Help your students learn more about studying English, and use our resources to help them with their GCSE and A level revision
From Charles Dickens, to Arthur Conan Doyle and Neil Gaiman, Portsmouth is a city with a rich literary tradition.
Our GCSE and A level curriculum resources below have been created to support your students in their English revision. We explore written works shaped by history, looking beyond the words, to study the art, culture and context in which they've been written.
Tess of the d’Urbervilles
Join Doctor Christopher Pittard to explore Thomas Hardy’s iconic text, its depictions of masculinity and femininity, and the changes which the titular character undertakes throughout the novel.
Tess of the d’Urbervilles – Part 1
Christopher Pittard Hello, everyone, and welcome to this recorded lecture on Thomas Hardy's Tess of the D'Urbervilles. I'm Dr. Christopher Pittard, I'm senior lecturer in English Literature here at the University of Portsmouth, specialising in Victorian fiction. So what I want to do in this session is to have a look at Thomas Hardy's novel Tess of the D'Urbervilles, starting off with some preliminary comments on the various tensions in that novel, the structural or binary oppositions at play in that text before then moving in to looking at the historical cultural context of Tess of the D'Urbervilles. So thinking about the sexual double standard, which is in place in the 1880s and 1890s. So the kinds of contexts in which Hardy is writing, the kinds of sexual morality that Hardy is also writing against in his novel. I also want to look at a couple of passages, do some close readings of a couple of passages from Tess of the D'Urbervilles. So I'm thinking here of Chapter 2, when we first see Tess from a distance, as it were, and the way in which she's described, and then a bit later Chapter 30, the scene where Tess and Angel go through the early dawn or pre-dawn to deliver the milk to the train station. So thinking about these passages in terms of sexuality, in terms of rural landscape and so on. I also want to talk a little bit as well about the changes that the character of Tess undergoes. As Hardy was writing the novel, Tess of the D'Urbervilles is a novel which has a very complex genesis behind it. So I just want to outline the ways in which the novel is created, the way in which it is shaped over the course of Hardy's creative process, because this again gives us an insight into the kinds of culture, the kinds of historical contexts to which Hardy is responding. So in this first section, I just want to outline some of what I'm calling the tensions of Tess of the D'Urbervilles, the way in which this is a novel about competing classes coming into conflict, competing categories, competing concepts and thinking about the way in which meaning is created in this novel through those conflicts, through these categories clashing together, but also the ways in which those characters are often broken down as well. So while on the slide here, I've identified some of the binary oppositions, if you like, which animate this novel. We should also be alert to the ways in which the novel also questions the boundaries between these. So the first category, most obviously I think in terms of thinking about Tess of the D'Urbervilles is between masculinity and femininity. And I've been very careful to phrase that in this particular way, not male and female, even though that is also a crucial conflict in Tess of the D'Urbervilles, but rather masculinity and femininity as cultural constructs, as behaving in a certain way, and especially femininity, the way in which femininity in Hardy's novel is a standard to be lived up to. So thinking about the ways in which Tess, at least in in wider public opinion, has failed to live up to an ideal of femininity, and likewise in terms of masculinity, in terms of those those ideas of honour, of chivalry, of protection, we can think about the various characters, the male characters in the novel, people like Angel Clare or Alec D'Urberville, who may or may not again fulfil those ideal roles of masculinity. So a lot of what we have in this novel then is a criticism of traditional gender roles or a questioning of the basis for those models of masculinity or femininity. We also have in this novel a conflict between the public and the private spheres. So the public sphere being the realm of economics, of war, of business, of government, all of those areas which are seen as associated with the masculine, especially in the 19th century, according to Victorian separate sphere ideology. And on the other hand, the private sphere, the realm of interiority, of feeling, of the home, of domesticity, traditionally associated with the feminine in Victorian ideology. So again, we can think about how Tess of the D'Urbervilles is about private lives, but in a public realm and at the mercy of public institutions, most obviously the ending, of course, when Tess becomes subject to public law and is executed at the end of the novel, albeit offstage. This is also a novel about agriculture and industry and the shift from one to the other. Even though this is a late Victorian novel, it is, of course, set much earlier in the 19th century with the decline of agriculture, the movement away from an agricultural economy in the early 19th century to an industrial economy by the 1850s. And there's something very significant here, inasmuch as Hardy's novels tend to be historical, even to readers in the 1880s and the 1890s. Hardy often writes about a period of his own childhood. So there's this sense of looking back. Of looking back at a Britain that has been lost. We see this tension in a scene that I'll come to a bit later on actually, the encroachment of the railway into the space of Wessex, for instance. Tess of the D'Ubervilles is mostly an agricultural novel, but we should read that with the sense that for readers reading it later on, this is something which is of the past, this is something which has been lost. So we get that tension, especially in the train scene, which I'll discuss a bit later, of the encroachment of a more mechanized way of life into an agricultural economy, which is much more based around