A Timeless Classic

As one explores the vast world of literature, one of the names that one will inevitably come across is Charles Dickens. One of the icons of English literature, Dickens and his works are ubiquitous. He has written some of the most iconic works of literature. He has also crafted some of the most memorable literary characters. He gifted us with the eponymous David Copperfield and Oliver Twist. In Great Expectations, we read of how Pip rose above his circumstances to create a name for himself. He also wrote A Tale of Two Cities which, with over 200 million copies sold, is one of the bestselling books of all time. Yes, he may have thrived during the Victorian era but not even the passage of time can dim the luster of his works. His influence transcends time and, even in the contemporary, we often read of the term Dickensian to describe elaborate plotting, an enormous cast of characters, and the overall atmosphere of a book.

It was over a decade ago when I first read my first novel written by Dickens. By then, I have been consuming the works of the likes of Sidney Sheldon, Mary Higgins Clark, Danielle Steel, and Nora Roberts. They have become, in a way, my comfort zone. I haven’t ventured beyond their works but the moment I encountered one of Dickens’ works in the university library, I knew it was the right time to venture beyond worlds I haven’t been into. I started with David Copperfield. It was uncharted territory and yet the journey went more smoothly than I expected. His next book I read, Great Expectations, remains one of my all-time favorite reads. However, there is one title that I have been looking forward to since Dickens became one of my new literary favorites: A Christmas Carol. The book being adapted into an animated film was a factor in this desire to experience what the book had in store.

For years, I have been crossing my fingers, that one day I get to read the book. The opportunity finally came in late 2021 when I was able to acquire a copy of the book. I was beyond ecstatic for that moment for it was a long time coming. Reading it around Christmas, it was keeping up with the holiday spirit. Originally published on December 19, 1843, as A Christmas Carol, in Prose: Being a Ghost Story of Christmas, the book has become synonymous with the holiday season, and its movie adaptation has become an essential part of the holiday tradition. At the heart of the novella is Ebenezer Scrooge who, like most of Dickens’ creations, has become one of the most recognized names in the world of literature. Just the mention of his name is enough to evoke ring a bell of familiarity, but not entirely for positive reasons.

“Mind! I don’t mean to say that I know, of my own knowledge, what there is particularly dead about a door-nail. I might have been inclined, myself, to regard a coffin-nail as the deadest piece of ironmongery in the trade. But the wisdom of our ancestors is in the simile; and my unhallowed hands shall not disturb it, or the Country’s done for. You will therefore permit me to repeat, emphatically, that Marley was as dead as a doornail.”

~ Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

My sixth book by Dickens, the novella was divided into five parts which the author referred to as staves. The first stave opened with an ominous sentence: “Marley was dead: to begin with.” This was contrary to what one would expect from a heartwarming holiday story. This opening sentence was enough to catch my attention. Who was this Marley and what role did he play in Scrooge’s life that he was the novella’s opening word? It soon became apparent as the story moved forward. Jacob Marley and Scrooge were business partners in a counting house. He also passed away seven years before the events narrated in the novella. Marley, out of the blue, made a visit to his old friend in the form of a phantasm. Ever since departing the world of the living, Marley’s ghost has been aimlessly wandering around Earth, condemned to do so for spending a lifetime in selfishness and greed.

The aging Scrooge was no different from his friend. He was a shrewd businessman who had no scruples in hoarding his wealth. He wanted to make more, even if it was to the disadvantage of some. But there was one day he particularly disliked: Christmas. He frowned upon the decorations and the festive atmosphere. He abhorred the spirit of merriment that pervaded the holiday air. On the day we first meet him, on Christmas Eve, Scrooge haughtily refused a dinner invitation from his nephew Fred; he was the son of Fan, Scrooge’s dead sister. He also turned away two men who were soliciting donations for charity works. Bob Cratchit, his clerk, was overworked and underpaid. Against Scrooge’s wishes, he allowed Bob a Christmas Day off only to abide by social norms but Scrooge refused to buy heating coals for fire to warm up the freezing anteroom. Scrooge, mean-spirited and a miser, refused anything to do with Christmas. In another universe, he was the Grinch. They both stole the Christmas spirit.

