Tuesday 28 December 2010

A Christmas Carol Read Along

Oh I had such grand plans for the reading of this book this year. I was going to read it aloud to my 10 year old son- we did start it together, and we got through about half of it aloud, which I think given the multiple demands clamouring for a modern 10 year old's attention is pretty good. I was going to blog Stave by Stave posts. Well, that didn't happen either, what with the multiple demands on a modern blogger's attention. But still I got there in the end. After Christmas it must be said. But I got there.  Sadly, not quite in time to blog for the read-a-long at Sheery's Place. I've never done a blog read-a-long before and am not sure how much of a transgression this is. Hopefully not too much.

I can't believe that I had never read a full Dickens before! Shhhhh. Although it seems I'm not alone in my Dickens deficit- Oprah hasn't read Dickens yet either, and she too is taking steps to remedy that.  So what if I read possibly his shortest complete story,  that can barely matter. I've still read Dickens. And a complete one -not just half of Bleak House (twice).

I loved the famous story of course. What I found most surprising was the level of humour within the book. The opening comments about door nails, and the relative deadness of ironmongery is rather funny, and serves to put the modern reader slightly off-balance I suspect. We have vague notions of Dickens being somewhat akin to drudgery, and we don't expect to be glancing sideways with surprise and sniggering within the first few paragraphs.

I think my favourite part is when Marley's ghost visits Scrooge. Scrooge tries to account for this strange apparition, and why he can not trust his senses:

"Because," said Scrooge," a little thing affects them. A slight disorder of the stomach makes them cheats. You may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of underdone potato. There's more of gravy than of grave about you, whatever you are!"

There's more of gravy than of grave about you! That's gold.

I love Dickens's vocabulary and his turn of phrase.  Who can not rejoice in Dickens's wondrous use of words? How often do we get to read books that describe a nose not merely as large but as a pendulous excrescence? Or children's books that talk of disgorging cesspools? Or the apoplectic opulence of a basket of chestnuts? These gems are studded throughout the book and immeasurably add to the fun of reading.

I feel that I gained such a deeper understanding of the story by reading it than just merely watching a movie adaptation - no great surprises there of course. For instance, the form of the three ghosts makes an intrinsic sense to me now, that it never has before. The Ghost of Christmas Past is essentially a torch illuminating Ebeneezer's sad childhood story. The Ghost of Christmas Present is larger than life, jolly and full of joie de vie- perhaps as we all should be. Whilst the The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come is the Grim Reaper, as that is what awaits us all, and perhaps Scrooge sooner than others.

Even before I was finished reading I was making plans to try and re-read A Christmas Carol. I'm sure it's a book that would reward re-reading handsomely, both with mere reading pleasure, and also with a heightened understanding of the book, and of the times. It is interesting and moving to read that Dickens was inspired to write A Christmas Carol in part as a response to the dreadful situation with child labour in England at the time. Dickens had toured tin mines in Cornwall in early 1943, and it was whilst in Manchester a few months later  to address a charity serving the poor that he developed the story idea. Wiki also gives us the historical background that most of our strongest Christmas traditions began about that time- Christmas trees, cards and carol singing.

A Christmas Carol remains such a culturally important tale, and is still culturally relevant. This week, on our Australian Boxing Day (December 26th) we watched the Doctor Who Christmas Special for 2010- which naturally enough was called A Christmas Carol.

It was quite astonishing. We still have The Ghost of Christmas Past, as the good Doctor travels back and forth through time changing history, and taming the fish in the sky to stop a spaceship crashing (it is Doctor Who after all). I hadn't seen any of the modern Doctor Who episodes but this was an enjoyable introduction, and I just might start watching them again. And it was great to see Dickens reinterpreted for the modern age.

Happily this post qualifies me to enter The Christmas Spirit Reading Challenge I believe (again a bit late, but this time within the set timeframe). I hope to squeeze in a few more Christmas reading posts- I've really enjoyed it this year, and it doesn't seem to matter too much that Christmas is somewhat technically over.


