A new adaptation of the Charles Dickens classic — one of the most loved short stories ever written. Watch the feature trailer from our adaptation of Charles Dickens' classic tale, A Christmas Carol, and hear what the audience thought. In This Section.
About the Play A new adaptation of the Charles Dickens classic — one of the most loved short stories ever written. Find out more. Watch the trailer.
Indeed, there is a part in A Christmas Carol where one of the Spirits shows Scrooge a boy and a girl - Ignorance and Want - whose "scowling, wolfish" features radiate the resentment bred in the underclasses. But overall his tale is buoyed up by the belief which he largely lost in later years that a gesture of kindness can rescue all but the most grievously damaged souls. And, at this stage of his life he was 31 , Dickens was inclined to think that even a thoroughly unpleasant miser might be full of suppressed generosity and profound sentiment.
Hence Ebenezer Scrooge. Modern readers may have trouble with the suddenness of Scrooge's conversion, the readiness with which he gets affectionate and tearful over visions of his younger self. Certainly, his change of heart is not handled with the minutely gradated subtlety we might expect from a modern literary writer, or even from other Victorian novelists such as George Eliot. Determined apologists for Dickens's craftsmanship might argue that we shouldn't underestimate how dramatic an impact it would have on a person to be transported physically back into the past, rather than merely recalling it at a distance.
But such a defence would miss the point.
Scrooge's conversion is unconvincing, if we subject him to rigorous psychological analysis. However, like many of Dickens's characters, Scrooge refuses to behave according to the rules of literary taste - and that's part of his appeal. A Christmas Carol is an extravagantly symbolic thing - as rich in symbols as Christmas pudding is rich in raisins.
Dickens misses no opportunity to cram his thematic concerns into the bodies and utterances of his characters. We are not in the world of Henry James or Alice Munro here, we are in the world of John Bunyan and medieval passion plays, and the sooner we accept this, the better we will enjoy the ride. A Christmas Carol is not a study of one person's emotional and intellectual development, it's a knockabout battle between absolute qualities, dressed up in bizarre forms for maximum thrills. Indeed, when we first meet Ebenezer, he seems an almost supernatural force: "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. Just as moralist writers in the Middle Ages were unselfconscious about bringing on a skeleton wielding a scythe, Dickens is bold enough to devise outrageously obvious - yet poignantly effective - visual metaphors for the way avarice weighs down the soul.
Marley's ghost drags a chain made of cash-boxes, keys, padlocks, ledgers, deeds and steel purses.
The sky outside is filled with phantoms, all similarly chained, some linked in groups "they might be guilty governments", proposes Dickens. All are tortured by A Christmas Carol's highly idiosyncratic interpretation of hell: no longer having the power to aid one's fellow mortals. We are shown the old ghost in the white waistcoat, "with a monstrous iron safe attached to its ankle, who cried piteously at being unable to assist a wretched woman with an infant, whom it saw below, upon a doorstep". We swallow the idea that the cap which obscures the divine light streaming from the Ghost of Christmas Past is made of ignoble human passions.
We hear the Ghost of Christmas Present proclaiming that he has more than 1, brothers, and understand that these represent the years since Christ's birth. In today's literary climate, the symbolism of a writer like DH Lawrence can seem tiresomely heavy-handed, yet Dickens's symbolism, which is a good deal less subtle, somehow gets away with it.
Its deranged, fabulous confidence pulls it through. Although some readers may dismiss Scrooge's adventures as a dream, the narrative argues against this interpretation.
Scrooge's visit to the Cratchits' home, where he encounters Tiny Tim - an experience crucial to his consequent behaviour - is something he could not have imagined himself. It is made possible only by his ghostly guide. In any case, Scrooge's cool imperviousness makes him an unlikely prospect for nightmares of conscience, and Dickens is careful not to resort to convenient fevers, indigestion or other staples of "it-was-all-a-dream" stories. While the ghosts are clearly visions in the grand tradition of Dante's Divine Comedy or the Biblical book of Revelation, the texture of the story is as fleshly and real as a saucepan of gruel.