Scrooge’s life was a solitary, miserable, and melancholic existence. It was a life bereft of happiness and driven by a singular goal: to get ahead in life and be rich. Once he discovered he was cunning where money was concerned, there was no turning back for him. It was at this juncture that Marley makes his re-entry into his former business partner’s life. Through a dream, he made his presence be felt. Marley who was weighed down by heavy chains and cash boxes, grim reminders of his former life, looked harried and ashen, a shadow of his former self. In this form, Marley conveyed his unfortunate story to give his friend a caveat should he refuse to change his old ways. Scrooge was being given a second chance to redeem himself. Should Scrooge not mend his ways, he will inevitably suffer the same fate Marley suffered: become an aimless ghost with no peace. He will be left to roam solitarily on Earth, weighed down by the same chains, only heavier and more excruciating, proportionate to his sins.

With an omniscient voice narrating the story, the readers were reeled into this conversation. At first, Scrooge was a reluctant participant in the chain of events, refusing to believe Marley’s unconscionable message. To convince Scrooge to change before it is too late, three spirits will visit Scrooge over the coming days. The first ghost to visit him was the Ghost of Christmas Past whose visit was captured in Stave Two. The Ghost transported Scrooge to his past, reminding him of where he started. The vignettes did not provide a complete portrait but they gave hints of how he came to be the man that he was today. Meanwhile, the Ghost of Christmas Present showed glimpses of the lives of the people surrounding Scrooge. In particular, this part of the story showed how Christmas was being celebrated by people of humbler backgrounds.

“External heat and cold had little influence on Scrooge. No warmth could warm, no wintry weather chill him. No wind that blew was bitterer than he, no falling snow was more intent upon its purpose, no pelting rain less open to entreaty. Foul weather didn’t know where to have him. The heaviest rain, and snow and hail, and sleet, could boast the advantage over him in only one respect. They often “came down” handsomely, and Scrooge never did.”

~ Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

Towards the end of Stave Three, the Ghost of Christmas Present showed a pair of a boy and girl named Ignorance and Want. But rather than looking youthful, the two children looked appalling. The ghost warned Scrooge against any charitable feelings towards them. Following the adventure with the Ghost of Christmas Present was the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, the last ghost that visited Scrooge in his dreams. The ghost transported Scrooge to a Christmas Day set in the future. The ghost also delivered perhaps the most ominous message, on a personal level at least. This part of the story examined the legacy of a recently deceased man and how his death was received by the community around him. It sums up the overall message of the story. This was a eureka moment for Scrooge, a badly needed wake-up call.

On the surface, the overall premise sounded simple, playing around with familiar tropes. It was the story of redemption. It vividly depicted how our actions can affect, adversely or otherwise, the people around us. We leave behind our imprints wherever we go. Nevertheless, life provides us endless opportunities for us to examine our actions and change for the better. A Christmas Carol also reminded us that there are still people who care for us, who look after us. While the story was centered around Christmas, it was a profound reminder for us, regardless of the occasion, to be kind to our friends, our family, and even to strangers who we meet on a daily basis. There were religious undertones but it was executed without getting too preachy. It is a story that can be read by both children and adults alike.

However, its simplicity belies the serious subjects that it has grappled with. As one sifts through its various elements, Dickens subtly wove in the narrative a theme that has become prominent in his work: social commentaries. A champion for social reforms, Dickens used his background in journalism to underline badly needed reforms and to shed light on social maladies that existed during the Victorian period. In his classic novella, Dickens again underscored the glaring and growing dichotomies between the rich and the poor. The poor were underpaid and overworked while the rich were shamelessly exploiting them and earning from their hard work. The workers were not provided with conditions conducive to working. But despite the abuses they were accorded to earn a living, the poor were generally more content compared to the miserable and morally corrupted Scrooge. This, however, did not undermine the novella’s overall message.

