The Displaced Nation

A home for international creatives

CLASSIC DISPLACED WRITING: Dickens — A Christmas Carol


As no points are being handed out for originality (at least, I hope not) this particular edition of Classic Displaced Writing will be yuletide-themed and our text of choice is going to be Dickens’s A Christmas Carol.

I know what a surprise, right?

I am working on the assumption that I needn’t relay to you the basic plot of A Christmas Carol. We’re all familiar with it. Even those who have never picked up the book (and shame on you if you’ve never read it — no matter how good The Muppet Christmas Carol is) will be familiar with the story beats of A Christmas Carol. It has been retold, inverted, and reemphasized since its original publication (168 years ago yesterday, if you are interested). It resonates beyond the Victorian canon, becoming more like a modern myth or fairy tale.

But other than reminding us all of the yuletide season, why feature A Christmas Carol on what is after all an expat-focused blog? Ebenezer Scrooge is most certainly not a character from expat literature, he doesn’t head off to Tuscany to harvest lemons / grow olives / farm terrapins. There’s no cultural misunderstandings with the locals as Scrooge enjoys his year in Provence. Indeed, other than a brief excursion into the English countryside with the Ghost of Christmas Past, this is tale that is contained in the City of London, not venturing beyond the square mile.

So is it just the mulled wine talking or do I have one eye on SEO that leads me to featuring A Christmas Carol in this irregular series? Well, while I may be guilty on both counts there, in the case of Ebenezer Scrooge we have a man who is displaced. Not geographically, but emotionally. The story of his redemption is the story of his realignment with humanity. This is the man we are first introduced to at the beginning of the novella. A man whom beggars, and children, and dogs avoid. He is presented not as a man but as an elemental force, a malevolent wind that blows through Cornhill.

Oh! But he was a tight-fisted hand at the grind-stone, Scrooge! a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster. The cold within him froze his old features, nipped his pointed nose, shrivelled his cheek, stiffened his gait; made his eyes red, his thin lips blue; and spoke out shrewdly in his grating voice. A frosty rime was on his head, and on his eyebrows, and his wiry chin. He carried his own low temperature always about with him; he iced his office in the dog-days; and didn’t thaw it one degree at Christmas.

External heat and cold had little influence on Scrooge. No warmth could warm, no wintry weather chill him. No wind that blew was bitterer than he, no falling snow was more intent upon its purpose, no pelting rain less open to entreaty. Foul weather didn’t know where to have him. The heaviest rain, and snow, and hail, and sleet, could boast of the advantage over him in only one respect. They often “came down” handsomely, and Scrooge never did.

Nobody ever stopped him in the street to say, with gladsome looks, “My dear Scrooge, how are you? When will you come to see me?” No beggars implored him to bestow a trifle, no children asked him what it was o’clock, no man or woman ever once in all his life inquired the way to such and such a place, of Scrooge. Even the blind men’s dogs appeared to know him; and when they saw him coming on, would tug their owners into doorways and up courts; and then would their tails as though they said, “No eye at all is better than an evil eye, dark master!”

But what did Scrooge care! It was the very thing he liked. To edge his way along the crowded paths of life, warning all human sympathy to keep its distance, was what the knowing ones call “nuts” to Scrooge.

By contrast, at the end of A Christmas Carol we have the iconic scene of the reformed miser who with a new-found joie de vivre leaps out of his bed, throws open his window and commands of a passing boy to tell him what day it is. One of the most noticeable aspects of the reformed Scrooge is his ability to now joke with others and find humor in life. It is with laughter and good humor that we show that we are not displaced but are integrated with others. “There is nothing in the world,” writes Dickens, “so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good-humor.”

To return to the scene of the reformed Scrooge awakening on Christmas morning, Alistair Sim with his portrayal of Scrooge in the 1951 film adaptation does an excellent job of depicting the delirious glee and humor of the reformed Scrooge. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that the last action we see of Scrooge is him playing a practical joke on Bob Cratchit.

But he was early at the office next morning. Oh, he was early there. If he could only be there first, and catch Bob Cratchit coming late! That was the thing he had set his heart upon.

And he did it; yes, he did! The clock struck nine. No Bob. A quarter past. No Bob. He was full eighteen minutes and a half behind his time. Scrooge sat with his door wide open, that he see him come into the Tank.

His hat was off, before he opened the door; his comforter too. He was on his stool in a jiffy; driving away with his pen, as if he were trying to overtake nine o’clock.

“Hallo!” growled Scrooge, in his accustomed voice, as near as he could feign it. “What do you mean by coming here at this time of day?”

“I am very sorry, sir,” said Bob. “I am behind my time.”

“You are?” repeated Scrooge. “Yes. I think you are. Step this way, sir, if you please.”

“It’s only once a year, sir,” pleaded Bob, appearing from the Tank. “It shall not be repeated. I was making rather merry yesterday, sir.”

“Now, I’ll tell you what, my friend,” said Scrooge, “I am not going to stand this sort of thing any longer. And therefore,” he continued, leaping from his stool, and giving Bob such a dig in the waistcoat that he staggered back into the Tank again; “and therefore I am about to raise your salary!”

Bob trembled, and got a little nearer to the ruler. He had a momentary idea of knocking Scrooge down with it, holding him, and calling to the people in the court for help and a strait-waistcoat.

“A merry Christmas, Bob!” said Scrooge, with an earnestness that could not be mistaken, as he clapped him on the back. “A merrier Christmas, Bob, my good fellow, than I have given you, for many a year! I’ll raise your salary, and endeavour to assist your struggling family, and we will discuss your affairs this very afternoon, over a Christmas bowl of smoking bishop, Bob! Make up the fires, and buy another coal-scuttle before you dot another i, Bob Cratchit!”

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post by our monthly third-culture kid columnist, Charlotte Day.

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2 responses to “CLASSIC DISPLACED WRITING: Dickens — A Christmas Carol

  1. ML Awanohara December 21, 2011 at 2:51 pm

    @Anthony
    Thanks for quoting that passage from Dickens describing Scrooge: just exquisite! As far as Scrooge’s “displacement” goes, I like your idea of emotional versus geographical displacement. As you say of Scrooge: “The story of his redemption is the story of his realignment with humanity.”

    It’s gotten me thinking that if such a man as Scrooge can displace his lust for money with a love of humankind — and awareness of suffering — then does that mean there’s hope for the 1%?

    Just imagine if some of the wealthiest people in this country were to turn around suddenly and say: “A merrier Christmas, Bob, my good fellow, than I have given you, for many a year! I’ll raise your salary, and endeavour to assist your struggling family…”

    (Dream on, right? But isn’t truth supposed to be stranger than fiction?!)

  2. Tony James Slater December 25, 2011 at 4:01 am

    I suddenly feel inclined to share with you all my own, slightly irreverent, poem about Christmas in Australia. Must be the egg-nog talking – except I haven’t had any egg-nog…

    “Twas the Night Before Christmas (in Australia),
    And all through the house,
    Bloody everything was stirring!
    There were bloody crickets and cockroaches,
    and this one snake big enough to bite yer hand off!
    So I nipped out of bed, grabbed me thongs and give it a right good bashing.
    It didn’t seem too keen after that, so I went straight back to bed.”

    What d’ya think?
    I put it into a pretty piccy here (on Facebook):
    http://on.fb.me/vaPqpb

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