The ul­ti­mate ghost story

Although writ­ten 175 years ago, Charles Dick­ens’ A Christ­mas Carol did much to cre­ate the image of Christ­mas we have to­day

Woman's Weekly (UK) - - HELLO! -

Do you, like Dick­ens’ Ebenezer Scrooge, face the fes­tive sea­son with the at­ti­tude, ‘Bah! Hum­bug!’? If so, it may be time to read (or reread) his clas­sic tale A Christ­mas

Carol and think again.

Why? Be­cause, apart from ce­ment­ing in our cul­ture its as­so­ci­a­tion with snow, turkey and plum pud­ding, this short novel cuts straight to the true mes­sage of Christ­mas, with kind­ness and gen­eros­ity tak­ing cen­tre stage.

In it, we wit­ness the fairy­tale-like trans­for­ma­tion of a miserly mon­ster into a com­pas­sion­ate man. But

first, pre­pare your­self to

en­counter gloom, hard­ship, mis­ery – and ghosts…

When Charles Dick­ens wrote A Christ­mas Carol in 1843, he framed it as a moral tale. In­censed by the ap­palling treat­ment of the poor – in par­tic­u­lar, chil­dren – he was de­ter­mined to ef­fect change through an emo­tion­ally en­gag­ing novel. His love of Christ­mas also shines through.

The story is told in five ‘staves’, or chap­ters, and opens late af­ter­noon on Christ­mas Eve in a bleak, Vic­to­rian count­ing house. It’s bit­terly cold with fog ‘pour­ing in at ev­ery chink and key­hole’. Owner Ebenezer Scrooge is still hard at work, as is his poor, down­trod­den clerk Bob Cratchit. When vis­i­tors call, Scrooge dis­misses them.

First comes his cheer­ful nephew Fred, invit­ing his

un­cle to Christ­mas din­ner. Next, two ‘portly gen­tle­men’ col­lect­ing for the des­ti­tute, are turned away, with Scrooge snip­ing, ‘Are there no pris­ons? … And the Union work­houses… Are they still in op­er­a­tion?’

That night, re­turn­ing to his spar­tan lodg­ings, Scrooge sees on the door-knocker the face of his dead busi­ness part­ner Ja­cob Mar­ley. Shaken, but not un­duly dis­turbed, Scrooge re­tires to bed. But Mar­ley’s ghost stands be­fore him, weighed down by chains made of ‘cash-boxes, keys, pad­locks, ledgers, deeds, and heavy purses wrought in steel’.

Be­cause in his life­time he had cared only for money, Mar­ley is now doomed to wan­der the after­life rest­lessly. He warns Scrooge that the same fate awaits him un­less he mends his ways.

Omi­nous vis­i­tors

One by one, three spir­its ar­rive. First comes the Ghost of Christ­mas Past – old and small, with long, white hair. The spec­tre whisks Scrooge back to his lonely child­hood and snow-filled Christ­mases, to his sis­ter Fan, his kindly for­mer master Fezzi­wig, and his fi­ancée Belle, who we wit­ness sadly re­leas­ing Scrooge from their mar­riage con­tract as he has re­placed her with a new idol – gold. Next, comes the Ghost of Christ­mas Present, who is of­ten as­sumed to rep­re­sent Fa­ther Christ­mas. Tall, vig­or­ous and clothed in a green robe edged with white fur, he leads a night­gown­clad Scrooge through snowy streets full of jovial peo­ple, past packed churches and into the lov­ing, if poor home of Bob Cratchit, where we see a frail, young in­valid, Bob’s son Tiny Tim.

The fi­nal spirit is the Ghost of Christ­mas Yet To Come. This spec­tre is silent, shrouded in black, with a sin­gle point­ing fin­ger vis­i­ble. It shows Scrooge a mys­tery corpse. The man’s chat­tels are be­ing sold off, and his body lies dis­carded un­der a ragged sheet.

In a church­yard ‘over­run by grass and weeds’, the ghost points to a tomb­stone. Shak­ing, Scrooge reads the in­scrip­tion, which, of course, is of his own name.

Scrooge’s sal­va­tion

Ebenezer is trans­formed. The fog – which rep­re­sented his blind­ness to his fail­ings – has lifted to re­veal a bright, clear Christ­mas Day. Laugh­ing with the re­lief of a man re­prieved from the gal­lows, he vows to live ‘in the Past, the Present and the Fu­ture. The Spir­its of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the les­sons that they teach’.

Whoop­ing with joy, Scrooge sends a prize turkey to the Cratchits’ home, where Tiny Tim is now thriv­ing; he do­nates a large sum to the ‘portly gen­tle­men’ and heads off to his nephew’s house for din­ner. The miser’s con­ver­sion is com­plete.

The book is of­ten very funny and has many joy­ous scenes of Christ­mas mer­ri­ment, with abun­dant food, mu­sic, games and danc­ing. Like greed and avarice, iso­la­tion from so­ci­ety is seen as bad, while join­ing in is good. Scrooge’s young nephew and Bob Cratchit’s fam­ily em­body this ideal.

Dick­ens’ over­rid­ing mes­sage is one of com­pas­sion – and we, the read­ers, are meant to hear it along­side Scrooge.

Ghost of Mar­ley by Arthur Rack­ham

John Leech’s Ghost of Christ­mas Present

Dick­ens be­came a so­cial re­former

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