Wednesday, December 23, 2015

HGB Podcast Ep. 91 - Charles Dickens and A Christmas Carol

Moment in Oddity - Margorie McCall Buried Twice

Margorie McCall was an Irish woman who died from fever in 1705. As was the custom of the time, she was buried quickly to prevent the spread of the fever that had killed her. Margorie wore a very expensive ring on her finger and due to swelling it was not removed, so she was buried with the ring. Grave robbers heard about the story and decided to unearth her and steal the ring. The evening after she was buried, a couple of grave robbers disinterred Margorie. They had trouble getting the ring off, so they decided it would be best to just cut off the finger that held the ring. Imagine their shock when Margorie let out a shriek of pain. We imagine they might have dropped dead on the spot from fear. Margorie climbed out of her coffin, quite disoriented and bleeding from her hand. She went home. Her husband opened the door when he heard the familiar knock and discovered his wife standing there in her burial clothes, with blood dripping from her hand. He dropped dead from the shock. He was buried in the very grave that Margorie had just vacated. Margorie eventually remarried and had more children. She lived a long life and when she did eventually die she was buried in the same cemetery where she had been buried in the past. Her tombstone reads, "Lived once, buried twice." Now that certainly is odd!

This Day in History - Twas The Night Before Christmas Published
by: Jessica Bell

On this day December 23rd in 1823, a poem titled "A Visit from St. Nicholas" was first published anonymously in the Troy, New York, Sentinel. The poem begins with the first line "Twas the Night Before Christmas" and that is how it is more commonly known. The poem made its way into publication in the Sentinel via a friend of the author, Clement Clarke Moore. Moore was a professor who had originally written the verse for his children, but did not want to acknowledge writing the poem thinking it would make him look less scholarly. Moore himself acknowledged authorship later when he included it in his own book of poems in 1844 at the insistence of his children. The poem is credited with birthing some of the conceptions of Santa Claus from the mid-nineteenth century to today.
'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;

The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;
And mamma in her 'kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled down for a long winter's nap,

When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.

The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below,
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer,

With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name;

"Now, DASHER! now, DANCER! now, PRANCER and VIXEN!
To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!"

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky,
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of toys, and St. Nicholas too.

And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my hand, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.

He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;
A bundle of toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a peddler just opening his pack.

His eyes -- how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow;

The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath;
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook, when he laughed like a bowlful of jelly.

He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself;
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread;

He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the stockings; then turned with a jerk,
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose;

He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,
Charles Dickens and A Christmas Carol (Research Assistant Jessie Harms)

Charles Dickens is the author of many classical novels, but probably his most beloved work is "A Christmas Carol." Christmas would not be Christmas without the tale it would seem in our modern era. Many of us probably never questioned as children why it was that ghosts were sent to teach the angry and obtuse Scrooge the life lessons he must learn. But why did Dickens choose ghosts? Did the idea of telling scary ghost stories originate with him? Join us as we explore the life of Charles Dickens and dive into his beloved classic, "A Christmas Carol, which is obviously quite haunted.

On February 7, 1812, Charles John Huffam Dickens was born to John Dickens and Elizabeth Barrow in Portsmouth, England. Dickens was the second of eight children. John Dickens was a naval clerk and Elizabeth Barrow had aspired to be a teacher and school director. Dickens parents tried to make sure the family had everything they needed; however, the family was considered poor at best. In 1816, the family relocated to Chatham and in 1822 the family moved to Camden. At this point, the family's financial situation was dire and in 1824 Dickens father went to debtors prison. Dickens was just 12 years old at the time. With his father in prison, Dickens dropped out of school and got a job at a boot-blacking factory on the River Thames to help support his family. He earned a wage of 6 shillings a week. Later in his life, Dickens saw the moment he had to drop out of school to get a job as the moment he lost his "youthful innocence".

Dickens later admitted to feeling betrayed and abandoned by the adults who should have been taking care of him. Looking at the themes of his work, one can see a re-occurrence of these themes. Dickens was able to go back to school once his father received an inheritance to pay off the debts. Dickens dropped out of school again when he was 15 years old to help with the family income. This next job was considered the launching point of his literary career. He was working as an office boy. Within a year, Dickens was doing freelance work to report on the courts in London and a few years later he was doing work for two major newspapers in London. In 1836, under the pseudonym "Boz," Dickens began submitting sketches to magazines and newspapers in London. In 1833, the sketches and clippings from the newspapers were published in Dickens first book called "Sketches by Boz." With all of this success it caught the eye of Catherine Hogarth and they were married soon after. Dickens and Hogarth had a brood of 10 children, but unfortunately they were separated in 1858.

