Book Review: A Christmas Carol

Book Name: A Christmas Carol
Author: Charles Dickens
First Published: 1843

Charles Dickens was thought of as the “literary colossus” of the Victorian age. He was an English writer and social critic who penned some of the world’s most memorable fictional characters and stories. During his lifetime his work enjoyed great popularity and fame and today his genius is recognized by critics and scholars everywhere.

Dickens began life by being forced to leave school to work in a factory pasting labels on pots of boot blacking for six shillings a week after his father was thrown into debtors’ prison. Soon after, his mother and younger siblings followed his father into the prison and young Charles was sent to live with an old woman that he later immortalized in one of his novels. Eventually, an inheritance was gained by his family and his father was able to be released from prison. The family all moved in with their friend Elizabeth Roylance and slowly regained a more normal life for themselves. However, his mother insisted that Charles continue to work in the factory. The boy was livid and it is thought that his views that men must be the master of their family and women keep their place in the household sphere was originated by this event. Dickens did gain a formal education of sorts, but most of his learning came by his own initiative.

As Dickens grew to adulthood, he found work as a clerk at the law office of Ellis and Blackmore. He taught himself shorthand in his spare time and soon after left the attorneys to become a freelance journalist. One of his relatives was also a reporter at Doctors’ Commons and offered to share his box so that Dickens could report on the legal proceedings there. Dickens remained for a period of four years. This hard knocks education was later incorporated into his novels such as Nicholas Nickleby, Dombey and Son and Bleak House, where the vivid portrayal of the bureaucracy of the English legal system did much to enlighten the general public of his time.

Dickens worked as a political reporter for many years until he landed the editors position at Bentley’s Miscellany where he wrote a serial known as the Pickwick Papers. During his time as editor, he also wrote his first novel, Oliver Twist, as a serial. He also wrote and oversaw four plays during this time period. Gradually, his success as a novelist began to grow and when he left Bentley’s Miscellany, he earned his income via his novels, all written in serial format for various publications and later converted into novel form, lectures and other philanthropic endeavors.

He met and married Catherine Hogarth and they had ten children together. Dickens edited a weekly journal for twenty years, wrote fifteen novels, hundreds of short stories and non-fiction articles. He lectured and campaigned for children’s rights, their education and other social reforms. He died at the age of 58 of a stroke and is buried in the Poet’s Corner of Westminster Abby in London, England.

Dickens’ novella, A Christmas Carol, is considered one of the most influential stories ever written. It remains as popular in present day as it did in Victorian times. The well known classic tale has a simple plot about how a man becomes mean spirited over time due to age and lack of human interaction. He is Ebenezer Scrooge, who has lost the joy of living and cares only for earning the cold hard dollar. Enter three ghosts, one of the past, one of the present, and one of the future. Ebenezer travels through time and space, to alternate realities and revisits key points in his life. In the end, the man that views Christmas as “bah humbug” is redeemed via positive choices in his life.

Charles Dickens weaves a tale that was unique to his time. During the rise of industrialization in England, the old traditions of agricultural society were on the wane. A Christmas Carol helped to rescue the holiday and set a guideline to the modern world of what the spirit of this holiday should mean. There are wonderful contrasts built into the story of hot/cold, company/loneliness, wealth/poverty, or heaven/hell, and throughout the novel are detailed descriptions of Christmas and what it means to those that celebrate it. Since he was writing during Victorian times when the concepts of Christianity were well known and understood by the general population, he did not spend much time in explaining quotations from the bible or talk about how Jesus was a part of Christmas. English Victorians would have understood these concepts without being reminded and so he allows religion to become more of a backdrop of his tale. I sometimes wonder if this is what makes this tale more powerful to us today in this more secular time when Christian ideas are not as prevalent in our public society.

The ghostly visitors that change Ebenezer’s life forever are not particularly Christian in nature. They simply offer him information that allows him to understand what he has done and what the consequences of those choices are. The ghost of Christmas past is youthful and spring like. Christmas Present is a happy spirit that simply wishes to spread joy. Christmas Yet To Be is a somber spirit, perhaps hinting at the bitter end that awaits Ebenezer if he does not see the error of his ways. One of the main Christian tenants is that a sinner may be redeemed if he honestly repents. The ghosts allow Ebenezer to make that choice for himself.

Like many people of my generation, I saw the movie first and then later live plays of this classic work before I read the actual novel. Through the various media, this tale has woven into our culture and has defined what we consider the spirit of Christmas to be. I understand that many people like to read this novel either to themselves or share it out loud with their families during the holiday season. I believe that it is a tradition that I will join in the future.

A Christmas Carol Book CoverThis classic novel is one of the very first that was transcribed from the bound paper version into ebook form. A Christmas Carol is available for free download at Project Gutenberg. The original illustrations by John Leech are included in the download.

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