Since Charles Dickens is one of the most beloved authors of all time (big call, I know), I just had to finally pick up one of his books. Though it isn’t Christmas, I thought I’d start with one of his heart-warming classics, A Christmas Carol.
Everyone knows who Scrooge is. The bah humbug-ing old miser, with too much money and not enough soul, Scrooge detests Christmas and everything that it stands for. He doesn’t care that his employee is cold and poor, he doesn’t care about those who are begging on the streets – after all, what is it of his concern?
On Christmas Eve in 1843, Scrooge is visited by the rattling, chain-covered ghost of his former business partner, Jacob Marley, a man who was equally stringy and only interested in making money. He warns Scrooge that if he does not change how he lives he will become a tortured soul, destined to walk the earth for all eternity, covered in the chains of his wrong-doing. Furthermore, he warms Scrooge that he will be visited by three ghosts, who will each teach him a lesson about the importance of Christmas.
Historically, A Christmas Carol is more than simply a much-loved fable: Dickens was the first well-known author to impose his idea of a secular Christmas onto the public. Furthermore, part of his motivation behind A Christmas Carol was his own mortification that he felt in his upbringing during this time.
I decided to read A Christmas Carol first because, embarrassingly enough, it was rather short. It sounds terrible, but with formidable authors, regardless of how loved they are, I try to start with a small novel, and that way if it isn’t to my taste, I can get it over and done with quickly. I know, I know, it’s really rather shaming to admit. But, at the same time, I used that method with both James Joyce and Joseph Conrad, and thank goodness I did, because even their slim 100 page novels were tough for me to get through.
I shouldn’t have worried about Dickens – he is a superb writer and his reputation clearly reflects this. Not only is his writing classy, understated and engrossing, it also teaches important ethical and moral questions – all without being churlish. His use of symbolism is captivating – the idea of Scrooge portraying the coldness of winter, and his newfound faith in life as the beginnings of Spring – oh! I couldn’t have asked for anything more beautiful.
Perhaps what is the nicest part of Dicken’s tale is that reminds us to be warm, loving and giving around Christmas. Sure, it is a cliche and has been copied thousands of times over, but it is still a sentiment that resonates with most people. Even if we don’t have much, it doesn’t stop us from being happy or loving. And if we do have a bit more than our neighbour? Well, would it really hurt to share in what we’ve achieved? Of course not.
I can’t wait to crack open some of Dicken’s other works, and while they may be more complex, wordy or symbolic than A Christmas Carol, if they still have that certain Dickenese style about them, then I’m sure I won’t be disappointed.
Have you read A Christmas Carol? Have you read anything by Charles Dickens? Which of his novels are your favourite? Let me know!