As expected of Dickens, the writing was splendid. He is a gifted wordsmith, as he has proven all throughout his prolific literary career. While the book was shorter than his typical work, A Christmas Carol was nonetheless brimming with exquisite scenes. Each scene came alive as Dickens’ writing vividly captured the heart of each one. Dickens was masterful in his descriptions. Dickens’ storytelling was engaging, keeping the readers’ interest from the onset and keeping them involved in every stage of Scrooge’s redemption arc. Dickens again populated his novella with some of the most memorable characters in literature. Ebenezer Scrooge was such an iconic character that he has become an adjective for individuals of similar dispositions.

“But of the loved, revered, and honoured head, thou canst not turn one hair to thy dread purposes, or make one feature odious. It is not that the hand is heavy and will fall down when released; it is not that the heart and pulse are still; but that the hand was open, generous, and true; the heart brave, war,, and tender; and the pulse a man’s. Strike, Shadow, strike! And shee his good deeds springing from the wound, to sow the world with life immortal.”

~ Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

All that long wait was rewarded. A Christmas Carol is a rewarding read. It was a multilayered story, the wonderful convergence of a ghost story, fairy tale, Victorian elements, and morality play. Through the story of Scrooge, Dickens was reminding us to be kind for our actions reverberate beyond us. There is so much rottenness already that we have started descending to the lower rungs of humanity. There are some of us, like Scrooge, who have been dehumanized by self-interest. In our rush to accrete more wealth, our general view of life has become skewed. We have forgotten how it is to be a human being. The novella encapsulated realities that remain prevalent in the contemporary. Nevertheless, life offers us many opportunities to mend our ways.

The novella reminds us that Christmas is a season of giving, but more importantly, it is a special occasion for children. A Christmas Carol, without a doubt, was the quintessential Christmas story. In little over a hundred pages, Dickens provided a literary classic brimming with profound messages that transcends time. Interestingly enough and perhaps by accident, A Christmas Carol has birthed a new literary genre, further underlining the impact of the novella.

“He went to the church, and walked about the streets, and watched the people hurrying to and fro, and patted the children on the head, and questioned beggars, and looked down into the kitchens of homes, and up to the windows, and found that everything could yield him pleasure. He had never dreamed of any walk – that anything – could give him so much happiness.

~ Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol
Rating

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

There is no superlative to fully capture the power that A Christmas Carol holds. To finally be able to experience it – I haven’t fully watched the movie – was a pleasant experience. It strikes a balance between social commentary and an examination of the individual, something that Dickens knows a lot about, as demonstrated in his works. It has been silly of me to think that this was purely a children’s story when it is clearly not. It is a literary classic that carries messages adults can relate to. Its influences were far-reaching that it has inspired other works such as the movie Ghosts of Girlfriends Past which starred Matthew McConaughey and Jennifer Garner.

I can’t wait to read more of Dickens’ works. The Chiltern version of the book was propped with illustrations by Arthur Rackham.

Book Specs

Author: Charles Dickens
Publisher: Chiltern
Publishing Date: 2020
Number of Pages: 109
Genre: Fairy Tale, Ghost Story

Synopsis

It is the festive season, but flint-hearted Ebenezer Scrooge is altogether lacking in Christmas cheer. “Bah! Humbug!” is Scrooge’s verdict on those who wish to make merry. His desire to be left alone in his freezing counting-house is disrupted by the terrifying ghostly appearance of Jacob Marley, Scrooge’s deceased business partner. Marley has been condemned to wander the earth, weighed down by a chain of cash-boxes, keys, padlocks and ledgers – the things that sustained him in life. The same restless fate awaits Scrooge unless he can mend his ways, but along the path to salvation he must face three more uncomfortable spectral visits…

No work of fiction captures the spirit of Christmas better than the heartwarming, life-affirming tale of Scrooge’s transformation, which extols the redeeming power of love and charity.

About the Author

To learn more about Charles Dickens, one of the most renowned writers of English literature, click here.