christmas trees. He was influenced by the experiences of his own youth and by the Christmas stories of other authors, including Washington Irving and Douglas Jerrold. Dickens had written three Christmas stories prior to the novella, and was inspired following a visit to the Field Lane Ragged School, one of several establishments for London's street children. The treatment of the poor and the ability of a selfish man to redeem himself by transforming into a more sympathetic character are the key themes of the story. There is discussion among academics as to whether this is a fully secular story, or if it is a Christian allegory.
Published on 19 December, the first edition sold out by Christmas Eve; by the end of 1844 thirteen editions had been released. Most critics reviewed the novella favourably. The story was illicitly copied in January 1844; Dickens took legal action against the publishers, who went bankrupt, further reducing Dickens's small profits from the publication. He went on to write four other Christmas stories in subsequent years. In 1849 he began public readings of the story, which proved so successful he undertook 127 further performances until 1870, the year of his death. A Christmas Carol has never been out of print and has been translated into several languages; the story has been adapted many times for film, stage, opera and other media. A Christmas Carol captured the zeitgeist of the mid-Victorian revival of the Christmas holiday. Dickens had acknowledged the influence of the modern Western observance of Christmas and later inspired several aspects of Christmas, including family gatherings, seasonal food and drink, dancing, games and a festive generosity of spirit.
Plot Overview (Detailed)
The book is divided into five chapters, which Dickens titled "staves".
A Christmas Carol opens on a bleak, cold Christmas Eve in London, seven years after the death of Ebenezer Scrooge's business partner, Jacob Marley. Scrooge, an ageing miser, dislikes Christmas and refuses a dinner invitation from his nephew Fred—the son of Fan, Scrooge's dead sister. He turns away two men who seek a donation from him to provide food and heating for the poor and only grudgingly allows his overworked, underpaid clerk, Bob Cratchit, Christmas Day off with pay to conform to the social custom.
That night Scrooge is visited at home by Marley's ghost, who wanders the Earth entwined by heavy chains and money boxes forged during a lifetime of greed and selfishness. Marley tells Scrooge that he has a single chance to avoid the same fate: he will be visited by three spirits and must listen or be cursed to carry much heavier chains of his own.
The first spirit, the Ghost of Christmas Past, takes Scrooge to Christmas scenes of Scrooge's boyhood, reminding him of a time when he was more innocent. The scenes reveal Scrooge's lonely childhood at boarding school, his relationship with his beloved sister Fan, and a Christmas party hosted by his first employer, Mr Fezziwig, who treated him like a son. Scrooge's neglected fiancée Belle is shown ending their relationship, as she realises that he will never love her as much as he loves money. Finally, they visit a now-married Belle with her large, happy family on the Christmas Eve that Marley died. Scrooge, upset by hearing Belle's description of the man that he has become, demands that the ghost remove him from the house.
The second spirit, the Ghost of Christmas Present, takes Scrooge to a joyous market with people buying the makings of Christmas dinner. The Ghost then takes Scrooge to Bob Cratchit's family feast and introduces his youngest son, Tiny Tim, a happy boy who is seriously ill. The spirit informs Scrooge that Tiny Tim will die unless the course of events changes. Afterwards, the spirit and Scrooge travel to celebrations of Christmas in a miner's cottage, in a lighthouse, and on a ship at sea. Scrooge and the ghost then visit Fred's Christmas party. Before disappearing, the spirit shows Scrooge two hideous, emaciated children named Ignorance and Want. He tells Scrooge to beware them and mocks Scrooge's concern for their welfare.
The third spirit, the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, shows Scrooge a Christmas Day in the future. The silent ghost reveals scenes involving the death of a disliked man whose funeral is attended by local businessmen only on condition that lunch is provided. His charwoman, laundress and the local undertaker steal his possessions to sell to a fence. When he asks the spirit to show a single person who feels emotion over his death, he is only given the pleasure of a poor couple who rejoice that his death gives them more time to put their finances in order. When Scrooge asks to see tenderness connected with any death, the ghost shows him Bob Cratchit and his family mourning the death of Tiny Tim. The ghost then allows Scrooge to see a neglected grave, with a tombstone bearing Scrooge's name. Sobbing, Scrooge pledges to change his ways.
Scrooge awakens on Christmas morning a changed man. He makes a large donation to the charity he rejected the previous day, anonymously sends a large turkey to the Cratchit home for Christmas dinner and spends the afternoon with Fred's family. The following day he gives Cratchit an increase in pay, and begins to become a father figure to Tiny Tim. From then on Scrooge treats everyone with kindness, generosity and compassion, embodying the spirit of Christmas.
What is the genre of this book?
The Christmas Carol is classified as the following; Fairy-tale, Morality Play, Fiction, Victorian Literature, Novella, and a Ghost Story.
Was this book ever banned?
No, none of Charles Dickens books have ever been banned as far as I can tell.
Why is it considered a classic?
Charles Dickens was the first author to bring Christmas into the world of literature, and the book’s critical success forever carries the torch. Dickens wrote the novel in honor of the Christmastime tradition of his old England, and completed the book in remarkably quick time–starting in October 1843 and self-publishing in time for Christmas that same year! Apparently, he and his publisher didn’t see eye to eye and he went out on his own. (Even Dickens self-published!) The book sold 6,000 copies—the entire initial print run—in its first few days, and is considered Dickens’ best known work. This Christmas tale has been interpreted into countless publications, plays, and big and little screen adaptations. There have been about twenty film versions, both on and off television since 1908, and I’m sure there will be more to come. Dickens’s idea of blending story with this season had yet to be done before 1843, but is certainly part of why it’s become a perennial classic.
By 1849 Dickens was engaged with David Copperfield and had neither the time nor the inclination to produce another Christmas book. He decided the best way to reach his audience with his "Carol philosophy" was by public readings. During Christmas 1853 Dickens gave a reading in Birmingham Town Hall to the Industrial and Literary Institute; the performance was a great success. Thereafter, he read the tale in an abbreviated version 127 times, until 1870 (the year of his death), including at his farewell performance. In the years following the book's publication, responses to the tale were published by W. M. Swepstone (Christmas Shadows, 1850), Horatio Alger (Job Warner's Christmas, 1863), Louisa May Alcott (A Christmas Dream, and How It Came True, 1882), and others who followed Scrooge's life as a reformed man – or some who thought Dickens had got it wrong and needed to be corrected.
The novella was adapted for the stage almost immediately. Three productions opened on 5 February 1844, one by Edward Stirling being sanctioned by Dickens and running for more than 40 nights. By the close of February 1844 eight rival A Christmas Carol theatrical productions were playing in London. The story has been adapted for film and television more than any of Dickens's other works. In 1901 it was produced as Scrooge, or, Marley's Ghost, a silent black-and-white British film; it was one of the first known adaptations of a Dickens work on film, but it is now largely lost. The story was adapted in 1923 for BBC radio. The story has been adapted to other media, including opera, ballet, animation, stage musicals and a BBC mime production starring Marcel Marceau.
Davis considers the adaptations have become better remembered than the original. Some of Dickens's scenes—such as visiting the miners and lighthouse keepers—have been forgotten by many, while other events often added—such as Scrooge visiting the Cratchits on Christmas Day—are now thought by many to be part of the original story. Accordingly, Davis distinguishes between the original text and the "remembered version".
Do you have a favourite version of this story? My favourite so far is the 2009 Jim Carrey animated version. But I also love the book.