With just a few days to go until Christmas Day, the Thursday Night Book Club gathered on Thursday, December 20th to discuss Charles Dickens' classic and enduring tale of the holiday, A Christmas Carol. The first of five Christmas books written by Dickens in the 1840s, A Christmas Carol is one of the best known and most loved of all of Dickens' books. It tells the story of the transformation of Ebeneezer Scrooge, that "squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner," from a tight-fisted curmudgeon into a generous and kind man. Scrooge's metamorphosis is brought about by a series of visitations, first from his famously dead ("Marley was dead, to begin with") partner Jacob Marley, and then from the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Yet to Come. These spirits remind Scrooge of happier days, show him the generosity of others in times of adversity and terrify him with dire visions of his future if he does not change his ways. Dickens famously wrote the novel in six weeks, rushing it to publication on December 19th, 1843. Its first print edition of 6,000 copies was completely sold out by Christmas Eve. It has been made into more than two dozen movie and TV adaptations, and each holiday season brings new stage productions to theaters around the world. A Christmas Carol epitomizes the true meaning of Christmas and has become as integral to the holiday as mistletoe, wreaths and gift-giving.
Charles Dickens was born in England in 1812. When his father was imprisoned for debt in 1823, Dickens was put to work in a factory for a year, an experience which profoundly affected his world view and left him with a lifelong fear of poverty. After finishing school at the age of 15, Dickens worked for a law firm and then as a freelance reporter. He published his first short story in 1833. Dickens married Catherine Hogarth, whose father George was the editor of the Evening Chronicle, in 1836. The couple had ten children before they separated in 1858. Dickens' first novel, The Pickwick Papers, was published in installments in 1836-1837 and was an immediate success. Throughout his career, he used his writing as an instrument of social change as he sought to raise awareness of the plight of the urban poor. Dickens completed 14 novels in his lifetime, several of which are considered to be among the greatest novels of all time. These include David Copperfield (1848-1850), A Tale of Two Cities (1859) and Great Expectations (1860-1861). Charles Dickens died after suffering a stroke in 1870.
The members of the Thursday Night Book Club came dressed in festive Christmas attire to discuss Dickens' classic Christmas tale. Several had been surprised to discover that, despite their familiarity with the story, they had never actually read the book. Many were struck by the degree of detail that Dickens used to describe the scenes of Christmas on the streets of London: "There were pears and apples clustered high in blooming pyramids; there were bunches of grapes, made, in the shopkeepers' benevolence, to dangle from conspicuous hooks, that people's mouths might water, gratis, as they passed; there were piles of filberts, mossy and brown; recalling, in their fragrance, ancient walks among the woods, and pleasant shuffling, ankle deep, through withered leaves; there were Norfolk Biffins, squab and swarthy, setting off the yellow of the oranges and lemons, and in the great compactness of their juicy persons, urgently entreating and beseeching to be carried home in paper bags and eaten after dinner." We talked about the pace of Scrooge's transformation, how his visit with the Ghost of Christmas Past triggered long-buried happy memories that affected him profoundly. We talked about Tiny Tim and the rest of the Cratchit family and about their ability to find joy in the holiday and in each other despite their poverty: "They were not a handsome family; they were not well dressed; their shoes were far from being waterproof; their clothes were scant...But they were happy, grateful, pleased with one another, and contented with the time." We talked about the fact that Dickens wrote the story as Christmas customs were changing in Britain and about how the popularity of the novel contributed to a heightened public awareness of Christmas and the way it was celebrated. Christmas came to be about giving as well as receiving, about taking care of the less fortunate as well as eating too much and spending time with family and friends. We talked about the enduring legacy of book, about its power and its resonance today. And we concluded as Dickens did: "It was always said of him that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God Bless Us Every One!"
Join us on Thursday, January 17th when we will be discussing A Separate Peace by John Knowles. Copies of the book are available at the Information Desk.