Relate the pp. 108-109 of the Penguin edition of A Christmas Carol to following passage from Peter Ackroyd's Dickens (1990):

Dickens had been arranging these matters in what he had once called that "great forgiving" Christmas time, and it was to be in this season too that he read for the various charitable or civic institutions. In fact his success at Birmingham the year before [1853] had been so "prodigious . . . that he had been obliged to refuse most of the many requests which were now made to him . . . . on 19 December he went to the Literary, Scientific and Mechanics' Institution at Reading, and then two days later read at Sherborne for the Literary Institution; immediately after Christmas he went to Bradford and read on behalf of the Temperance Educational Institution. What a time it was for Institutes and Charitable groups of all kinds; one of the glories of the period lies in the fact that, at a time when the idea of state funding was still in its infancy, it was considered a duty of the average Victorian to support and to encourage the various foundations which were established over the whole country. On all three occasions Dickens had decided to read A Christmas Carol [716]

Discussion Questions

1. One of the most effective passages for provoking the audience's empathy with the poor was the Spirit of Christmas Present's monologue at the bottom of p. 108. What poetic techniques and devices does Dickens employ here to heighten the catharsis, or, as Ackroyd calls it, "group therapy"?

2. What significances could be attached to the scene of Christmas Present closing as the church bells chime twelve?

3. Although the text describes the final scene with Christmas Present as transpiring in "an open place," Leech in his famous illustration has added such telling details as a blighted, blackened tree and towering factory chimneys: why?

4. The original reader would have found this scene all the more affecting by its juxtaposition with the preceding "children's Twelfth Night party." The boy and girl are metaphors based on the author's visit in September, 1843, to the Ragged Schools of Field Lane, Holborn, where he reported to the philanthropist Angela Burdett Coutts his shock at "the dire neglect of soul and body exhibited in these children" (The Pilgrim Edition of the Letters of Charles Dickens, Vol. 3: 562). What, implies the writer in the final scene of Christmas Present are the solutions to the twin problems that the boy and girl represent?

5. The scene both echoes and answers the allegory of the political economist Thomas Malthus of "Nature's Feast" in the 1803 edition of his Essay on the Principle of Population. "The guests learn too late their error" of inviting in the beggars who stand outside the banqueting hall, for "the plenty that before reigned is changed into scarcity" because Nature, "knowing that she could not provide for unlimited numbers, humanely refused to admit fresh comers when her table was already full." How effective is this scene in A Christmas Carol as a rebuttal of Malthus's theories about how to "decrease the surplus population"?

Last modified 12 June 2001