December 15, 2020
I’m reading this now for the first time.
What stands out most for me may be the swiftly changing Spirit of Christmas Past, like an anomaly-entity from modern sci-fi, but soft-voiced and ominous like the representation of Satan in The Last Temptation of Christ movie. (Overly Sarcastic Productions was reminded of “a biblical angel.”)
In this first Spirit of the night, Dickens has human and broken-human shapes succeeding upon one another, possibly representing the sum total of Scrooge’s past. Perhaps his encounters? his partial sight of these people?
The Spirit says that Scrooge’s passion for money has forced it to hide its light. I take this to mean one of two things. Either the people in his past have, due to his coldness, refrained from showing him their light (he pointedly is disturbed by the light; and the narrator had said that Scrooge’s very countenance was always “warning all human sympathy to keep its distance”). Or Scrooge has in some way placed a “blinder” before his eyes that allows him to see these people only partially, and to see their light not at all.
Scrooge is so ready for any strange appearance, when expecting the second Spirit, that “nothing between a baby and rhinoceros would have astonished him very much”. But Dickens finds the very things that could have frightened him: he was not prepared for the clock to strike and for nothing to appear, ie, at least nothing in the form of a person or recognizable spirit. He does see a pale crimson light, which, “being only light, was more alarming than a dozen ghosts.”
Some other passages that stand out for me in the novel:
- the fog on Christmas Eve, descending on the streets where Scrooge’s office is located, leaving even houses across the street as little more than shadows
- Scrooge’s nephew Fred calls Christmas “the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys”
- In the first scene visited in Christmas Present, Dickens makes the street, its snowball-fights, its shops, fruits, fish and Spanish Onions come alive; and he shows the “sooty atoms” of ashy snow tumbling down from the chimneys; the entire scene both bustling and ethereal
- Incredibly, there are scenes out on the sea; at a lighthouse far from shore, and on a ship; you NEVER see these scenes in the adaptations; Dickens lived in the golden age of British naval power, but these scenes have none of the militaristic in them; he speaks of the sea somewhat like Melville does
I was wondering how Scrooge could have failed to recognize at least the voice of his maidservant, who took the curtains from his bed, even if he couldn’t see her clearly in the dark; but Dickens does not name her; nor does he even indicate that Scrooge has a maidservant; he must have one, but perhaps Dickens leaves all this open to the possibility that the future maidservant is not the same one as in the present time; I am undoubtedly thinking of the 1951 movie, where the maid is the same woman in the present and future; funny that in countless viewings of that movie, I’d never asked myself how Scrooge didn’t recognize her.
I just found it impossible not to think of the images from 1951 while reading the novel – except Stave IV (the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come), throughout which I was thinking only of George C. Scott. Everything before and after was Alistair Sim for me, apart from a very few lovely illustrations in the copy I was using.
I cannot yet find more about this passage, which is spoken by a voice that Scrooge cannot recognize:
Oh cold, cold, rigid, dreadful Death, set up thine altar here, and dress it with such terrors as thou hast at thy command: for this is thy dominion! But of the loved, revered, and honoured head, thou canst not turn one hair to thy dread purposes, or make one feature odious. It is not that the hand is heavy and will fall down when released; it is not that the heart and pulse are still; but that the hand WAS open, generous, and true; the heart brave, warm, and tender; and the pulse a man’s. Strike, Shadow, strike! And see his good deeds springing from the wound, to sow the world with life immortal!
No voice pronounced these words in Scrooge’s ears, and yet he heard them when he looked upon the bed. He thought, if this man could be raised up now, what would be his foremost thoughts? Avarice, hard-dealing, griping cares? They have brought him to a rich end, truly!