Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body Joseph Addison, English Essayist, Poet, Dramatist and Statesman. 1672 - 1719

'Clarice's Book Page' is the 'reading room' of the 'Elizannie' page at:

Monday, 11 May 2015

History Lessons. Why really all should have voted for the Labour Party on May 7th.

This blog is a joint production of the terrible twins Elizannie and Clarice and appears on both their blog sites. If that seems a little odd, well so do the events of May 7th to the writers.

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As Elizannie has have been having a bit of a blog overload in the aftermath of May 7th, she has decided to let Clarice help out for this one. After all she should know more about History and English Lit having lectured for the WEA on both subjects [plus Popular Culture] for many years.

In a discussion with their cousin about what may come next after the May 7th result, it was decided that now history is not a compulsory subject on the school curriculum, perhaps not enough voters on Thursday realised what it was like to live in the patriarchal, capitalist society of the 19thC where money said everything about an individual down to the fact that the poor were showing God's disapproval by being poor and the rich his approval by their riches. This was further extended by having the 'deserving poor' - allowed to receive the charity of the rich [quite often the leavings from their table] and the undeserving poor. The rich were morally bound to reinvest their business profits/wages and by becoming even richer  showed even more God's approval of their life style - which included of course their treatment of the poor and this would extend to the minimum wages paid to employees [dare I add zero contracts?] If an employee became ill/unable work, well basically hard luck. Obviously some sort of sinning somewhere along the line as God once again is showing his disapproval. [An awful lot of sibulance in that sentence. A bit more effort could do something with that]

To reinforce this 'God Given Right', think of the words of the third verse of 'All Things Bright and Beautiful' by Mrs Alexander. Now no longer sung in our churches, it was sung by rich and poor alike in churches up until the 1970s/80s:
The rich man in his castle,
The poor man at his gate,
God made them high and lowly,
And ordered their estate.

This blog is also a homage to the wonderful singer and socialist, our mate Roy Bailey and his 'gigging mate' the equally wonderful but sadly late Tony Benn . They used to perform a wonderful 'gig' which we saw on many occasions, singing along in our cracked voices, which was basically the history of dissent with songs provided by Roy and narration by Tony. Luckily everyone can still enjoy and learn from their inspiration by following this link .

So it was decided that perhaps a reading list should be provided of 19thC and early 20thC novels which would provide a fictional but accurate overview of the differences between rich and poor in this country, which was becoming more affluent in the light of the industrial revolution. But that affluence was not shared by all who produced it. To make a profit three parts are needed: production; investment; labour. The suppliers of the first two were enriched exponentially, the suppliers of the third actually became worse off it their living conditions and welfare is taken into account. And because there was an ever increasing pool of labour [sound familiar] due to the agricultural revolution with workers flooding into the newly growing industrial towns from the countryside, any industrial revolt would be pretty pointless.

Clarice has been awful lazy of late. So she promises that she will go through the list and 'review' each novel in turn in a socio historical way. And so she should. You will notice no Marx is included. Although he may be referred to in the footnotes... but only as are other 19th/20thC commentators and politicians.

So this is the list, no particular order, no particular preference:

19th Century
Mary Barton                         Elizabeth Gaskell
Shirley                                 Charlotte Bronte

A Christmas Carol                  Charles Dickens
Felix Holt                              George Eiliot
Sybil or Two Nations              Benjamin Disraeli
Hard Times                           Charles Dickens
The Nether World                  George Gissing
A Child of the Jago                 Arthur Morrison
Dombey and Son                   Charles Dickens

20th Century
The Ragged Trousered             
Philanthropists                        Robert Tressell
Love on the Dole                     Walter Greenwood
Tono-Bungay                          H.G.Wells
People of the Abyss                 Jack London 

Some, more modern, but giving a good historical overview:
Rape of the Fair Country           Raymond Cordell
How Green was my Valley         Richard Llewellyn
Animal Farm                            George Orwell
Fame is the Spur                      Howard Spring


Blog dedicated to all those Labour Activists who worked so hard in the weeks leading up to 7th May 2015 including Roy Bailey and Elizabeth Ann Mills. It was not in vain.

Sunday, 10 February 2013

A Short Literary Tour of parts of Wales!

Photo of Dylan Thomas' home - The Boathouse - in Laugharne. Courtesy Paul Bailey.

Well I am sad to realise how long it is since I have put pen to paper metaphorically and written anything on this blog. Lot of good reasons like family weddings and christenings, prolonged tours of Great Britain and various activisms are really not good enough but here is a little catch up of one of our tours with appropriate reading material!