Deb Nance at Readerbuzz said...

I was ready for Christmas the day after Thanksgiving, so I am not sure what happened to me this year. Did I get Christmas-ed out? Too much Twelve Days of Christmas on the radio? Too many scenes of beautiful presents heaped under brilliantly decorated Christmas trees? Too much Christmas joy?

Whatever. I only managed to read the newly illustrated and heavily abridged children's version (I know, I know...ACC is supposed to be a children's story, not needing a separate children's version). And I didn't even trouble myself to compare the original to the new. A task for next year.

Happy you enjoyed this one. Now you are set to jump in on the War and Peace read-together, right? Or, perhaps you've already done Tolstoy?

Anonymous said...

Louise, I really enjoyed reading this review and I am so pleased to find someone who actually likes Dickens' writing. Poor man, he would writhe in his grave if he could read the nasty things people write about his books online!

Louise said...

@Debbie. I'm sure you'll enjoy the full ACC when you get the chance to get to it- there's always next year right? I think I'll leave War and Peace to you for next year. I'll be interested to see how you like it. I know I _should_ read it, and hopefully I will some time, but not now. I've read 600 pages of Anna Karennina, but never made it til the end. The new translation of W&P is supposed to be good, but it's not for me at the moment. I did buy the Audrey Hepburn War and Peace movie at the sales- maybe that counts?

@Lisa- thanks. I didn't know there was so much anti-Dickens stuff out there- I guess I probably wouldn't read it, unless someone I knew wrote it and I was interested in their opinion. It'll be interesting to see what the Oprah effect is on Dickens reading in the modern world. I was tempted to try the two she picked, but don't think I'll have time next month. I do really like what I've read of him, and plan to read it all eventually.

I think like many classics Dickens is thrust at the young when they can't appreciate it. I know I couldn't when I was younger- not that we got a chance at Dickens, but I didn't like Shakespeare back then, and I still have to work at it. And I've never really got over my dislike for Wuthering Heights that was born in a high school English class.

Unknown said...

Just visited the Dickens House museum in Doughty St, London which was all beautifully decorated for Christmas. Dickens lived there for three years, from 1837-1839, and the museum is a fascinating glimpse into his domestic life.
Currently just ploughing through Bleak House - I've been studying Dickens online through the University of Exeter, a great 3 month course which I've managed to stretch into four because Bleak House takes so.long.to.read. and seems, like Jarndyce and Jarndyce, to go on indefinitely.......

Been meaning to get a chance to comment here for ages - sorry! - Hope you had a great Christmas!


Louise said...

Oh how Absolutely Fantastic. I would love to go there. I will whenever it is that I finally make it to London. I've read the first half of Bleak House- twice- had to stop each time due to the length, so am well aware of how long it takes. Strange thing is, that I absolutely loved it both times, but couldn't get through it. It still sits on my bookshelf taunting me. One day I will finish it. I am going to read all of Dickens! I'm on my way now that I've finally managed to make it through one.... There was a great BBC miniseries of Bleak House a few years ago too.

Michelle Stockard Miller said...

So glad you decided to join the challenge and late is perfectly okay! I read A Christmas Carol...again...this year and it still remains one of my favorites. I also watched the Dr. Who special. It was excellent! Don't feel bad if you only do the one for the challenge. It's my challenge and I only read two books of the planned 5 or 6!

Louise said...

Thanks for stopping by Michelle, and thanks so much for organising the challenge too. I'm glad late is ok. I enjoyed participating very much. I did quite a bit of Christmas reading this year. Some of them I'd posted about before I really saw the challenge- I'm a relatively new, regular(ish) book blogger, so am not all that familiar with challenges. I've done another post on Augusten Burroughs' You Better Not Cry, and I'm actually reading my last Christmas Spirit book now, and hope to finish it in the next few days.