Around the time that "Sketches by Boz" was published, Oliver Twist was published. Dickens was inspired to write Oliver Twist because of the life he had lived as a child. The book was received well in both England and America. On December 19, 1843, A Christmas Carol was published. It has remained popular and has been adapted into movies, operas, and musicals over the years. While the phrase "Merry Christmas" was not new, it was made popular with it having been used in the novella. The novella also introduced the usage of the phrases "Scrooge" and "Bah Humbug." Dickens was fighting with his publisher so he financed the publishing of the book and ordered gilt edging, lavish binding and hand-colored illustrations. Despite these expensive upgrades, he priced the book at 5 shillings, so that everyone could afford it. Profits were low, but sales were high. Six thousand copies were sold in its first few days of release.

In 1842, Dickens embarked on his first tour of the United States. At first, it seemed that Dickens enjoyed the fame, but eventually he began to resent the invasion of his privacy. From 1849 to 1850, Dickens worked on "David Copperfield." David Copperfield is not one of Dickens' most well liked novels; however, it is one of Dickens favorite novels. "David Copperfield" was the first novel of its kind and featured a main character that is followed through his daily life.

In 1865, Dickens was in a train accident that he never fully recovered from. Despite this fact, Dickens still continued to tour the countryside until 1870. On June 9, 1870 at Gill's Head Place, Charles Dickens suffered a stroke and died at age 58. This was his country home in Kent, England. Dickens is buried at Poet's Corner at Westminster Abbey. At the time of his death, his last novel "The Mystery of Edwin Drood" was left unfinished.

There are no stories of Charles Dickens' spirit making appearances. He has been used as an inspiration behind ghost tours in Boston around the holiday season. And it would make sense to use the author and his novel "A Christmas Carol," not only because of the holiday theming, but because of the main role that ghosts take in the novel. Christmas had been on the brink of extinction due to the zeal of the Puritans and many credit Dickens and A Christmas Carol along with several other works by different authors for saving Christmas. A Christmas Carol reminded people of traditions that had been important to them in the past. Included in this was the tradition during the Victorian Era of telling ghost stories during the Christmas season.

On our Christmas Special we discuss with Dan Foytik the origins of ghost stories being told during the Christmas season. We trace this practice back much further than the Victorian Era, but it was at this time period that it became most popular. Dickens edited journals that specialized in ghost stories and while he didn't profess to believe in ghosts, he knew that people were very keen on them. So it made sense that his story of redemption at Christmas would contain the supernatural element of ghosts.

First up was Jacob Marley and this is the only spirit that we know to be that from a human. Marley was Scrooge's former partner and he had been dead seven years. He makes a visitation to warn Scrooge that being a jerk will lead him to a tough afterlife. Marley is shrouded in chains and padlocks. And we are told he is transparent. So we have your garden variety ghost here. Recognizable and immaterial. The mood of the novel is perfect for ghosts. The fog is dense to the point that the houses across the street are referred to as "phantoms." When Marley leaves, Scrooge looks outside to see if he can see where he has gone and Scrooge thinks the air appears to be filled with phantoms. He recognizes many of them. The vision seems very personal for him. And it makes us wonder if this is what Hell really is.

The Ghost of Christmas Past is a spirit that seems to be made for this specific purpose and carries an androgynous appearance. It wears a white robe and seems to be material and yet can change its appearance. It has the power to fly Scrooge around and replays his past, so we have something truly supernatural happening here. Something similar to a time slip, which we have surmised is a possible reason for ghost experiences. Scrooge extinguishes the ghost in anger and he finds himself back in his bedroom and no time has passed.

The Ghost of Christmas Present is quite human in appearance, but he is a giant. He reveals that he can change his size to whatever he wants. He comes with a great feast and wears a green robe. This ghost too is able to transport Scrooge around the city and shows him how people are observing Christmas and warns him using the images of two children named Ignorance and Want. He disappears at the stroke of midnight, just as the final ghost comes onto the scene.

The Ghost of Christmas Future is terrifying. To us, he appears as a demon. He rides in like a fog and materializes as a faceless entity draped in a robe. He says nothing, which makes him even more ominous. This entity gives a future premonition of Scrooge's death. It brings gloom and doom with it. It would almost seem that Scrooge was asleep, so did this ghost actually visit in the dream state. We hear similar stories about sleep paralysis. These experiences are terrifying as well. This ghost disappears as Scrooge awakens. This final experience is enough to change Scrooge.

The use of ghosts not only is creative and perfect for the Christmas season, but it gave Dickens the ability to do anything supernatural that he wanted to with this novella. Time is very interesting in "A Christmas Carol." The ghosts explain that they have allotted times and they transverse time. We hear bells chime the time. We come to believe that anything is possible with the supernatural. Dickens really ushered in a new genre and helped solidify the idea that short stories and novellas are perfect for ghost stories.

Do you believe that ghosts can visit us and change the course of our lives? That is for you to decide!

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