Added to this linguistic challenge is the fact that Dickens frequently uses lengthy, flowing sentences which can make his writing hard to follow.
Echoes of the Gothic
Despite not being a classic gothic novel (it lacks the brooding, tragic hero), A Christmas Carol has many of the features that make that genre so compelling, and actually breaking with the conventions in the way that this novel does help to make it an interesting read, even though for many of us the story is so familiar that little of the content of the book comes as any sort of surprise.
However, the ghosts are described so vividly that it really brings them to life (excuse the pun). There is no surprise that Dickens is renowned for his characterization as every character seems to jump out of the page and are wonderfully distinct from each other.
The writing style gives a light-hearted edge to proceedings, from the opening rant about whether doornails are the most appropriate piece of ironmongery to represent death through to the scene at Fred’s house where some thinly veiled form of sexual assault is going on. There is some humor throughout this book. It’s just not the brash, in-your-face humor that a modern audience looks for.
It is not just the characters that make A Christmas Carol shine. Critics might point to a rather basic story arch, and yes you could claim that it is predictable or formulaic. But is the reason it appears so because we have become so familiar with the plot over time? Either way, the classic redemption tale has spawned countless adaptations as well as being the base for countless awful pantomimes. Love it or hate it, I feel that the story itself is timeless. There are enough subplots to keep things interesting, and they all tie neatly into the main story arch.
The Bad and the Ugly
While the story lends itself to use as a classic bedtime story (especially around Christmas), unless you are a talented orator, I’d consider reaching for an adapted or abridged version. While literary purists relish Dickens’s long flowing sentences with complex grammatical structure, reading them aloud in a way that makes sense can be a challenge. However, it is a great novel for students. Dickens uses literary devices like they are going out of fashion – and if you have read anything by EL James, there is a chance that they might be. It’s perhaps for this reason that A Christmas Carol is studied as part of the GCSE syllabus in the UK.
Also, some of the descriptions seem a little superfluous. I instantly think of the section where the feast is described. Yes, it is an impressive list and works as a device to portray the enormity of the feast, but if a modern-day writer chose to do this, they would be berated for it. The long descriptions work well when bringing a character to life, but they are overused here.
In summary, I would say that this book deserves its reputation as a classic. The wonderful story combined with the vivid characterizations and the Dickensian humor makes it a charming and short read. Dickens’s detractors will point to the length of some of his works, and thankfully that is not a trap that A Christmas Carol walks into, making it the perfect way to spend a snow day.
A Christmas Carol Review: Dicken's Provides the Spirit of Christmas
Lasting effect on reader
A Christmas Carol Review
Charles Dicken’s endearing novella has withstood the test of time beautifully. Partially due to its timeless story and its theme that still ring true today.
- Charming story
- Compelling main character
- Timeless themes
- Long lists!
- Dated humour
- Sometimes hard to read