Archive for January, 2009

A CHRISTMAS CAROL – CHARLES DICKENS

Bookgroupers returned to the classics for the holiday season.

No-one would dispute that Dickens is a classic author, just look at the details about dickens here, but I was very surprised by the value that I got from what I had envisaged as a classic fairy tale for kids.

Believing it to be a kids fairy tale i was not surprised to find the characters to be overblown stereotypical representations of various character types. But i was very surprised to find such a strong recognition of my own and other peoples behaviours in these characters, and i was even more surprised to find myself very moved by the fate of these charicatures and to be forced into some reflection of mine own while reading of scrooge doing his repenting and changing.

however, the group more broadly was not so moved though all agreed it was a good and worthwhile read. the bookgroupers, being such warm generous and friendly types, perhaps had less to learn from the ghosts of christmas past, present and future than i did.

interestingly no-one had read the original before – not recently anyway. equally interestingly i dont think any of us read a second dickens. a few, like me, started but didnt finish. this may be more a comment on the length of most of dicken’s other novels rather than their quality or relevance. although in my case (i tried to read hard times) the stereotypical nature of the central character, which in a short supernatural moral tale like a christmas carol was a strength, became a serious flaw in a lengthy novel. it seemed so clear where the novel was going, that is the stereotypical character would get his comeuppence a la scrooge, that i couldnt be bothered reading hundreds of pages to get there.

most significantly, the group discussion revolved more around the historical and cultural impact of the book rather than the book itself. this was probably because everyone knows the story very well so there isnt that much to discuss, whereas the idea that dickens, through this book, created christmas as we now know it was not well known to us.

this really is an interesting point of cultural history that many of us were not aware of prior to reading the book and some material on it. It seems to be a clear example of the power of ideas and literature.

However i think its worth noting that the effect of dicken’s idea, that is as one bookgrouper put it, a secular consumerist christmas rather than a church based christmas is helpful to commerce and capital. so we can put dickens and his version of christmas up there on a shelf with a collection of other new ideas in history such as the work ethic, the separation of church and state, and individualism. all these are ideas that arose in culture, through philosophy or religion, and seemingly propagated unassisted through western countries. In each case however they supported rather than undermined commerce and capital. other ideas seemingly at odds with commerce and capital took longer to catch on, for example freedom for slaves, feminism and ecological thinking.

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January 8, 2009 at 10:02 am Leave a comment


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