“A Christmas Carol” questionnaire

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As I mentioned in an earlier post, Caroline (Beauty is a Sleeping Cat) and Delia (Postcards from Asia) have very kindly organized the inter-blog event “Dickens at Christmas”. I have written two posts (here and here) as contributions to this. And today is a “readalong” of A Christmas Carol.

In preparation, Caroline had sent me a questionnaire about this book. Here it is, with my answers:

Is this the first time you are reading the story?
It’s part of my Christmas tradition to read this every year.
Did you like it?
I think I can safely answer “yes” to that!
Which was your favorite scene?
Sorry about this, but there are at least three scenes I must mention. The first is Christmas dinner at the Cratchits’ house: some find this sentimental, but I don’t. Dickens believed in human goodness, and here, we see a convincing picture of people who actually love and care for each other. The next scene I should mention is the other scene set in the Cratchits’ house: this is set in the future, after their child has died. Scrooge had asked the Ghost of Christmas to Come to show him some real human feeling, some “tenderness”: and here, we get it. This is an utterly convincing depiction of how people grieve for those whom they have loved. (Incidentally, at the very end of Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, Alyosha makes a speech at after the funeral of Ilyusha, and this speech is a very close reprise of what Bob Cratchit says to his family at the end of this scene in A Christmas Carol.) And finally, I must mention that scene where the Ghost of Christmas Present shows Scrooge those two hideous children, and when Scrooge asks whose children they are, replies “They are Man’s”. It’s a scene that still horrifies me: no sentimentality here.
Which was your least favorite scene?
I love every line of this novella.
Which spirit and his stories did you find the most interesting?
All in their different ways are interesting, and vital. But if I had to choose, I’d go for the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. It starts with a glimpse into the abyss: we are shown a world devoid of human feeling, of human love. This is, indeed, Hell. If there is joy at the end of this story, this joy is hard won: it had required a glimpse into the abyss. (Previously, I had mentioned Dostoyevsky’s debt to this novella, but Tolstoy too was indebted: there is a scene in A Christmas Carol where some business associates of Scrooge talk about his death in indifferent and uncaring terms; this scene reappears at the start of Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Illych.) And then, of course, when Scrooge, in despair, begs to be shown some evidence of human “tenderness”, the Spirit obliges. Whatever anguish the Cratchits are going through, they are not in that Hell in which human feelings don’t exist.
Was there a character you wish you knew more about?
I think we are told as much about each of the characters as we need to know.
How did you like the end?
Wonderful. It is a joyous ending, and this being Dickens, the joy is expressed in whimsical terms. But the joy has been very hard won.

Did you think it was believable?
Literally, no: this is intended as a fairy story. But psychologically, and morally, yes.

Do you know anyone like Scrooge?
Scrooge is obviously a caricature, so no, I don’t know anyone exactly like him. But there are people aplenty who think that paying their taxes is enough, that they don’t need to consider those in society who are less fortunate. (Some even stop short of paying taxes!) There are people aplenty who feel that following the rules of business is enough (“Mankind was my business!” says Marley’s ghost). I still hear people speak of the “surplus population”. The depiction of Scrooge still hits home- very strongly, I think. Often, to my shame, I can find elements of Scrooge in myself also.

Did he deserve to be saved?
Yes. Scrooge’s redemption comes through his own effort. It is not a gift.

;

***

Many thanks to Caroline and to Delia for arranging this.

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10 responses to this post.

  1. That’s a wonderful tradition, to read the story every year around Christmas time. I may follow your example.
    Thanks for joining us for this event, I’ve enjoyed reading your contributions. And there’s still time for more! :)

    Reply

    • Hello Delia, there may well be time for some more, but now that teh holidays have started, and drinks are flowing, I don’t know if I’ll be in any fit state to right anything coherent! :)

      And yes – nothing gets you quite in the spirit as does A Christmas Carol.
      Have a very good Christmas,
      Himadri

      Reply

  2. I’ll have to re-read Tolstoy’s story with this in mind.
    I alos wasn’t aware that Dostojevsky was indebted to Dickens.
    I grew up with Dostojevsky but not with Dickens and always assumed a writer like Dostojevsky could never have been inspred by Dickens. I was wrong.
    It would be interesting to see how the descriptions of the poor compare in different authors of the 19th Century. last year i read Dostojevsky’s The Poor and what a bleak, bleak story. Dickens seemed to have believed that there was goodness in people.
    Ultimately Scrooge is also saved because the others are willing to give him a second chance.
    I’ve downloaded Tomalin’s Dickens biography. Have you read it?

    Reply

    • Hello Caroline,

      I’ve never really been one for biographies. I suppose literary biographies interest me insofar as they tell me something of the cultural background in which the works were produced, and of the cultural influences. I have long intended to read some biographies of my favourite authors – maybe Juliet Barker’s or Stephen Gill’s biography of Wordsworth, or the single -volume abridged version of Joseph Frank’s biography of Dostoyevsky (I think the full 5-volume version may be a bit too much for me), or Rosamond Bartlett’s biography of Tolstoy … but for whatever reason, whenever I come to choose my next book to read, it’s rarely the biographies i reach for. I have on my shelves Peter Ackroyd’s biography of dickens, and I gather the biographies by Michael Slater and Claire Tomalin are all very fine. (Tomalin also wrote biographies of Austen and of Hardy, didn’t she?) I suppose I should give at least one of these a try.

      Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy both openly expressed their admiration for Dickens, and the influence does seem to me strong. I suppose these are the three 19th century novelists who have meant the most to me, so it isn’t perhaps surprising that I end up finding connections!

      I don’t know how much more time I’ll be spending on my blog before January, so do have a great Christmas, and a peaceful New Year,
      Himadri

      Reply

  3. I also intended to have the same tradition as you – that’s why I’ve read this 5 or 6 times – however, it became a casualty to other books – I’m so glad I’ve read this again this year as part of the readalong.
    I enjoyed reading your answers.
    Lynn :D

    Reply

  4. :) I can see elements of Scrooge in myself, too. Not in miserliness, but in my attitude towards Christmas. Personally, I feel we should love our neighbors all year round, so the Christmas spirit always seems a little over-done to me. :p But I loved the story just the same! Dickens has so much skill at portraying social injustices with interesting characters and humor.

    my review of A Christmas Carol

    Reply

    • It’s a wonderful story, isn’t it? It never ceases to amaze me that in amongst all that cheerfulness and whimsy, Dickens does actually give us a glimpse into Hell. The seriousness of Dickens as a writer – and not merely as a polemicist – seems to me often overlooked.

      I always feel satire has failed if we see it as a satire merely on others, and not on ourselves. Hmm… I think I feel another blog post coming along… :)

      Reply

  5. Posted by Mark on January 12, 2013 at 12:21 am

    The Ghost of Christmas Present revealing the two children under his robe.

    ‘Beware them both,and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy’….

    …’Are there no prisons.’ said the Spirit, turning on him for the last time with his own words. ‘Are there no workhouses.’”

    One of my favorite scenes in all of literature.

    Reply

    • It is a passage of sheer terror, isn’t it? People often comment on the warmth and geniality and whimsy of “A Christmas Carol”, but to get to that joy at the end, Dickens does make us glimpse into the abyss.

      Reply

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