A winter tour of South and West Wales may seem inappropriate to many but sometimes winter excursions are more fun than a warm weather tour. Contrary yes, but despite the warm clothing it is easier to get around what can be in the summer heavily populated tourist spots and one gets to talk to curators, guides, stewards etc who in busier times one is lucky just to spot in passing!

There are lots of brilliant Welsh authors and this blog cannot be about all of them. Additionally, some of the books mentioned are not even by Welsh authors but this is just a 'postcard' from my holiday reading and pilgrimages [that last is a pun which will become obvious shortly...]

We were snowed in for one afternoon and night in the lovely general area of Carmarthen. Luckily we had a bit of warning and although I had packed my kindle and some books I thought I had better buy some more books in the local Waterstones 'just in case' [a readeraholic does not need an excuse to buy more books after all!]

Waterstones have a book club so I stood looking at the display stand and chose a couple of titles. Got back to the warmth of the hotel as the snow began to pile up outside and opened The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce. And I honestly didn't stop until I finished it. I grudgingly ate my dinner whilst still reading it and had a few warm drinks absent mindedly. Other Half watched what he liked on TV and had sole use of the laptop in the peace and quiet. A difficult book to describe - certainly a book about one man's road journey which is also about the journey he takes back into his past and to an extent the journey which his wife at home takes along a parallel road into her past. There is a lovely review of the novel and more about Rachel Joyce here

We were staying not far from Dylan Thomas' last home in Laugharne. Despite spending a lot of time over the years in South Wales, I had never managed to get to Laugharne so we braved the snowy conditions to visit the Boathouse on a really cold day. The custodian said we were the first people for two days to arrive and we were able to sit with him and have a great chat -about Dylan Thomas, Bob Dylan and Welshness amongst other things. As I have taught Dylan Thomas I had most of the books on display and for sale but I did buy his daughter Aeronwy's book My Father's Places which is a warts and all picture of her memories of her father, who died when she was only ten. Fascinating read.

Walking around Laugharne [despite the biting cold!] one could imagine the characters and places of Dylan's Under Milk Wood and if it had been warmer maybe I would have posed for some soppy looking pictures pretending to be various characters! However Other Half did catch a quite soulful looking snap of me looking out of Brown's Hotel window - where Dylan Thomas used to drink - although I was drinking hot milk rather than his favourite tipple of beer!

Courtesy Paul Bailey

As a county Carmarthenshire of course has its share of great Welsh authors who were born or lived in the county [including Richard Hughes, Raymond Garlick, just to start] Being me, of course, I am going to celebrate an obscure one: Anne Adalisa Evans who wrote under the pen name of Allen Raine.

Very few of her novels are in print, and a few more are available on kindle but if you can access them and are into Victorian fiction with a Welsh style giving a taste of life in the 19th century Welsh countryside and a side swipe of morality this is for you! Knowing that 'Allen Raine' was born in Newcastle Emlyn took us there sightseeing, where we found a charming village and a ruined castle which added to our delight!

When we are on one of our road trips we of course need to stop off at a few historic houses and Dinefwr Park and Castle in Llandeilo could not be passed by. And what was more natural than I should spend some time perusing the bookshelves in the library to see what the toffs were reading in the last century?

Samuel Smiles is of course nowadays mostly remembered for his work Self Help which is so often quoted as epitomising 'Victorian Values' - especially those of the emerging middle class! A link to an etext can be found here. I often used to quote it when lecturing on Victorian Fiction. The book above, Industrial Biography, can be downloaded here if, like me, you are interested in the Industrial Revolution and the men who led it.

Travelling along the M4 to further places in Wales, I had so often glanced longingly at Castell Coch and wished we could stop and visit. A TV programme a few years ago showed some of the brilliant restoration/decoration in the Arts & Crafts style that had been undertaken in the  late19th century which had piqued my interest even more. So staying near by meant we could at last make a planned visit to the Castell, now in the guardianship of CADW.

Castell Coch frontside January midday.jpg
Photo courtesy wikipedia

Castell Coch was one of those places where one wanted to just sit and look! for hours! We are great afficinados of the Arts and Crafts movement so the decorations are just to our taste [although they would look a bit over the top in our suburban house, although I am working on Other Half to finish our hallway in the style of, shown below]

Nice piece of Artex ceiling ?
Courtesy Paul Bailey

One of those 'well I never knew that' moments occurred on reading the guide book. I found that that Disraeli had based his novel Lothlair on the then owner of Castell Coch, the Marquess of Bute who was responsible for the renovations and decorations. This is a Disraeli novel which I have never read so again the trusty kindle proved a good friend and I downloaded a copy! A link to an online text of the novel can be found here.

