A few questions about A Christmas Carol

A few questions about A Christmas Carol

Chesterton claims that  A Christmas Carol is not primarily about Scrooge and his conversion, which Chesterton thinks is mechanical. “The beauty and the real blessing of the story do not lie in the mechanical plot of it, the repentance of Scrooge, probable or improbable: they lie in the great furnace of real happiness that glows through Scrooge and everything around him; that great furnace, the heart of Dickens.” (Charles Dickens, p. 123; find text of the book here) I think that Chesterton gets it half right – indeed the energy of the Carol is “the great furnace of human happiness” as manifested in Christmas cheer and communion. Scrooge longs to warm himself by the furnace of human solidarity. So although the conversion does follow a mechanical process and occurs quickly, Scrooge is longing for reconciliation, as we see from the trajectory of his life. Pope John Paul II explains that the longing for reconciliation requires conversion and penance. The conversion of Scrooge is plausible I would argue because of his longing for reconciliation; he comes face to face with his alone-ness and alienation. And its root is sin. The path to reconciliation is the path of penance.
We must also acknowledge the formulaic account of how Scrooge now becomes “a good friend, a good master, and a good man,” at the end of the story. Is Dickens overly optimistic about human character. But with a deeper analysis I would argue that Dickens is anti-Pelagian and anti-puritanical, and therefore more akin to Augustine in his account of Christian conversion and growth. I have recently been reading Augustine on “The Spirit and the Letter” and “Nature and Grace” and the biography by Peter Brown. Brown says “an act of choice is not just a matter of knowing what to choose: it is a matter in which loving and feeling are involved. . .  Men choose because they love.” And yet we cannot generate our own healing – “the vital capacity to unite feeling and knowledge comes from an area outside man’s power of self-determination. ‘From a depth that we do not see, comes everything you can see.” (373) 

A short passage, not central to the story, fits this notion well. In the travel with the Spirit of Christmas Present, Scrooge flies out in the dark over the sea. On a ship at night he sees and hears men at their posts humming about Christmas and exhibiting a special kindness to others.  The darkness and the depth of sea signify that region beyond human knowledge and power, a region of “surprise” and grace:  “It was a great surprise to Scrooge, while listening to the moaning of the wind, and thinking what a solemn thing it was to move on through the lonely darkness over an unknown abyss, whose depths were secrets as profound as Death: it was a great surprise to Scrooge, while thus engaged, to hear a hearty laugh. It was a much greater surprise to Scrooge to recognise it as his own nephew’s and to find himself in a bright, dry, gleaming room, with the Spirit standing smiling by his side, and looking at that same nephew with approving affability.” The conversion occurs in the abyss and Scrooge returns with love for his nephew.

Brown quotes a passage from Augustine’s tract on John that seems to fit the [new] Scrooge – “Give me a man in love . . give me one who yearns . . but if I speak to a cold man, he just does not know what I am talking about.” To put it more simply – a man must come to delight in holiness – a man must “feel delight in that object, commensurate with its claims on his affections.” (Augustine, Spirit and Letter, §63) Augustine loved to quote  Romans 5.5. – “the love of God is shed into our hearts.” A Christmas Carol is a story about the love of God shed into the heart of Scrooge; he learns to act accordingly.


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