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A Christmas Carol, The Chimes & The Cricket on the Hearth (Barnes & Noble Classics Series) Paperback – Mar 25 2004
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Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
"Marley was dead, to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that." Thus begins Dickens's most famous and yet poorly understood work. It does not start with a description of Scrooge as a miser, but with death. All of Dickens's Christmas books revolve around death. Americans and Europeans of the twenty-first century are fairly sheltered from deathit seldom happens in our homes, for instance; we can bring people back from the brink of death in ways inconceivable to Victorians; we have powerful drugs to ease the pain of, say, cancer, and so forth. In Dickens's day, one could die from an infected cut; today we simply slap on some antibiotic ointment and feel confident we'll be all right. Death was very present and very haunting to the Victorians. Children and women were particularly vulnerable; we may find some of the sentiment over Tiny Tim cloying, but through him Dickens strove to present the special poignancy of the deaths of children.
Having started with Marley's death, and Scrooge's full knowledge and experience of it, Dickens goes on to say that Scrooge never painted over Marley's name on the warehouse door: "Sometimes people new to the business called Scrooge Scrooge, and sometimes Marley, but he answered to both names. It was all the same to him." Dickens then presents Scrooge's miserliness, but he first presents Scrooge as so far astray he no longer even possesses a true sense of self. Scrooge is not a person, even to himself, but a business. It is that lack of self that leads to his miserliness and his alienation from humanity.
The theme of blindness or deliberate obtuseness, important in The Cricket on the Hearth and The Chimes, appears quite early in A Christmas Carol. Scrooge's nephew, in bursting in upon him, precipitates Scrooge's well-known contemptuous remarks upon Christmas. Upon the nephew's departure two "portly gentlemen" approach; they are setting up a fund to "buy the Poor some meat and drink, and means of warmth." Scrooge inquires of them as to the state of the prisons, workhouses, the treadmill, and the Poor Law. Prisons and workhouses alike were dreadful places, dank and dark, in which families could not live together but were divided up by gender and age. The treadmills, invented in 1818 originally were actual engines, designed to power mills that ground corn and the like; various laws dealing with the poor established the presence of treadmills in the workhouses. By Dickens's time, however, the treadmills were merely objects in which the poor could be simultaneously contained and worked into exhaustion; no product resulted but the further degradation of the workers. The Poor Law of 1834 divided the poor into the "deserving" and the "undeserving." The "help" provided to the deserving was scant indeed, more theory than fact, and it was almost impossible to prove one was deserving. The decision truly rested with people who sat on the boards of directors of workhouses or other persons living in comfort that was derived from profits expanded, in part, by paying out only very little to help those in need. Whatever its intention, the Poor Law provided a mere facade of welfare; in fact, it was a series of impossible obstacles.
The portly gentlemen point out to Scrooge that prisons and workhouses "scarcely furnish Christian cheer of mind or body"Dickens presumes that Christianity declares that all people are entitled to cheer of mind, not merely a life of subsistence-and that "many can't go there; and many would rather die."
"If they would rather die," said Scrooge, "they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population. Besidesexcuse meI don't know that."
"But you might know it," observed the gentleman.
"It's not my business," Scrooge returned.There it is, that claim to ignoranceonly in this instance the illusion is punctured straight away by the two gentlemen who have made it their business to look about them and perceive the suffering of the world. Scrooge can only not know it by deliberate intent.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
However, the other two stories are not in the same league. Dickens wrote them in the years following the publication of A Christmas Carol because it had been a success and he wanted to see if more profits could be obtained. He made some money but the last two stories have not held up nearly as well as A Christmas Carol over the years.
The Chimes is a story of a messenger named Toby Veck and his efforts to eke out a meager existence and to help his daughter find happiness. Toby is fascinated by the sound of the bells in the bell tower close to where he stations himself each day hoping to find paying customers. In the story he is drawn one night up into the tower itself where he meets phantoms who show him what the future may hold if he continues on his present path. These phantoms are nothing like the ghosts in A Christmas Carol. Toby's primary belief in life is that the poorer people like him deserve their station in life. The phantoms get his attention long enough so that possible events cause him to change his belief and possibly give his family a chance at a better life. The story is fairly dense and is written in Dickens' usual style.
The Cricket on the Hearth is the third story and once again expresses Dickens' point of view that needy people can be and should be helped to lead good, productive lives. The tale takes place around the turning of the New Year. This one does not involve spirits but is more like some of Dickens' popular novels. A hardworking family just getting by finds their situation turning worse. Tensions grow between the husband and wife. A mystery guest appears, and everything works out for the best in the end.
If you like Dickens, you will enjoy this book. I also recommend that you try Les Standiford's new book The Man Who Invented Christmas. It will give you the history of the development of Dickens' Christmas stories and will help you to understand what the atmosphere was like in England when the stories were written in the mid-19th century
The book I read was a Christmas Carol I love this book. The reason I love this book is because it actually teaches you something about life. Scrooge is an old man who dose not like celebrating Christmas, he's whole family enjoys and they all just stay together and just tell good storied about what good thing happened thought out the whole year. Scrooge doesn't do that like that the whole time he just stays to work. To make words short his nephew who is my favorite character Tint Tim try to change his uncle to like Christmas and try's to change uncle scrooge to like Christmas again there is a really big reason that uncle scrooge dose not like Christmas. The reason my favorite character is Tiny Tim is because try's to show everybody not just his uncle but almost the whole town everything good about life. I really recommend this book to anybody because it's just fun and like a soon as you start to read it you just cant stop reading it you just have to keep on going on. What I dislike bout this book is that they made Tim feel bad well the way his uncle ignored him and his entire family well I know they where poor and everything but it was not for that much.