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It's still all change for miser Scrooge

Philip Halcrow notes the 175th anniversary of a classic story

Dickens went to visit a Ragged School and felt the great social injustice

CHARLES DICKENS’S story about a miser being visited by the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Christmas Present and Christmas Yet to Come still haunts people everywhere. A Christmas Carol, which was an instant hit after its publication on 19 December 1843, has been appearing in many guises for 175 years.

It has made its presence felt in countless theatrical productions and on the big screen in live action, animated and musical adaptations.

Tomorrow (Sunday 16 December) Griff Rhys Jones explores it in a BBC Four documentary Charles Dickens and the Invention of Christmas, and on Christmas Day viewers are likely to witness a comedy of errors when it gets mixed in with Shakespeare in a seasonal special of BBC Two sitcom Upstart Crow.

Dickens told a friend that he laughed as he wrote A Christmas Carol but also that he wept. And Dr Keith Hooper, the author of Charles Dickens: Faith, Angels and the Poor tells the War Cry that Dickens began writing the story at a time when ‘he was really angry’.

He says: ‘Dickens went to visit a Ragged School in London which had been set up for poor children, because there was no formal education for them. He saw these 70 children in this little room, and he felt the great social injustice there.

‘About the same time a report had come out about how children who were four, five or six years old were working 90 hours a week in mines and factories.

‘Dickens was going to write an angry letter about it, but it became a story.’

Keith says that a key passage in A Christmas Carol arrives early in the story when Scrooge is approached by two men collecting for the poor. ‘Scrooge asks them: “Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?” Every ratepayer paid the Poor Law, so Scrooge’s argument was that the poor should go into prisons and workhouses.

‘Through the fantastic entertainment of the story, Dickens provides a powerful message that the only thing that would change the plight of the poor was the intervention of individual people.’

Keith agrees with George Orwell that Dickens was a ‘change of heart’ man. He also argues that ‘A Christmas Carol has a very strong Christian message.

‘At the end, Scrooge says: “I am as happy as an angel.” It’s important. It’s not a throwaway line, because there are angels all over Dickens’s work. And then Scrooge goes to church. He’s a changed man.’

Keith believes that A Christmas Carol ‘is seen as the quintessential Christmas story, after the Nativity’.

And, though it may not have any direct link with the nativity story, he sees that there is ‘a strong link to the idea of Christ coming, Christ the redeemer – because, in fact, Scrooge is redeemed, is saved from himself’.

Dickens’s story reminds Keith of an incident recorded in the Bible when Zacchaeus, the cheating tax collector, ‘the worst person in Jericho, who’s ostracised, just as no one likes Scrooge’ was completely changed after Jesus invited himself to his home.

The Bible tells how Jesus declared: ‘Today salvation has come to this house’ (Luke 19:9 New International Version).

It’s a salvation that can forgive anyone’s mistakes of the past, guide them in the present and transform their time yet to come.

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