Book Note: A Christmas Carol

Our book club met recently to discuss A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. I read plenty of Dickens in my salad days, and am very familiar with the Christmas Carol story, but realized as soon as I read the opening lines that I’d never actually read the original.

I almost didn’t read the original, in fact, because I procrastinated and didn’t get to the library in advance of all of the holiday sentimentalists who’d checked out almost every copy available. The copy downtown eluded my grasp, too. No parking, courtesy of the Jingle Bell Run. Bah. Humbug.

Fortunately, plenty of people in internet-land have put the story online.

The incredibly vivid imagery startled me in a delightful way. Dickens descriptions of the spirits and Scrooge’s house surely inspired many later depictions of haunted houses.

One member of our group remarked upon an odd line describing a relieved Scrooge discovering that he had not, as he feared, slept through a whole night and day:

This was a great relief, because “Three days after sight of this First of Exchange pay to Mr. Ebenezer Scrooge on his order,” and so forth, would have become a mere United States security if there were no days to count by.

Someone pointed out that Charles Dickens had visited the United States and been rather disillusioned by the trip. Quick research, unaided by the internet and relying only upon the books in the house, no less, turned up the fact that Dickens had returned from his first visit to America about a year before A Christmas Carol was published.

The original manuscript, it turns out, mentioned only a “questionable security.” Dickens amended the text to reflect what he observed to be the highly speculative and overzealous credit dealings of various American institutions. A habit we have yet to kick in this country, it would seem. The comment confirmed for many in the American audience that Dickens had an anti-American bias.

The New York Times this year published a piece noting how extensively Dickens edited the entire manuscript for the book, and included links to a facsimile of the entire work. The manuscript can be difficult to read, but gets easier if you keep a printed copy at hand to guide you through the text.

I will admit that not only had I not read A Christmas Carol, I had no idea Dickens had written other Christmas-themed short stories. Frankly, I think I was traumatized by being subjected to the musical Oliver and having to read Bleak House as many times as I did.

I’m curious to read these other stories. Perhaps a new Christmas tradition?

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