Photo courtesy of

A visit to the villages where my ancestors were born, baptised, married and are buried is always necessary when we are in Wales. And of course we have our favourite pub in one because it supplies such good food. Even our grandchildren know it now and the regulars! It is in the tiny mountain top village of Llangynwyd and has its own literary connections. It was the home to Wil Hopcyn who is said to have written the haunting Welsh folk song Bugeilio'r Gwenith Gwyn about his doomed love affair with the Maid of Cefn Ydfa [Ann Thomas] Both Ann and Wil are buried in the village. The song lives on, is still taught to school children and has been recorded on many Welsh choral records as well as by stars like Tom Jones and bands like Catatonia. A really lovely recording by Mary Hopkins can be heard here. It is one of the songs of my childhood.

Travelling home through the old coal mining valleys of the Rhondda and the Afan always reminds me of  the writer who was once so popular but is now also mostly out of print - Jack Jones. The only book that I could find that is still in print on was Black Parade . I can remember my mother loving his books in the 1950s and borrowing them again and again  from the local library.

One of the books I had packed to read on my travels had been purchased as a result of an earlier road trip when we visited Portmeirion in North Wales. We had never watched the cult 1960s TV series The Prisoner which was set in Portmeirion, but never the less had heard so much about the village that we wanted to visit. In the bookshop there at the time the latest 'Josephine Tey mystery' by Nicola Upson was prominently featured as it is set in the village in the 1930s. It is also surprisingly contemporary in that it features Alfred Hitchcock and Alma Reville - the subjects of the upcoming film Hitchcock [which however is set in the 1950s/60s] 


Portmeirion has other literary and artistic links, some of which are discussed here.

There are so many other Welsh authors to whom I haven't paid tribute. So many exciting new authors as well as older ones who stand the test of time. Subject for more blogs - I won't leave it so long next time....


Friday, 16 March 2012

Roger and Val Have Just Got In

To the disgust of Eldest Daughter, I have never been a great fan of Dawn French. Neither her comedic or straight acting. The first series of Roger and Val Have Just Got In made me think slightly differently, although I would have reserved any grand bouquets for Alfred Molina as 'Roger' for best actor and of course the writers Emma Kilcoyne and Beth Kilcoyne for such wonderful, intuitive writing. But whilst not forgetting that the idea for the series originated with Dawn French.

The second series has been for me a real relevation. Dawn French has out acted everyone [well since there were only two of them, and since 'everyone' until the last episode comprised the fabulous Alfred Molina, that could sound like damning with faint praise. But Dawn French really was GREAT!]

Goodness, I am using an awful lot of superlatives! But watching a series like this makes me wish I was still lecturing. If you haven't watched any episodes yet, you do have a treat in store. How do I describe Roger and Val Have Just Got In to you?

Maybe it is easier to tell you what the two series [first one shown in 2010, second one finished this week, both on BBC2. I believe the first series is being re-shown on UK Gold at the moment] are not. They are not the sort of 'comedy/drama sit-coms' that one may expect. First of all no studio audience or canned laughter. Any humour is the gentle, embarassing sort - the sort of things that we might recognise from our own domestic lives. Secondly there are - apparently - no big issues over which the couple argue or spend time discussing. There are not any glamourous, 'set' scenes. No grand reconciliations when there has been a falling out.

Each half-hour episode covers in real time the first half hour when the 'ordinary' married couple, Roger & Val, return home after their day out of the house - usually at their individual employments but sometimes other activities. It comprises the conversations and little quibbles that occur when two people who have lived together for years but are both tired, irritated maybe and also have underlying 'issues'. These are happening as small domestic jobs are carried out. Sound boring? It really isn't!

However as the first series developed the viewer realised that there was something underlying this marriage that the death of Roger's father was bringing back to the surface, something very deep and important. And the last episode of the first series made one want to go back and watch it all again for all the 'clues' and revel in the clever writing and planning. [If I sound enigmatic it is because I am trying to keep to the 'spoiler alert' rules!]

The second series started with the return from a family wedding. The balance between Roger and Val seemed to have shifted subtly because Roger is now trying to keep his job and Val is looking to promotion. But an additional underlying emotional,family 'issue' which sort of parallels but opposes that which surfaced in the last series begins to take over. Even Other Half got capitivated by this series and the final denouement was - and at the risk of sounding really over the top - was magical. [And had nothing to do with the fact that two old hippies were made very happy by hearing 'We Shall Overcome' being sung, albeit from inside a Wendy House] The connotation of the Wendy House with Peter Pan, the little boy who never grew up, and that implication was not missed. You can see why I wish I was still lecturing. I could have got this into both my English Lit courses and my Popular Culture days.....

I really hope that there is not a third series. No-one should attempt to improve perfection. Thank you Dawn French.

Another blog which shows that Essex girls appreciate great writing and acting. Elaine comes from the north of the County and I from the south east. She lives on the River Colne, I on the Thames Estuary. So don't believe all you see on TOWIE....

