A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens (1843) 138 p.

Obviously I meant to finish reading and review this before Christmas Eve, but I spent too many evenings drinking and on Christmas Eve itself I fell asleep watching Howl’s Moving Castle instead. So never mind that.

But anyway! Christmas! Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is one of his most well-known and influential works, and indeed one of the most well-known and influential pieces of literature in the human canon. We all know how it goes. Even if we haven’t read it, we’ve picked up bits and pieces from the dozens of films and parodies and cartoons and retellings (if I have to think, probably the first version I remember is A Muppets Christmas Carol). Ebeneezer Scrooge is a miserly old rich man who sneers at the concept of Christmas, is visited by the ghost of his old business partner on Christmas Eve, is subsequently visited by the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future, and learns to change his ways for the better. Timeless.

I’ve been avoiding reading Dickens because he’s one of those authors you feel obligated to read, but whom you fear will also be dry and dull and tedious – I mean, he was born more than two hundred years ago. Apart from it being timely, I read A Christmas Carol because it’s slim, and if I hated it then I could at least say I’d read Dickens. I was pleasantly surprised to find his prose accessible and readable and even witty.

“At this festive season of the year, Mr. Scrooge,” said the gentleman, taking up a pen, “it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the Poor and Destitute, who suffer greatly at the present time. Many thousands are in want of common necessaries; hundreds of thousands are in want of common comforts, sir.”

“Are there no prisons?” asked Scrooge.

“Plenty of prisons,” said the gentleman, laying down the pen again.

“And the Union workhouses?” demanded Scrooge. “Are they still in operation?”

“They are. Still,” returned the gentleman, “I wish I could say they were not.”

“The Treadmill and the Poor Law are in full vigour, then?” said Scrooge.

“Both very busy, sir.”

“Oh! I was afraid, from what you said at first, that something had occurred to stop them in their useful course,” said Scrooge. “I’m very glad to hear it.”

Dickens’ literary legacy is obvious, but I was fascinated to learn that much of what we associate with a modern Christmas – feasting, merriment, family gatherings and generosity of spirit – is a relatively recent trend, as the holiday morphed from a purely religious observance in the early 19th century to something more broadly festive. It’s a stretch to say that Dickens invented modern Christmas, but the massive popularity of A Christmas Carol was certainly an enormous influence on it.

I enjoyed A Christmas Carol quite a bit. It’s a charming, pleasant story about generosity, love for your fellow man, and redemption. It deserves its enduring, iconic status, and I’m relieved to find that Dickens is a relatively approachable writer. I’ll next read his first full novel, The Pickwick Papers.