Particularly significant is how little the supernatural entities in the story have to do with the change in Scrooge; there is no force used, magical or otherwise. Scrooge is humbled not by goblins, as was Gabriel Grubb, Dickens's first attempt at a Scrooge-like figure in Pickwick Papers , but by the pathos of his own lost chances. A Christmas Carol's fusion of phantasmagoria and high-Victorian realism makes the novella a peculiar creature indeed. References to Union workhouses, income tax and the Poor Law are intermingled with metaphysical rhetoric and the sight of allegorical figures posed beneath the cloak of a phantom.
But mostly we are borne along, as if swooping through the air holding hands with a ghost, happy to go wherever we're taken.
Magnificent prose helps, of course. A Christmas Carol allows Dickens to show off his full repertoire of skills. The master of Gothic atmosphere is here, describing an ancient clocktower so thickly wreathed in winter fog that it strikes "the hours and quarters in the clouds, with tremulous vibrations afterwards as if its teeth were chattering in its frozen head up there".
Elsewhere, we are in Oliver Twist territory, as three shabby scavengers - a laundress, a charwoman and an undertaker's assistant - exchange mordant witticisms with a dealer in stolen goods.
A mean-spirited, miserly old man named Ebenezer Scrooge sits in his counting-house on a frigid Christmas Eve. His clerk, Bob Cratchit, shivers in the anteroom because Scrooge refuses to spend money on heating coals for a fire. Scrooge reacts to the holiday visitors with bitterness. Ebenezer Scrooge, a miserly, cold-hearted creditor, continues his stingy, greedy ways on Christmas Eve. He rejects a Christmas dinner invitation, and all the good tidings of the holiday, from his jolly nephew, Fred; he yells at charity workers; and he overworks his employee, Bob.
Elsewhere still, Dickens unleashes his most Miltonic oratory, as though Marley's ghost were auditioning for a role in Paradise Lost: "I wear the chain I forged in life. I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it. And, throughout the tale, we never know when Dickens will make one of his exhilarating perceptual shifts from the benign to the macabre. For example, when the Cratchit family has said grace in preparation for their roast goose dinner, there is "a breathless pause, as Mrs Cratchit, looking slowly all along the carving-knife, prepared to plunge it in the breast; but when she did, and when the long expected gush of stuffing issued forth, one murmur of delight arose all round the board, and even Tiny Tim, excited by the two young Cratchits, beat on the table with the handle of his knife.
But A Christmas Carol is typical of his work in that enjoyment tends to be fortified with a generous slug of the grotesque. Indeed, it is important for Dickens that Christmas should not be predictable and rational. Instead, he sees the festival as inextricably linked with imagination - "fancy". For him, Christmas is a time when "Everything is capable, with the greatest ease, of being changed into Anything". Modern readers, who may associate Christmas with adherence to long-established, commercialised rituals, may find this emphasis on adventure and caprice a bit overdone.
But we need to understand that at the time when A Christmas Carol was published, Christmas had not yet succumbed to the formulas that rule it today. Presents were often home-made, decorations were improvised. Shop-bought Christmas cards had only just been invented and would not become common until the s.
Queen Victoria's husband Albert tried to introduce the Christmas tree "that pretty German toy", as Dickens calls it in an essay , but the idea was slow to catch on. A strange new American import - the turkey - was muscling in on the traditional goose. Basically, the early Victorians were unsure how a rural festival like Yuletide could be celebrated by busy city-folk in the industrial age - and Dickens took it upon himself to tell them.
A Christmas Carol celebrates Christmas as though it were an immutable cornerstone of civilised society, as though the customs of the Cratchit household were eternal and universal, but this was far from the case. In a splendidly Scrooge-like gesture, Oliver Cromwell actually abolished Christmas by an act of Parliament.
The festival adapted to survive, but industrial capitalism eventually achieved what religious suppression hadn't: the erosion of rural tradition. Urban wage slaves like Scrooge's hapless clerk did not have the leisure to feast on partridges and pheasants for 12 days of feudal Solstice. By , English-speaking people were ripe for a reinvented Christmas, a neat one-day holiday infused with sentimental philanthropic values, sold to them by their favourite author.