Photograph courtesy of Metro

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Happy Birthday Mr Dickens!

Dedicated to my friend Joan from the US, who stood with me at the National Portrait Gallery looking at the young Dickens with tears in her eyes. Hope you feel better soon.

Try to imagine a world if Charles Dickens had not been born 200 years ago today. Think of all those characters and the phrases associated with them, often referred to in ordinary conversation, that would have to be replaced:
Jarndyce and Jarndyce; Uriah Heep and his 'umbleness;
Mr Micawber and his famous quotation:
Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen pounds
nineteen and
six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual
expenditure twenty
pounds ought and six, result misery.

Think about those characters whose names became household words or gave rise to things now enshrined in popular culture:
'Sarah Gamp' - whose surname became synomous for an umbrella.
'Dolly Varden' - who inspired a fashion style, which in turn gave rise to popular songs etc in the late 19th century.
'Sam Weller' and 'Samuel Pickwick' - between these two there have been over the years several household items named for them and the adjective 'Pickwickian' and several Christmas card scenes can be traced back to the book The Pickwick Papers!

Other authors could not always leave Dickens alone:
Oscar Wilde said:
One must have a heart of stone to read the death of little Nell without laughing.
William Thackerary, who was knonw to turn a harsh phrase at many a writer, said about A Christmas Carol that
Who can listen to objections regarding such a book as this? It seems to me a national benefit, and to every man or woman who reads it, a personal kindness

Anthony Trollope satirised Dickens as 'Mr Popular Sentiment' in The Warden.

Certainly Dickens detractors have criticised him for illustrating problems without proposing curative measures. But the mere fact he alerted Victorian Britain to its shortcomings meant others like Lord Salisbury picked up the baton and ran with it [Olympic metaphor in 2012] to lobby for and make the parliamentary changes.
Dickens did a lot of charitable work himself, founding a home for Fallen Women with Angela Burdett-Coutts and Dickens did pick his targets. He wrote A Christmas Carol after several societal ills had been massing in his mind including the Royal Commission on on the working of the Cornish Tin Mines which showed the iniquity of children's working and his concerns on the conditions of the working classes generally. [Also in October 1843 Dickens had been fund raising for the Manchester poor, sharing a platform with Disraeli and Cobden, and speaking about Ragged Schools which he had visited during the previous month] Little Dorrit satirises the awful supplies system to the military in the Crimean War where stocks rotted not far away from where soldiers were dying from need. Bleak House illustrates the verbosity of a legal system which in the end favours only those who practise the law and not those who need its help.

Many biographical facts about Dickens are known now, thanks to the biographies written in the years since his death in 1870, which were unknown in his lifetime. F'r instance we now know that his childhood was not as happy as it could have been due to his father's 'liberality' with money [like Mr Micawber] and how Dickens was set to work in a factory at a very early age. This was a secret which Dickens guarded during his lifetime. We also are led to believe that Dickens was not a good husband and father, certainly he had a least one mistress in Ellen Ternan. However the affair with Ellen seems to have been a real love affair. When judging Dickens we should try to do it with 19th century eyes and taking all facts into consideration!

So I want to thank you Mr Dickens if you are listening to me for all the pleasure you have given me with your writings over the years so far. I miss you and may you sleep gently.
Picture above courtesy of the Charles Dickens Museum, London

Thursday, 19 January 2012

If It Wasn't For The 'ouses In Between

Something my twin Elizannie has written on her blog inspired me to remind you all of this lovely old music hall song by Edgar Bateman and George LeBrunn. Sung in 1899 by Gus Elen [photo courtesy of wikipedia as linked]

If you saw my little backyard
"Wot a pretty spot", you'd cry
It's a picture on a sunny summer day
Wiv the turnip tops and cabbages
Wot people doesn't buy
I makes it on a Sunday look all gay

The neighbours finks I grow 'em,
And you'd fancy you're in Kent
Or at Epsom if you gaze into the mews
It's a wonder as the landlord
Doesn't want to raise the rent
Because we have such nobby distant views

Oh! it really is a wery pretty garden
And Chingford to the Eastward could be seen
Wiv a ladder and some glasses
You could see to 'Ackney Marshes
If it wasn't for the 'ouses in between

We're as countrified as can be
Wiv a clothes prop for a tree
The tub-stool makes a rustic little stile
Ev'ry time the blooming clock strikes
There's a cuckoo sings to me
And I've painted up "To Leather Lane A Mile"

Wiv tomatoes and wiv radishes
Wot 'adn't any sale
The backyard looks a purfick mass o' bloom
And I've made a little beehive
Wiv some beetles in a pail
And a pitchfork wiv the 'andle of a broom

