“A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens: A Seasonal Classic
In October 1843, Charles Dickens began writing one of his most popular and best-loved books, A Christmas Carol. Six weeks later it was finished and readied for publication that December. It won instant popularity with the reading public and continues to be a staple of holiday productions with adaptions for theatre, film, television, radio, and opera performed annually. Some critics think Dickens virtually invented the holiday season as many celebrate it today, with the novel’s introduction of Christmas as a time for charity, good will, jollity, and celebration within nuclear families. Its immediate acceptance demonstrates the tremendous appeal that vision had for people during the Victorian era, while the ongoing demand for the story is a testament to its universal charm.
New EDSITEment Literature and Language Curriculum Unit, Textual Clues to Understanding A Christmas Carol offers students an opportunity to perform a close reading of this classic text. As a follow up to each of the lesson activities, they discuss the factors involved in the gradual evolution of Scrooge’s character within the novel, drawing evidence from the text. This unit aligns with Reading Anchor standard CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.1. Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.
In Lesson 1, students work in small groups to analyze language in stave 1 using Worksheet 1 as a tool for understanding words and phrases that may be unfamiliar to them. They consider how Charles Dickens used the opening chapter to convey a clear image of the main character; and they see firsthand how many of the author’s word choices conjure up the tight-fisted, squeezing, wrenching, grasping, bitter personality of Ebenezer Scrooge that virtually jumps off the page! Aligns with CCSS ELA Literacy RL 8.4 Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone, including analogies or allusions to other texts.
Through the narrator makes many direct statements about Scrooge, the text also enables readers to see him not as a caricature of a miser, but as a character of some complexity. Lesson 2 has students examine how Scrooge’s experiences with the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future affect him. They also discover how Dickens used both direct and indirect characterization to create a protagonist who is more than just a stereotype. Aligns with CCSS ELA Literacy RL 8.1 Cite textual evidence that most strongly supports an analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.
In his brief preface, Dickens stated that he wanted to raise an “Idea.” In other words, he had a clear theme or themes in mind. In Lesson 3, students move beyond a summary and discussion of characters and events to an understanding of the major themes of the novel. Aligns with CCSA ELA Literacy RL 8.2. Determine a theme or central idea of a text and analyze its development over the course of the text, including its relationship to the characters, setting and plot; provide an objective summary of the text.
The real-life Ebenezer Scrooge
Charles Dickens synthesized impressions from many sources in order to create the character of Scrooge, including a gravestone he once saw in Edinburgh belonging to one Ebenezer Lennox Scroggie! But after publication Dickens admitted to loosely modeling Scrooge on an infamous 18th-century moneylender, John Elwes, who was also a Member of Parliament.
Though much of Scrooge’s physical appearance and miserliness were inspired by Elwes, he was different in many ways. This real-life skinflint would do absolutely anything to cut costs in his own life, but he was generous enough in lending to friends. Never spiteful, he was more of a paranoid eccentric. For example: Elwes once ate a piece of pancake that he had kept in his coat for two months. [For other bizarre anecdotes about this colorful character turn to “John Elwes, ESQ” in The Lives and Portraits of Curious and Odd Characters by T. Drew (1852) on the Internet Archive.]
A word about our image
Believed to be the first commercial Christmas card, this design was one of 18 printed in London in 1843. It was commissioned from John Callcott Horsley, a British narrative painter and a Royal Academician, by Sir Henry Cole, first director of the Victoria and Albert Museum, who thought that this form of greeting could be sent to friends at Christmastime.
In the center, three generations of a family raise a toast to the card's recipient. On either side are scenes of charity, with food and clothing being given to the poor. Though this image of a family drinking wine together proved controversial to 18th-century British consumers, two batches of the design—totaling 2,050—were printed and sold that year for a shilling each (equivalent to roughly $5.88 in today’s money.) In 2010, one hundred and seventy years later, this very card was auctioned by Sotheby’s—and sold for $7000!