Charles Dickens is one of my personal heroes. A thoughtful, educated and enlightened thinker, Dickens was involved in many charities and social issues throughout his life. As well as other philanthropic individuals, Dickens believed that education could provide a way to a better life for poor children. The Ragged School movement put these ideas into action, and the schools provided free education for children in the cities, as more and more people gravitated there to find work in the industrial revolution. In 1843, Dickens read a parliamentary report – The Parliamentary Commission on the Employment of Women and Children, detailing the horrific conditions under which very young children were made to work under ground or to work extremely long hours in dreadful and dangerous conditions in factories. Dickens described himself as being “perfectly stricken down by it” and he determined that he would strike, as he said, “the heaviest blow in my power” on behalf of these victims of the Industrial Revolution. Victims without a voice.
Dickens himself was no stranger to poverty; the struggle to make ends meet and undoubtedly the memory of his father being imprisoned for debt in the Marshalsea –and all the family having to move into the debtors’ prison, sharpened his social conscience. His early years were marked by a descent from modest income to poverty, and it was poverty that denied him an education and sent him to work in a blacking factory when he was 12. Publications such as Oliver Twist were written to expose the life of those less fortunate, and to engender debate and change.
Towards the end of 1843, Dickens was giving a talk in Manchester – a city mired in the industrial revolution and bustling with the factory system and mechanisation of the production process. It was in the course of this visit, that the idea came to him of writing a story about how people struggle every day, and this was the beginning of the idea for A Christmas Carol; which created that unforgettable individual, Scrooge. The idea of Scrooge as the ultimate miser – with no feelings for the rest of humanity; focused purely on how much money he would make out of them, hiking interest rates higher and higher for those unable to afford the basics. An unforgettable and beautifully described character that we recognise to this day.
Dickens had the concept of the three spirits – the Spirit of Christmas Past, Present and Future – by which, in one night – Scrooge was to be converted from extreme misanthropy to great benevolence and love of humanity. We all know the story…….Scrooge is visited by three ghosts – The Ghost of Christmas Past, takes him back into lhis childhood and shows him the suffering that he himself underwent as a child. He begins with pity for himself, then he’s shown visions which make him uneasy about his past, his engagement to a young girl and the girl breaking off the engagement and Scrooge, increasingly horrified to see himself becoming more and more miserly. Then the second visitor is the Ghost of Christmas Present – this jolly giant sitting on a great mound of luxury food, of turkeys and Christmas puddings and he shows Scrooge the home life of his own poor clerk, whom he pays starvation wages to – on which Bob Cratchit has to support his family of several children. But the Ghost of Christmas Present shows Scrooge the family happiness at Christmas and Scrooge is shown Bob Cratchit, raising a glass to toast Mr. Scrooge. Scrooge is concerned about Tiny Tim, and he says to the Ghost of Christmas Present, tell me if Tiny Tim will live, and the Ghost of Christmas Present says, well, if things don’t change, then he will not be here for another Christmas – and Scrooge is filled with pity. He has this nostalgia first of all about his own past and before he became corrupt, then pity for the Cratchits in the present and then the third – is the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come – this dark shadow who shows Scrooge visions of the bleak, desolate death of an unnamed man, who has cut himself off from all humanity and dies in solitude – buried in a London churchyard. Scrooge is made to read the name on the tombstone which, of course, is Scrooge. So, the third wonderful component of this story is fear: nostalgia, pity and fear together work on Scrooge to convert him so that when he wakes up the next morning, he is changed from a horrible old miser to one of the most benevolent and loving human beings. A Christmas Carol gives us a wonderful story about change – about redemption – how we can all change and become something much better. Dickens should have the last word……he said this about A Christmas Carol:
“I have endeavoured in this Ghostly little book, to raise the Ghost of an Idea, which shall not put my readers out of humour with themselves, with each other, with the season, or with me. May it haunt their houses pleasantly, and no one wish to lay it.”