Oh! it really is a wery pretty garden
And Rye 'Ouse from the cock-loft could be seen
Where the chickweed man undresses
To bathe 'mong the water cresses
If it wasn't for the 'ouses in between

There's the bunny shares his egg box
Wiv the cross-eyed cock and hen
Though they 'as got the pip and him the 'morf
In a dog's 'ouse on the line-post
There was pigeons, nine or ten
Till someone took a brick and knocked it off

The dust cart though it seldom comes
Is just like 'Arvest 'Ome
And we made to rig a dairy up some'ow
Put the donkey in the wash'ouse
Wiv some imitation 'orns,
For we're teaching im to moo just like a kah

Oh! it really is a wery pretty garden
And 'Endon to the westward could be seen
And by clinging to the chimbley
You could see across to Wembley
If it wasn't for the 'ouses in between

Though the gasworks is at Woolwich
They improve the rural scene
For mountains they would very nicely pass
There's the mushrooms in the dust-hole
With the cowumbers so green
It only wants a bit 'o 'ot 'ouse glass

I wears this milkman's nightshirt
And I sits outside all day
Like the ploughboy cove what's mizzled o'er the Lea
And when I goes indoors at night
They dunno what I say
'Cause my language gets as yokel as can be

Oh! it really is a wery pretty garden
And soapworks from the 'ousetops could be seen
If I got a rope and pulley
I'd enjoy the breeze more fully
If it wasn't for the 'ouses in between

Monday, 2 January 2012

Happy New Year

I will let Ella Wheeler Wilcox* in her 1909 poem wish in the New Year 2012 to you all, she does it better than I can! Wishing you all Happiness, Joy, Peace and Love.

New Year: A Dialogue
Ella Wheeler Wilcox (1909)

“The night is cold, the hour is late, the world is bleak and drear;
Who is it knocking at my door?”

“I am Good Cheer.”

“Your voice is strange; I know you not; in shadows dark I grope.
What seek you here?”

“Friend, let me in; my name is Hope.”

“And mine is Failure; you but mock the life you seek to bless. Pass on.”

“Nay, open wide the door; I am Success.”

“But I am ill and spent with pain; too late has come your wealth. I cannot use it.”

“Listen, friend; I am Good Health.”

“Now, wide I fling my door. Come in, and your fair statements prove.”

“But you must open, too, your heart, for I am Love.”

*Ella Wheeler Wilcox, American Poet, 1850 - 1919. Photography courtesy of the website:

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

A Christmas Carol

Over on the Elizannie blog a look at Dickens' story from the sociological point of view has taken place, but lots of literary comments had to be left out, so here I am attempting to re-dress the balance!

A Christmas Carol was written in 1843, and it touched readers' hearts then and continues to do so today, although now it is not just through the written word but through stage and film adaptations, audio versions via CD and radio. Many people know the story of how a miserable man - Scrooge - who did not have any feelings of humanity or kindness towards others was shown the error of his ways by the Ghosts of Christmas and by the end of the story not only is filled with the spirit of Christmas Goodwill but became a better human being altogether.

First of all let's start with a Trivial pursuit question! How many ghosts are there in A Christmas Carol? Most people answer three: The Ghosts of Christmas past, Christmas present and Christmas future/yet to come. However the 'official' answer in quizzes is four - including Marley of course. But when Marley leaves and Scrooge looks out of the window he sees many ‘spectres’ outside. And don’t forget the ghostly hearse going up the stairs as Scrooge enters his house!

Although nowadays we think of a 'carol' as being a Christmas song, the definition of the word is a song of joy or praise. So the title A Christmas Carol must signify a joyful song about Christmas or the Christmas ideal. By the end of the story this certainly becomes true. The ‘Carol’ imagery is carried on throughout the story, with staves used instead of chapter headings. This was definately an interesting/unusual literary device for the time. [Something that Dickens’ friend Wilkie Collins - and other authors in other ways - would later do in a different way by laying out one of his novels like a play in ‘Acts’] But almost revolutionary for an author like Dickens to do this in 1843.

Let's look at the three Christmas Ghosts a little more closely:

· The Ghost of Christmas Past
Sounds somewhat like a candle which at the end their ‘trip’ together Scrooge snuffs out. It was a Christmas custom to light a candle on Christmas eve. This Spirit shows the reader the reason for Scrooge's actions but does not excuse him
· The Ghost of Christmas Present
A representation of Father Christmas*. Victorian Father Christmases were dressed in any colour robes. This ghost shows Scrooge what he is missing by his actions but also offers a warning in the shape of the two children: Ignorance and Want – Dickens’ warning about the effects of the squalid conditions of the Industrial Revolution and exploitation of labour could have on the very poor
· The Ghost of Christmas Future
An awful warning and also reminiscent of Old Father Time. And in fact he foretells Scrooge’s unmourned and lonely death unless he mends his ways.

