By no means the first time I’ve read this little book, and here’s a supplication to the Ghost of Christmas Future that it won’t be my last. I cherish this particular edition, with illustrations by Greg Hildebrandt; my aunt gave it to me when my daughters were little, and I’ve shared it with them over many Christmases past.
My relationship with Dickens is of the love-hate variety. For a number of years, I maintained a blog devoted to Reading Dickens. His portrayal of female characters began to grate, however, over steady acquaintance, and the real-life treatment of his wife Catherine—divorcing and repudiating her so he could cavort with the much younger Ellen Ternan—is hard to square with his reputation as genius of comedy and champion of charity. So, I drifted away, only coming back again each Christmas, for this special book.
Dickens’s story has been told and re-told, re-mixed, animated, satirized, and set to music. I augmented my reading this year with Scrooge, the 1971 movie, and A Christmas Carol as presented online (in this pandemic year of closed theaters) by the Trinity Repertory Theater Company of Providence, RI. I like to find the ways that each re-telling veers away from the original. In Scrooge, there’s no mention of Man’s children, Ignorance and Want, hiding beneath the robe of the Ghost of Christmas Present: “wretched, abject, frightful, hideous, miserable.” Supplementing Dickens’s text are vivid “future” scenes of Scrooge in hell; and when Scrooge awakens on Christmas morning, his newfound joy and generosity spill out across London in exuberant song and dance. This is by far my favorite screen version of A Christmas Carol, so I wouldn’t have it any other way.
However, reading Stave Five this time, I was struck by what Dickens accented in recounting “The End of It.” Yes, Scrooge is delighted that the “Spirits have done it all in one night.” Yes, he sends a “prize Turkey” via cab to the Crachits in Camden Town. Walking out, he’s greeted with “A merry Christmas” from “three or four good-humoured fellows.” These simple greetings that create an impression: “And Scrooge said often afterwards, that that of all the blithe sounds he had ever heard, those were the blithest in his ears.”
Scrooge is disconcerted to see one of the men who solicited him for a charitable contribution on Christmas Eve:
He had not gone far, when coming on towards him he beheld the portly gentleman, who had walked into his counting-house the day before and said, “Scrooge and Marley’s, I believe?” It sent a pang across his heart to think how this old gentleman would look upon him when they met, but he knew what path lay straight before him, and he took it.
I appreciated—for the first time, really—Scrooge’s remorse in meeting the charitable gentleman prior to his joy in being able to make up for his miserliness. He then spends Christmas morning—before afternoon lunch at his nephew’s—in church (which I had never picked up on, before) and in observation:
He went to church, and walked about the streets, and watched the people hurrying to and fro, and patted children on the head, and questioned beggars, and looked down into the kitchens of houses, and up to the windows, and found that everything could yield him pleasure. He had never dreamed that any walk—that anything—could give him so much happiness.
It is only the next day, back at the counting-house, that Scrooge turns his attention to the plight of Bob Crachit: “I’ll raise your salary, and endeavour to assist your struggling family, and we will discuss your affairs this very afternoon, over a Christmas bowl of smoking bishop, Bob!”
More muted than most screen re-tellings. Nevertheless, whether in boisterous song or over a smoking bishop*, the story of Scrooge’s journey toward redemption is worth a yearly visit.
*If you’re wondering about that smoking bishop, Punch, an online drinks magazine, says it’s a form of mulled wine.