“A Christmas Carol” in Review

In my online travels, I found a review (reprinted below) from the Morning Post, Tuesday, 26th December 1843 of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol.  In its own way, it is personally encouraging. As a writer I welcome feedback from reviews (both for encouragements offered and improvement of my craft), even as sometimes they sting.  So it is reassuring to know that even pieces that have become “classics” of literature occasionally had mixed reception.  🙂  Not to mention, I found it very humorous on its own:

A little book has lately been published under the above title.  It is rather a pretty little book to look at.  The edges of the leaves are gilt, the covers are of crimson cotton without, and pea-green paper within, and there is a golden wreath on the back of the little book, and a larger one on the side, with a legend interspersed, which informs the curious reader of the name of the book and of its author.  The number of pages is 166, and the print runs all across each page, instead of occupying a space in the middle, as in books of verse.  It has two or three little coloured prints, of which the frontispiece is the best, being a very merry little sketch, at which we hope many children will laugh, and there is a title page besides the exterior legend, which title page announces that the carol is in prose, and that it is “a ghost story of Christmas.”

It is by no means so easy to give an account of the matter of the book.  It is not comedy, nor tragedy, nor simple narrative, nor pure allegory, nor sermon, nor political treatise, nor historical sketch; but it is a strange jumbling together of all these, so that one knows not what to make of it.  It has all Mr. Dickens’s mannerisms, and is for so far (to us) displeasing and absurd; but it has touches of genius too, mixed up with its huge extravagance, and a few of those little happy strokes of simple pathos, to which, we should hope, (as well as to chance and fashion) the author has been indebted for his great popularity.  There are also some little bits of jokes—something trembling on the verge of puns and the like of which the less said the better. 

The story, so far as it is a story, lies in a nutshell.  A shocking old miser in the city, has an honest, hard-worked clerk, with a large family, and a hearty joyous nephew, with a wife and pretty sisters-in-law.  It is Christmas Eve, and the miser is very cross.  His nephew comes to invite him to dinner the next day, and the miser repulses him with rudeness.  The he is savage to his clerk, to whom he grudgingly grants a holiday for the morrow.  Then he goes home to his wretched solitary chambers, and there he sees sundry visions of ghosts, which, after a remarkably strange and mystical fashion, make him sensible of the error of his ways.  He gets up brim full of benevolence, sends a prize turkey to his clerk, and next day pokes him in the ribs (an action which Mr. Dickens seems to think peculiarly appropriate to benevolent feelings) and raises his wages.  Moreover, the miser goes to church on Christmas-day, subscribes largely to a fund for the relief of the poor, and dines with his joyous nephew and his pretty wife, and his pretty sisters-in-law.

All this is very well, but five-sixths of the little book, or more, relate to the poor miser’s interviews with the ghosts, and these comprise the most incomprehensible jumble of great things and little—things mystical and things familiar—that ever we met with, whether in the winter time or in the summer.  Every one has heard that there is but one step from the sublime to the ridiculous.  This step Mr. Dickens annihilates, and serves up the two together, like thunder-bolts intertwisted with threadpapers; or like an earthquake rocking the foundations of the world to the tune of “Lillibulero.”

There was once upon a time a writer of some note, who compared the genius of Lord Byron to “a mystery in a winding sheet, crowned with a halo.”  The illustration was not considered to stand the test of strict analysis, but it would not be amiss as a simile for this “Christmas Carol” of the gentle Boz.

Mr. Dickens appears to have his notions of Christian benevolence and sound national policy inextricably involved with visions of bowls of punch, and blind man’s buff, puddings, dances, fiddlings, heaps of children, riotous in their mirth, and of ravenous stomachs; green-grocers’ shops with red berries in the windows, and strings of onions at the door, roast goose stuffed with sage and onions, and sundry dishes from the baker’s oven, sending forth a savoury steam.  Above all these, however, he seems to place pokings in the ribs and a rich chuckling voice. 

But there can be no question that, upon the whole, the intent of this little book is to encourage kindly and benevolent feelings; and though we do not like sound instruction to be mixed up with matter so exceedingly fantastical as that in which this “Christmas Carol” abounds, yet we would fain hope that it may do some good, by encouraging generous and joyous feelings in those who will not seek them at a better source.

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2 Responses to “A Christmas Carol” in Review

  1. TessQ says:

    Hi, Kate – I just saw this comment, I’m sorry I didn’t reply sooner. (I don’t know why I’m not getting the notifications properly when a comment is left.) Yeah, it illustrates that in the end, a critic’s opinion is just one man’s opinion – and sometimes the “masses” buy in, but sometimes they don’t. Gives me hope as a writer, LOL!!! (No, I don’t really expect anything of mine to be considered a classic a hundred years from now… )

  2. Kate Warren says:

    How can something be on the verge of being a pun? It either is, or it is not. At least to my mind.

    Ah well, how could that reviewer know that this small book would go on to become one of the most beloved classics of the English language, and have many film adaptations (including musicals) made of it? Just not his cup of tea, I suppose.

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