There are a lot of Dickens' autobiographical details in the story. Because the young Dickens experienced so much hardship and poverty during his early life, his writing about social inequalities is often based on his own past. It could be that the Cratchit’s house is modelled on the small house at 16 Bayham Street in Camden Town where Dickens lived at the age of ten and the six Cratchit children mirror Dickens' brothers and sisters - Tiny Tim may be based on Dickens' youngest, poorly brother who was known as “Tiny Fred”'. Dickens was a pupil at Wellington House Academy, Hampstead Road, London which may be the model for the school Scrooge went to. It is set in
a little market-town . . . with the bridge, its church, and winding river.
Johnson in “About ‘A Christmas Carol’” (Dickensian 1931) identifies this description as referring to Strood, Rochester, and the river Medway, where Dickens spent part of his childhood. Johnson also noted that Dickens erased the word “castle” from the original manuscript, an apparent reference to Rochester Castle. [Michael Patrick Hearn, The Annotated Christmas Carol, 88] Like Scrooge, Dickens had a sister called Fan[ny]

The women in A Christmas Carol are unusual for Dickens, who often had a ‘silly’ woman in his novels who probably represented his mother, Elizabeth Dickens – think of Mrs Nickleby, Dora Copperfield, Bleak House etc although these are often balanced by a strong woman like Agnes Copperfield, Betsy Trotwood etc. But in A Christmas Carol the woman are quite pro-active: Fan, Belle, Mrs Cratchit all speak up for themselves. Even the laundress and the cleaning women have a certain something! Victorian readers would have picked up ‘hints’ about the ‘interesting condition’ of Mrs Fred:
‘Scrooge’s niece was not one of the blind–man’s buff party, but was made comfortable with a large chair and a footstool’
‘Dear heart alive, how his niece by marriage started. Scrooge had forgotten, for the moment, about her sitting in the corner with the footstool, or he wouldn’t have done it, on any account.’
The children in A Christmas Carol are more typical of the 'Dickens' type of child', although like Rose in Oliver Twist, Tiny Tim does not die. However Tim is like many ‘too good to be true’ children in Dickens novels who do usually die: Paul Dombey, Little Nell. Tim is rather like Oliver Twist in that he seems to have an almost angelic streak. Dickens is playing up to the Victorian ‘ideal’ that children were born good or bad, and Tim – again like Oliver Twist and Paul Dombey – seems to have been born able to spout words of pious wisdom!

Bear with me here, because I am going to talk about another little quirk of mine: Evidence of Time Travel in the story! The chronology of the story does not ‘work’ if we try to be sensible! Scrooge and Marley don’t part until 2 o’clock on Christmas morning and the first Ghost is not ‘due’ until one o’clock the next day [Boxing Day], the second at one o’clock on the 27th and the third at midnight on the 28th. Scrooge does say
‘Couldn’t I take ‘em all at once, and have it over, Jacob?’ hinted Scrooge
However Scrooge awakens at two o’clock and then at all the other times and finally awakes on Christmas morning, crying
‘It’s Christmas Day!’ said Scrooge to himself. ‘I haven’t missed it! The Spirits have done it all in one night. They can do anything they like.’
Another ‘hint’ for time travel: When the Ghost of Christmas past takes Scrooge to see himself as a child at school we read:
“The panels shrunk, the windows cracked; fragments of plaster fell”
This is the sort of 'effect' which suggests the image of 'unbuilding' of the apartment which surrounds Scrooge, taking it back in time in fact. This effect has been used in other novels and films, particularly by H. G. Wells in The Time Machine (1895) and in film versions of that book.

For modern children, there are also suggestions of super hero qualities in the Ghosts' interactions with Scrooge because they have the power to:
  • Look through walls and roofs
  • Change the future if not the past
  • Circle the earth
  • Do all these things in one night moreover!!!

There are so many Film/TV Versions of the Novel, nearly 100 at last count. I should be [but I am not] ashamed to say that I own about 6o, the earliest [version not the film] dating from 1901. There are of course also many audio/cassette versions and some can be downloaded from the internet and put on mp3 players.

Of course dramatisations often either show scenes that are not in the original or omit ones which are:

Not in the original story:
· Scrooge eating with the Cratchits: he didn’t and that would have ruined the scene on Boxing Day when Bob turns up late for work and Scrooge pretends to sack him!
· In the Alastair Sim version he is shown dancing with his housekeeper on Christmas morning – lovely thought though this is it didn’t happen! No housekeeper in the book! The whole point is that up until the spirits visit, Scrooge is alone. In the 1935 Seymour Hicks version a housekeeper is also shown [Athene Syler] bringing in his breakfast and again that is an ‘invention’.

