In the spirit of the season, I thought I’d take a look at a collection I have of Charles Dickens Christmas books. As you may know, Dickens wrote a short Christmas book every year for years. A Christmas Carol was the first one, and it did much to revive Dickens’ career, which was flagging after Martin Chuzzlewit. My book contains the Christmas stories in order, and this Christmas I have read the first two.
Dickens is closely associated with Christmas. He didn’t invent our current traditions, but through his glimpses of how happy families celebrated it, some traditions were probably set and promulgated.
The introduction to this collection admits that A Christmas Carol is the best of the Christmas books, which is probably why it is most well known and adapted. Still, it has been a long time since I read it, and I found it interesting to compare it with the screen renditions, with which I am more familiar. (In my opinion, the best one because of its atmosphere is the 1951 version with Alistair Sim—but only in black and white, mind.) What stood out the most is that in one of the movies, Scrooge actually fires Bob Cratchit, a cruel joke even if only momentary, but he does not in the book. The movies also seem to put more or less of Scrooge’s nephew Fred in them, depending.
Of course, A Christmas Carol is the story of the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge, who has grown so obsessed with the accumulation of wealth that he has given up all pleasure and human companionship, and even worse, from Dickens’ point of view, all charity. Through the intercession of his dead partner Jacob Marley and the visits of three ghosts, he gets a second chance to be a better person.
I haven’t read any of the others before, but I found The Chimes to be a similar story. Trotty Veck is a poor porter. He lives nearby a church that has a set of bells considered to be haunted. But Trotty likes the bells and in his simple way is always praising them.
One day an overbearing alderman makes some comments to Richard, who is the fiancé of Trotty’s beloved daughter Margaret, about how foolish he is as a young man to be getting married. Richard and Margaret are to be married New Years’ Day, and when Trotty sees Margaret in tears later, he thinks the alderman’s comments have caused Richard to break it off. This and other encounters cause Trotty to have doubts about the goodness of humankind. Later, the bells lure Trotty up to the bell tower and teach him a lesson.
The lesson of this story is much more garbled than that of A Christmas Carol. Since Trotty’s thinking processes are a bit murky at times, I wasn’t even sure exactly how Trotty supposedly transgressed the bells. Still, Dickens always manages to bring a tear to your eyes when he tries.