The nightmare visions of the future according to St. Malthus are over: Trotty Veck has learned the folly of accepting Alderman Cute's and Filer's humbug as gospel truth. His discordant opinions about his own class's lack of morality have been delivered a corrective by the chimes. The characters who appeared in his dream-vision suffering and dying are alive and well this New Year's Day, and Meggy and Richard will be able to marry one another as planned. Although he joins the neighbourhood dance in his own peculiar gait, the fond father pairs off with Widow Chickenstalker as Richard pairs off with Meggy. The social and spiritual or doctrinal reintegration of Toby Veck lacks the humanitarian or altruistic dimension of Scrooge's conversion narrative: Trotty is not born again as a better man — but he is, like Dr. Manette in A Tale of Two Cities some fifteen years later "recalled to life" by his suffering.

Despite what should be the exterior cold of a London winter, Trotty and his neighbours dance "out of doors" (as is evident by the bough of greenery that divides the letter-press from the final illustration) just as Dickens had seen the locals doing near his second residence in Genoa. This is not a staid country dance of the Sir Roger de Coverley variety with which cinematic adapters often close productions of A Christmas Carol; in place of fiddlers or a piano forté, the local street band under the direction of Jabez improvises to the cacophanous accompaniment of the rough wedding-music of marrow-bones and cleavers wielded by joyful friends of the young couple. Dickens contrasts the dour and ominous voices of time, the ponderous Chimes of the church opposite: "not the Bells, but a portable collection, on a frame" ("Fourth Quarter") peal in honour of a wedding, full of bright promise for a future so different from the Malthusian dream. Whereas Ebenezer Scrooge, miser turned philanthropist, celebrates his regeneration with his family and then with his trusted employee, Trotty Veck, kindly ticket-porter still, celebrates the breaking of the spell at midnight, as the Chimes ring an old year out and a New Year in, exactly as the title-page had foretold. Trotty's return to the present and the living is an affair not sop much of the family as of the community. The working-class music of the street replaces the middle-class parlour games at the conclusion of A Christmas Carol, although both conclusions include social drinking. The street musicians and communal dance are not the only Italian touches, for Mrs. Chickenstalker supplies the equivalent of Scrooge's smoking Bishop he quaffs (in moderation) with Bob Cratchit at the counting house — a hot flip "that steamed and smoked and reeked like a volcano" ("Fourth Quarter," p. 243 of the Penguin edition; p. 172 of the original). The volcano, suggestive of powerful subterranean forces that cannot be repressed, is an objective correlative for deep-seated feelings that all human beings, no matter what their class or degree, share. Only months after completing The Chimes, Dickens and his considerable party (including six pack- horses and twenty-two guides) ascended the slopes of the great destroyer, Mt. Vesuvius, in severe winter weather; perhaps this image at the end of The Chimes reflects his anticipation of that climb, which occurred on 21 February 1845.

The letter-press reinforces the sense of destiny fulfilled, of the will of Heaven enacted at last, as Will Fern discovers that Mrs. Chickenstalker is the friend of Lilian's mother for whom he had been searching when he first encountered Trotty on the street. The reader has a profound sense of recovery, for what was lost has been found — including Trotty's faith in his class and his hopes for his daughter's future happiness.

The engraver W. J. Linton's seventh plate and Punch caricaturist John Leech's fifth in the visual program contains — or more properly squeezes out of the frame — twenty-words of letter-press, so that the narrative and visual moments coincide precisely:

bones and cleavers, all at
once; and while The Chimes were yet in lusty operation
out of doors; Trotty,
making Meg
and
Richard [p. 174 of the original text]

The traditional hero and heroine of romantic comedy become the "second couple" (175), the lead or central dancer appropriately being Trotty because his is the consciousness we have followed from the steps of Alderman Cute's townhouse to this celebratory moment. The presiding figure of the drummer, wielding his batons, implies the unified, joyous response of the community at festival, as all figures in the frame move in unison to the rhythm he beats out. The sprig in his hat is consistent with the Christmas season, but the border between the dancers and the text, the decorated bough, is out of place or, more properly, out of time. It leads the eye from the drummer's crushed hat and batons to the central dancers and so down to the knowing child, whose gaze is directed at the reader-viewer rather than at the figures in the frame. Lilian, who in form had served as Trotty's guide through the last sequence of his Dantesque vision, engages the reader-viewer directly at this moment, preparing the "consumer" of visual and narrative text for the narrator's closing remarks. Paralleling the line of the bough are the heads of the young couple, whose fecundity and resilience the bough epitomizes, the older couple united in the dance, and the precocious child who dances on the outside of the charmed circle and into the letter-press. The movement of dancers and bough is the forward movement of the narrative that embraces present and future, taking us forward and then backward, into the present, this Shakespearean moment of celebration, which, like that of As You Like It, contains all ages and times.

References

Dickens, Charles. The Chimes: or A Goblin Story of Some Bells That Rang An Old Year Out and A New Year In. The Christmas Books, ed. Michael Slater. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1971, rpt., 1978. Volume One, pp. 137-252.

_____. The Chimes: or A Goblin Story of Some Bells That Rang An Old Year Out and A New Year In. London: Chapman and Hall, 1845 [second impression].


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Last modified 7 February 2007