Omitted from the original story:
· Scrooge is not often shown eating alone in a tavern/coffee house on his way home from work on Christmas Eve. The Seymour Hicks version shows this.
· The couple who are not to be evicted because Scrooge has died are often omitted
· When the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come shows the grieving Cratchits it is often not made clear that Tiny Tim has only just died and is in fact still not yet buried and additionally this is not the same year that we are ‘seeing’ the grave stone etc of Scrooge – remember the Time Travel elements!

The book is written with lots of allusions to light and dark/fog/shadows and looking into and out of scenes – in and out of windows and behind curtains for example. Thus it is very ‘filmic’ as it were - and although we know that Dickens loved theatricals and wasn’t averse to the odd bit of acting himself it is odd to think that he knew nothing about what a gift A Christmas Carol would be to film-makers. It has been filmed almost constantly since 1901. Sadly I own lots of versions... Rather than subject you all to a long dissertation on the relative merits of teach, here are just a few of my subjective comments!:
o Best: Patrick Stewart 1999/ Muppets 1992 [where Dickens – played by Gonzo the puppet - is the narrator!]
o Worst: Brer Rabbit's Christmas Carol/ Carry on Christmas 1969
o Genre: Ballet/Opera and apparently a County & Western version called Skinflint: A Country Christmas Carol (1979) (TV) which hardly anyone has ever seen…..
o Animated: ‘Themed’ include: Mr Magoo, The Flintstones, All Dogs, Jetsons, Mickey Mouse and others
o Puppets: The Muppets, Sesame Street
o Quirky: Scrooged, An American Christmas [set in the 1920]s, Ebenezeer [a western with Jack Palance].
o Feminist’: Where Scrooge is female [Mostly American] with Ms Scrooge; Ebbie 1995; A Diva’s Christmas Carol; A Carol Christmas; A Bad Girls Christmas special
o The Disney 3D version, really good special effects but no use to those like me with neuro problems who are not allowed to watch 3D films.....
o A 'time travel'/sci fi version with Dr Who
o Some subvert the idea: It’s a Wonderful Life, Black Adder’s Christmas Carol
o There has even been an Easter ‘sequel’: An Easter Carol which was made an animation made in 2004

The context of the times in which any version has been made can show in that adaptation.
Although I have been talking about the effect of A Christmas Carol continuing throughout our society across the years, the film versions show a reverse in the sense that what was prevailing at the times when a film adaptation was made often affected the way that adaptation was made. To illustrate, just a quick example from a few of the many films adaptations, some of which will certainly be shown over the new few weeks at a TV channel near you! Please note that titles such as ‘A Christmas Carol’ or ‘Scrooge’ may change/be interchangeable depending which side of the Atlantic one is on!

Scrooge [1935]: The ‘Sir Seymour Hicks version’
This was filmed at the time of the depression and the hunger marches and there is a scene where the poor/unemployed are looking through a window into the ‘other world’ of the rich at a function which could be somewhere like the Mansion House, where there is dancing and feasting. When the loyal toast is sung, those inside and outside sing ‘God Save the King’ - an attempt to show the 'unity' of the two groups. At Christmas 1935 King George had been ill for nearly a year and died in the January of 1936.

Scrooge [1951] aka A Christmas Carol – USA: The ‘Alec Guiness version’
This film was made at a time of optimism, at the time of things improving after a World War unlike the previous film which was heading toward a world war. Rationing was still about and that is reflected in the fact that food is not focused upon at all in any of the scenes as in the last film. But this was a time also of events like the Festival of Britain and Scrooge’s excitement and optimism at the end reflect that. The humour is quirky. It added in several scenes not in the book including a 'new' employer – Jorkins played by Jack Warner – who ‘poached’ Scrooge from Fezziwig and almost ‘taught’ Scrooge bad ways; the death scene of Fan, Scrooge’s sister and added to the school scene by claiming that Scrooge and Fan’s mother had died in childbirth with Scrooge when in fact Fan was the younger child. As said before, the housekeeper is fictitious – but all the more fun because she is played by Kathleen Harrison!

Scrooge [1970]: The ‘Albert Finney musical version’
This version was trying to capitalize on the success of Oliver! but kind of missed the boat – it has been said that the only good song is ‘Thank you very much’. In a lot of ways the musical does connote late 69s/early 70s musicals. It is not the only musical version but I do prefer that of the Muppets! Albert Finney is excellent as Scrooge although he seems to have based Scrooge on Albert Steptoe [if you remember him...] – but the fact that he is too young [34] for the part does shine through. Originally Rex Harrison [it was not that long after his success in My Fair Lady] was going to take the part but he had to rest on doctor’s orders. One wonders how different the film would have been with him as Scrooge. Richard Harris also rejected the part.

