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NA332912 - DICKENS, C.: Christmas Carol (A) (Unabridged)
A Christmas Carol, first published in 1843, is the best-known and best-loved of Dickens’ ‘Christmas books’. Indeed, for the English-speaking world the story, characters and themes of this novella have become almost as much part of the Christmas tradition as carols and plum pudding: many film versions (for example) have been made, so that even those who have never read the book will be familiar with Scrooge, the four ghosts and Tiny Tim.
The story is plain enough. Scrooge, the old miser, is visited on Christmas Eve by the ghost of his former partner, Jacob Marley. He, too, had been a tight-fisted materialist, but now comes to warn Scrooge that unless he mends his ways he will be condemned after death to an eternity of suffering in which he will be compelled to witness injustice and misery without being able to alleviate it. The ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future will successively show Scrooge a series of visions. Scrooge is first shown himself as he was, before the desire for wealth corrupted him; this is followed by contrasting views of ‘Christmas Present’; finally, and most terrifyingly, he is shown his own death in the future and the unflattering response to it of those who had known him. It will come as no surprise to say that Scrooge triumphs over his own inhumanity…
The whole story, in fact, is built on elements of strong, simple contrast. The intensely selfish values of Scrooge and Marley are set against the pure morality of the spirits but also (more memorably) against the cheerful Christian charity embodied by two families—his nephew’s and that of his clerk, Bob Cratchit. Significantly, the Cratchits are almost penniless, yet still find something joyful in their meagre celebrations: our sympathy for them is increased by the fact that one of the children, Tiny Tim, is frail, moves on crutches and seems to be not long for this world. If this seems shamelessly sentimental on Dickens’ part—and it is—it is nevertheless true that few listeners are likely to remain unmoved by the Cratchit story. Without wishing to overload A Christmas Carol with undue thematic weight, it is perhaps worth noting that what drives the narrative, as almost always in Dickens, is a powerful yearning for the sort of stable, loving family life which the author himself never experienced, either as child or adult. The effect of this, in conjunction with Dickens’ stylistic and story-telling wizardry, is to make genuinely moving what would otherwise be intolerably sentimental. A Christmas Carol is, in fact, a small masterpiece. Charles Dickens was born in 1812 in Portsmouth. His father was imprisoned for debt and the twelve-year-old Charles sent to work in a blacking-factory: these experiences influenced (for instance) Little Dorrit and David Copperfield. Having learnt shorthand, he became a parliamentary reporter and began to submit magazine pieces. In 1837 The Pickwick Papers brought Dickens fame, and the rest of his literary career was almost uninterruptedly successful. His personal life was less happy: eventually he separated from his wife Catherine, partly as a result of his growing intimacy with Ellen Ternan, the actress, and he died relatively young in 1870, his last novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, unfinished.
Notes by Perry Keenlyside
The music on this recording is taken from the NAXOS catalogue
The Mystery of Christmas
CASELLA Paganiniana • Serenata • La Giara Suite
Music programming by Nicolas Soames
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