The Ghost of Christmas Past – Thoughts on “A Christmas Carol” Part IV

Mr. Fezziwig’s Ball Hand colored etching by Jo...

Mr. Fezziwig’s Ball Hand colored etching by John Leech from A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. Deutsch: John Leechs Illustration Mr. Fezziwig’s Ball in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Scrooge wakes to the clocks striking 12:00am.  He thinks this is strange because he did not go to bed until 2:00am.  Who knew Jacob Marley had kept him up that late?  The book says he touched a “repeater” to confirm that this time was indeed correct.  This is apparently a pocket watch capable of vibrating the hour when touched for use in the dark.  Scrooge lays in bed for an hour and precisely at 1:00am (as foretold by Marley) the Ghost of Christmas Past pulls back the bed curtains Scrooge happens to be facing at the time.  Dickens says the ghost was as close to him as he is to the reader and clarifies by pointing out that he is standing in the “spirit at [the reader’s] elbow”.

I am not sure what Dickens means by the phrase “standing in the spirit at your elbow.”  I do not think he is addressing future generations who might read this story because it was in the original version when Dickens was very much alive.  Nor do I think he means his energy is infused in the writing because a reader holds the book in his hands not his elbow.  Perhaps the phrase is intended to elicit the eerie feeling in the reader that there are unseen spirits at work in the room in order for the reader to relate to Scrooge’s experience.

The Ghost appeared amorphously both old and young at once.  Its voice was soft and gentle.  When asked it identified itself as “The Ghost of Christmas Past.”  “Long past?” asked Scrooge.  “Your past,” responds the ghost.  The ghost emitted a bright light like a flame and carried an extinguisher under its arm.  Scrooge asked it to wear the cap and the ghost asked accusingly,

Would you so soon put out, with worldly hands, the light I give? Is it not enough that you are one of those whose passions made this cap, and force me through whole trains of years to wear it low upon my brow!

The accusation had the desired effect.  Scrooge was humbled and asked forgiveness.  He then asked the ghost its purpose for being there to which the ghost replied it was there for Scrooge’s welfare and reclamation.  The ghost then tells Scrooge to walk with it.  Scrooge protests that he is mortal and liable to fall but the ghost reassures him and they leave together.

Suddenly they are transported to an old country road.  Scrooge remembers he was a boy there.  The ghost tells him what he sees are shadows of things that have been without consciousness.  Scrooge’s immediate reaction is happiness.  There was something about his childhood that brings him release and allows him to let his guard down.  But there is also something about his childhood that brings him deep sadness.  This sadness results from abandonment.  We see him as a child sitting alone in the classroom of his boarding school reading while the other children went home for Christmas.  The elder Scrooge remembers the characters in the books as companions.  At the same time he has compassion for this inner child of his sitting alone.  This compassion makes him wish he had been nicer to the caroling child he chased away earlier that night.

“Let’s see another Christmas,” says the ghost.  Scrooge then sees an older version of himself in the school alone again at Christmas.  This time he is not reading but nervously pacing the room.  Without warning his younger sister, Fan enters the room.  She has come to bring him home.  “Father is so much kinder,” she tells him.  We now know that Scrooge was rejected by his only living parent.  The ghost and Scrooge talk about Fan and how she frail but with a big heart.  Fan is of course Fred’s mother who dies some time later.  This is another abandonment which is perhaps part of the reason why Scrooge rejects Fred’s overtures.

Next the ghost takes Scrooge to the warehouse of the master to whom he was apprenticed named Fezziwig.  This memory also brings forth happy emotions in Scrooge.  He fondly remembers Fezziwig and his associate Dick Wilkins who was apparently attached to Scrooge.  Scrooge and Dick prepare the warehouse for a Christmas Eve party.  The people arrive, dance, eat and celebrate.  By all appearances young Scrooge joins in the festivities and enjoys himself.  In a few dramatizations young Scrooge meets his love interest Belle in this scene.

While viewing this scene, old Scrooge is able to remember the joy he had felt as a young man.  The ghost remarks that it “was a small matter” to make all these people happy as Fezziwig could not have spent much money to host this affair.  Scrooge quickly retorts that it was not the money but rather that Fessiwig had the power to make him happy or sad and his work heavy or light and he chose to make him happy and his work light.  Instantly Scrooge thinks about how he has treated Bob Cratchit and feels remorse.

The ghost remarks that its time grows short (implying it is beholden to supervision as Marley’s ghost did).  In the next scene the ghost shows Scrooge his former self and Belle in his office.  Belle is releasing him from their marriage contract because Scrooge has had a changed heart.  At what point did Scrooge’s heart change?  At some point the wounds from his childhood abandonment caught up with him.  He could no longer trust the world as Belle accused him and so he retreated into the safety of money.  Perhaps this patter he plays out on Belle is the same or a similar pattern his father played out on him.

Scrooge extinguishes the Ghost of Christmas Pa...

Scrooge extinguishes the Ghost of Christmas Past. Original 1843 illustration by John Leech (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The ghost shows him one shadow more.  Belle is now married with children and living a happy life.  There is an older daughter that captures Scrooge’s imagination.  He imagines that he might have had a daughter with Belle who in turn might have been a “spring-time in the haggard winter of his life.”  In this image, Belle’s husband mentions that he saw Scrooge alone in his counting house and that his partner was dying.  At this point Scrooge becomes upset and demands the ghost remove him from this scene and haunt him no longer.  The ghost then becomes bright at which point Scrooge seizes its extinguisher cap and attempts to extinguish it but fails to do so entirely.  Suddenly he finds himself back in his room.  Exhausted, he returns to his bed.

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2 Comments

Filed under A Christmas Carol

2 responses to “The Ghost of Christmas Past – Thoughts on “A Christmas Carol” Part IV

  1. Pingback: The Ghost of Christmas Future – Thoughts on “A Christmas Carol” Part VI | Winston Scrooge

  2. Pingback: Thoughts on Advent and Christmas | Winston Scrooge

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