There is a definite ‘Swinging 60s’ zeitgeist in the Ghost of Christmas Present sitting on a magnificent pile of food and in the crowd scenes when Anton Rogers leads the singing of ‘Thank You Very Much’ on the death of Scrooge and actually dances to it on Scooge’s coffin [bad taste!] An extra scene of Scrooge going to hell is very sci fi orientated [2001 Space Odyssey inspired?] with a wonderful Alec Guiness as Marley’s ghost. ‘Thank You Very Much’ becomes good taste when Scrooge dubiously decks himself out as Father Christmas at the end and gives away wonderful Christmas Presents to the Cratchit family and then goes out in the street and destroys everyones’ debts!

A Christmas Carol [1984]: The ‘George C. Scott version’
Filmed in Shrewsbury at a time when Merchant Ivory films were the vogue so it is ‘costume drama’ at its most intense – but is it Victorian ‘grubby’ enough? Made during Thatcher’s Britain, there is a reminder when we see the homeless of how for the first time for many years there was an increasing homeless population on the streets of our big cities. Does Scott’s Scrooge represent an 80s yuppie perhaps? The director, Clive Donner, was the film editor on Scrooge (1951).

Scrooged [1988]: Bill Murray
Probably to everyone’s disgust, this would be in my top two of the adaptations, but tying with the Muppets. [I am not sure about my number one. Probably Patrick Stewart] It portrays the 'tread on the others' business world of the 1980s yuppies and the Scrooge character as a businessman who cares more about success than his family and friends.

A Christmas Carol [1999]: The ‘Patrick Stewart version’
Although there are slight changes to the beginning – instead of saying ‘Marley was dead’ we are shown Marley’s funeral and the singing of Silent Night is an anachronism but does it matter because it is such a good adaptation! Stewart is a Dickens expert and put on a one man show of A Christmas Carol a few years ago in London to very good reviews. It is probably the most accurate and thoughtful and I personally love the scene on Christmas morning where Scrooge is trying to laugh for the first time in many years.

Produced in 1999 it seems to be trying to be presenting the book in a faithful way – but also saying that although we may be 156 years on from the original book but we still have unemployed and those who need charities to help them through their problems. No longer workhouses perhaps but still jails. Still ‘two nations’ the rich and poor? At the end of Scrooge’s visit to the Cratchit’s during Christmas Present, Tiny Tim starts singing “Silent Night” so the sentimental feeling of the original story is still there in bucket loads.

A Christmas Carol be read on two levels? On one level as almost a fairy tale about a rich, selfish man who eats the wrong sort of supper, has a nightmare which is real enough to make him realise that he is wasting his life and the riches he is amassing and could lead a better and happier one helping others and when he wakes he does. The other level is a deeper warning about how laissez faire economics can eat away at society from within and whilst killing off ‘expendable parts’ in the form of ‘surplus population’ something more precious and vibrant – happiness and innocence – will also be lost unless the selfish giant [to borrow from the future yet to come, Oscar Wilde] becomes less selfish a sterile and unloving, uncaring society will develop. Is this the reason that the story is still popular – because deep down we all know that we cannot afford to forget it? Charity is not just good for those who receive it, it is good for the giver too?

Lastly, please look at the punning word play in the last paragraph on the two sorts of spirits – alcohol and ghosts! So Dickens rounds off with a joke. The story may be about serious stuff and morals but is light-hearted too:
He had no further intercourse with Spirits, but lived upon the Total Abstinence Principle, ever afterwards; and it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless Us, Every One!
Yes, God Bless Us Every One!

*Our red faced, jolly ‘Santa’ dressed in red robes trimmed with white fur is actually an invention of the Coca Cola company

A Christmas Carol is sometimes adapted/used for campaigning purposes as in:

Some little quotes and paragraphs of this blog may also be found in Elizannie's
Well we are twins!

The picture above is from the original 1843 illustrations and shows the Fezziwig ball. The original illustrator of the story was John Leech had become an artist to support himself after the bankruptcy of his family forced him to abandon the medical studies in which he had excelled in anatomical drawing. He joined the staff of Bentley’s Miscellany in 1840, and was the chief cartoonist for Punch from 1841-1861: approximately 3,000 drawings of his appeared in Punch during this period. Although most famous as an early Victorian satirist for this work, he also made extensive contributions to periodicals such as The Illustrated London News and produced drawings and etchings for numerous novels, short stories and children’s books. As well as those for A Christmas Carol, his best known book illustrations are found in the hunting novels of Surtees. [This information on Leech from