Written 170 years ago, Charles Dickens’ classic novella “A Christmas Carol” still resonates with people today, according to two literature experts at Kansas State University.
The latest example of Dickens’ enduring popularity will also be a nod to one of his most enduring works. A new film about Dickens’ life, “The Invisible Woman,” starring Ralph Fiennes, will be released on Christmas day.
“A Christmas Carol” features the penny-pinching, Christmas-hating Ebenezer Scrooge and his dramatic transformation after a timely visit from the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Yet to Come.
Naomi Wood is a Kansas State University professor of English who specializes in children’s and Victorian literature and culture. She says that “A Christmas Carol” has remained popular because of its observations about the holiday and its central theme that a person can always change.
“‘A Christmas Carol’ is a compelling story about the Christmas holiday not as a religious observance, but as an aspect of the social contract: the time when those who ‘have’ experience joy in sharing with those who ‘have not,’” Wood said. “It’s also a story of transformation. Scrooge’s story offers the possibility that one can change for the better, become a better person and grow a bigger heart.”
Dan Hoyt is a Kansas State University assistant professor of English who teaches Dickens’ work. He said that “A Christmas Carol” also accurately captures sentiments that many people feel around the holidays, and gives a refreshing message amidst the commercialism that surrounds Christmas today.
“Much of Dickens’ work, including ‘A Christmas Carol,’ has comic touches and is intensely sentimental. Just about everyone can appreciate those qualities during the holiday season,” Hoyt said. “It champions generosity and compassion, and when Christmas feels commercialized in so many ways, that message is powerful and comforting.”
Wood said that its compelling characters, as well as elements of the spooky and supernatural, add to the intrigue of “A Christmas Carol.”
“The Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Yet to Come are wonderful devices for thinking about our lives and what we want our legacy to be,” Wood said. “The story also features a sweet and pathetic kid in Tiny Tim, as well as both a happy and unhappy ending. The double ending helps emphasize that we have a choice in how we affect the lives of others for better or worse.”
“A Christmas Carol” has been adapted to many film versions, which Wood says would have pleased the author.
“Dickens was an avid theatergoer and was quite used to his novels being dramatized — sometimes even before they were finished,” she said. “He enjoyed seeing his work come to life on the stage, and I think if he would have lived long enough, he would have loved movies. He adapted his own work for public performance, and was renowned for his effective readings.”
“Dickens’ work still speaks to us on an emotional level,” Hoyt said of the author’s enduring popularity. “That’s evident from the continual retellings and resurrections and re-imaginings of his fiction. ‘A Christmas Carol,’ for example, has been turned into everything from a ballet to a Broadway musical.”
While many screen and stage versions of “A Christmas Carol” are quality adaptations of the novella, Wood said the one thing they sometimes leave out is the social criticism that is a prominent theme in the novella.
“The story is a feel-good parable about the joys of individual charity, but the book also demands its readers look at the vast economic system that produces ‘want’ and ‘ignorance,’ which Dickens personifies as society’s hideous and starving children,” she said. “Dickens wanted his readers to care about the 99 percent, and even more for the 47 percent — the people who aren’t served by the moneyed and privileged 1 percent.”
“A Christmas Carol” was Dickens’ first Christmas story. He made sure the book was published in time to sell for the holiday season in 1843, the year it was written. He would go on to write four more Christmas-themed novellas, as well as numerous shorter Christmas stories for magazines. Wood said Dickens was a big fan of the Christmas holiday and loved hosting parties with plenty of food, drinks, dancing and magic tricks.
“Dickens delighted in Christmas and having a big and roistering celebration with lots to eat and drink,” she said. “He would have a big party for both kids and adults, and danced wildly with as many guests as possible. He was an enthusiastic amateur magician and loved to amaze his guests in made-up characters, such as ‘The Unparalleled Necromancer Rhia Rhama Roos.’”