This month, Read It & Steep met to discuss the Christmas classic A Christmas Carol. This was the first time that we’ve chosen a book without it ever having graced the insides of the teapot. We considered reading another Jane Austen title (probably Persuasion) because we were meeting on the 16th and that happens to have been Ms. Austen’s 239th birthday (thanks to our visiting member Mary for doing the math, I’m not so good at the math). When it came down to making the decision though, we realized that we had only read Pride & Prejudice a few scant months ago and I had the idea about A Christmas Carol.
Full disclosure, the group also decided that this book would be the one due to the fact that our January book is about 600 pages long. We decided that since A Christmas Carol comes in right around 80 pages, it would be perfect for a hectic holiday season. We were missing some of our regulars (Happy Hanukkah!) but we still had a good turn out with two visitors who ended up being very knowledgeable about Dickens and his most famous holiday work.
Our discussion was, not surprisingly, heavily influenced by how prolific this work has become in Hollywood. We had wonderful tangents about how we always think of the ghost of Christmas present as Carol Kane in a “pretty dress,” or how we never missed Mickey’s Christmas Carol, or how we didn’t think our love for A Muppet Christmas Carol really prepared us for the actual novella. The story of Ebenezer Scrooge is so well-known now. It’s one of those books that, even if you’ve never read it, you almost certainly know the story or have heard someone exclaim, “Bah, Humbug!” at some point in your life. Even those of us who have read this classic took joy in the re-reading and some (like me) found that even having read it before, I was so influenced by the adaptations that I forgot large chunks of it.
We talked a bit about Dickens and the Christmases he would have known. Cara shared with us the juicy tidbit that in the United States, celebrating Christmas was actually outlawed until 1820! I found some references to this on the interwebs, but if you’re interested, you’ll have to do some searching on your own. In Dickens time, Easter was the major Christmas holiday and you’ll notice when reading that there is no mention of decorated trees (Prince Albert brought the Christmas tree into vogue) or gifts. Of course, that seems weird to we commercialized folk who mostly know the story through adaptations (which almost always include Scrooge showing up to the Cratchit home with gifts). Apparently this story was so popular, even then, that it almost single handedly shaped the Future Christmases and ruined the Christmas goose industry due to the description of that prize turkey.
We had a great conversation about women in Dickens (mostly here, but in other works as well) and how interesting the female characters are in A Christmas Carol. My personal favorite is Mrs. Fezziwig, who is described as being an equal to her husband in every way. You also see a unity and a respect for Fred’s wife which we all agreed was pretty forward thinking of Mr. Dickens. Our discussion turned to absent women and how A Christmas Carol is almost a study of the absent women from Scrooge’s life. There is no mention of a mother, his sister dies young, and his fiancé leaves him. How different would his attitudes have been had any of these things been different.
Finally, the Read It & Steep group had an interesting conversation about the ghosts themselves and the Ghost of Christmas Present’s wayward children, Ignorance & Want. We discussed Dickens’ description of Past as an amorphous, though male, fairly androgynous character. Many of us recounted seeing many versions or stage plays casting a young lady in the role and we discussed if this was due to tradition (a la Peter Pan) or something else, (ie. petite women having a wider range than a young boy could possibly portray). Mostly, we were all amazed to be reminded that Scrooge’s transformation does actually begin to happen with the Ghost of Christmas Past as opposed to much later in many adaptations. We appreciated the touches of humor in the novel, so often attributed to Mr. Scrooge, who we all expect to be nothing but curmudgeon.
It was a great conversation about a wonderful “everyone should read this” book. Finally, there were some recommendations. If you’re interested in adaptations or info about the book check out:
Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol by Tom Mula
The Man Who Invented Christmas by Les Standiford
Scrooge (starring Albert Finney)
Scrooged (starring Bill Murray)
Theatre (if you’re close enough):
Hedgerow Theatre (Media) A Christmas Carol
Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire’s A Dickens of a Christmas
I can tell you most heartily NOT to bother with It’s Christmas, Carol! Not worth it. See you in the new year!