'A Christmas Carol' & its legacy
Lillian Nayder chairs the English department at Bates College in Lewistown, Maine, and is the outgoing president of The Dickens Society. The organization supports research and writing on Charles Dickens, the 19th-century English writer and social critic.
Nayder spoke to the Trib regarding the enduring nature of one of Dickens' classic works, “A Christmas Carol.”
Q: What was Dickens' inspiration for the book?
A: There was a kind of political origin to “A Christmas Carol.” In 1843, there had been a Parliamentary report on child labor involving the mining industry. Dickens thought he would write a political pamphlet in which he helped to expose the horrors of the situation with child labor, but then he changed his mind and decided he was going to write a story. I think he said he would be 20,000 times more effective if he were to try to convey this message by means of his own fiction rather than just another political document.
Q: Was the book initially very popular?
A: Dickens was always looking for money, because by 1843 he had four or five children, a staff of four or five servants and he had just taken in his 15-year-old sister-in-law. So money was an issue for him to maintain his standard of living. He had thought he would make a lot of money with “A Christmas Carol,” but ultimately he was disappointed by the sales figures. It was an expensive publication the way it was produced, and I think the first year he made something like 200-some pounds. He had been hoping that it would prove a lot more profitable, but it did help him to spread his fame and literary reputation.
Q: How does “A Christmas Carol” measure up to some of Dickens' more comprehensive works that touch on similar themes, such as “Oliver Twist” or “David Copperfield”?
A: It's a wonderful work and I wouldn't want to disparage it, (but) it's not something that I would pick as Dickens' greatest. It has a tremendous amount of appeal (but) his longer novels are such artistic triumphs with such a kind of rich complexity that it's kind of hard to compare them (to “A Christmas Carol”).
Q: What is the book's ultimate legacy?
A: I think the ultimate legacy has to do with the power of transformation and the power of individual charity. It's the story of Scrooge learning to become charitable. That's both the great thing about the story and the problematic thing about it, because Dickens originally was going to write a political pamphlet that presumably would have advocated political reform. Instead, he writes this story where he is advocating for individual charity, which is really quite different.
Q: While the story has a happy ending, it's not a cheerful holiday tale. To what do you attribute its enduring popularity?
A: I think for one thing, the idea of transformation is so appealing. I think it's really powerful for us because we love the thought that someone could be transformed like that overnight for the good. I also think some of the appeal has to do with the sentimentality of the story, the interesting interplay of the three ghosts and the way we think about our past and our future possibilities. That whole nexus of past, present and future is a really interesting and compelling one that has a tremendous amount of appeal.
Eric Heyl is a staff writer for Trib Total Media (412-320-7857 or email@example.com).
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Former Pirates pitcher Happ agrees to $36 million, 3-year deal with Blue Jays
- Clairton among greatest WPIAL dynasties; Aliquippa, South Fayette close
- Gilbert, son of ex-Pitt football standout, commits to Panthers
- WPIAL Class AAAA final preview: Penn-Trafford looking to reverse trend of playoff losses to Central Catholic
- Holiday cards evoke Pittsburgh cheer, benefit charities
- Unsung backups provide boost for Steelers defensive line
- Penguins notebook: Players prepared for tough schedule in minors
- Fashion FYI: Cheeks lingerie store opens in Squirrel Hill
- WPIAL history full of football dynasties
- GOP Senators Rubio, Cruz at odds on tougher surveillance law
- Gorman: Dynasties began with devastating defeats