rhythms of the land, the rhythm of the seasons and so on. That also ties in to another conflict we have in this novel is conflict between classes and, for instance the working classes who work on the land, who farm the land, who care for the animals, who live on the land in the farming economy. And on the other hand, we have the landed classes, the D'Urberville family, for instance, and of course this novel begins, it has its point of crisis at the beginning with John Durbeyfield getting the idea that he somehow belongs to the landed classes, that those inheritance that is his right, that actually his status as as a member of the working class or the agricultural class is somehow an historical error, and he really belongs to the landed classes. So there's quite obviously then this tension between on the one hand, the landed classes, particularly in the character of Alec D'Urbervilles and Tess Durbeyfield herself. We also have a conflict between religion and science, something that runs particularly through Hardy's work as a whole. Obviously, we we see this on the one hand religion in the figure of Angel Clare the itinerant preacher figure, but also rather more negatively in that sense of religion as underpinning morality which is questionable, religion as underpinning a form of morality which is traditional, which is oppressive, which is something which is judgmental of Tess Durbeyfield and the situation that she ultimately finds herself in. Science may be less obvious in a novel, you may be wondering where is the scientific language in Tess of the D'Urbervilles? We find it actually in Hardy's interest in evolution, his interest in astronomy as well. It's very easy to overlook the references to Darwinian theory in Tess of the D'Urbervilles or to astronomical observation in Tess of the D'Urbervilles. But once you're made aware of them, you begin to see more and more of them. So we get this sense of clashing epistemologies, on the one hand of an older, religious Christianity, of a Christian mode of ethics and of morals, which gives no regard to individuals, which is inflexible in its rules and on the other hand, a science which is about inquiry, but also about expanding the scope of human existence. Evolutionary theory, of course does this, Darwin does this through expanding radically the historical history, the historical scope of human existence and indeed of the existence of the Earth, no longer having existed for a few thousand years as in the book of Genesis, but actually a history that that goes back into millennia. Likewise for the astronomical references in Tess of the D'Urbervilles, a couple of which I'll come on to in a moment, we see the scope of action in the novel greatly expanded. So not simply Wessex, not simply the physical geographical locations of the novel, but the placement of these locations in a much wider context of an infinite universe, of a universe where there may or may not be a God, but also of a universe which is fundamentally uncaring. One of Hardy's themes is the plight of the individual in a wider universe which is indifferent to the suffering of the individual. This is often described or this is often discussed in Hardy's novels, in terms of fate, in terms of the workings of fate. But I think with the astronomical references in Tess of the D'Urbervilles, we see this in terms of space as well as time. Likewise, Tess of the D'Urbervilles is often characterized as a tragedy, it's often characterized as being a tragic tale. And while I think it can certainly be read in terms of tragedy, in terms of Aristotle's definitions of tragedy, there's also a limit to that argument as well and actually there's one line of critical thinking that says that Tess of the D'Urbervilles actually doesn't fit that classical model of tragedy, that classical model where the hero is brought down by a fatal flaw, for instance, because actually, Tess's tragedy is not that she has this flaw, not that she does anything wrong, but rather that she is at the mercy of chance or the mercy of fate. The mercy of these wider, unseen forces which control her life in a rather haphazard manner. That brings us on to the final two tensions that I just wanted to point out here before we go further. So one of these is ideas of linear time and circular time. Linear time, of course, we see in the progression of events in the novel, the fact that a novel has a beginning, a middle and end as this novel certainly does, it's not experimental, at least in terms of the way in which the story is told. It is told without flashbacks in a fairly linear manner. But on the other hand, of course, we have a different mode of time working in Tess of the D'Urbervilles. We have for instance, the circular time of the seasons, bear in mind, this is a novel about agriculture. It is a novel about working with nature and the relationship between man and nature and of course that is a circular temporality, that is a circular mode of time working through the seasons, having fixed points in the year that you turn to again and again. So there's also this emphasis in Tess of the D'Urbervilles on tradition, on those fixed points of the year that shape rural community. But we also have circular time operating in this novel in terms of prophecy and memory as well. This is a novel also about memory, thinking back to earlier points in time, but also about prophecy. There are a number of points in this novel which subtly foreshadow what is to come, which subtly tell us actually without us realising it at the time, what will happen in the future. So these prophetic moments in Tess of the D'Urbervilles de-stabilize this idea of time as a linear A to B to C progression that the structure of the novel, the very form of the novel at least seems to suggest to us, and I think it's also significant that Tess of the D'Urbervilles was initially published in instalments, it was initially serialised. So again, inscribing in its very structure, the idea of the forward movement of time. Actually in terms of the events within the novel time is much more complex than that. It loops back on itself, but also loops forward and again I'll demonstrate a few instances of where that happens and that sort of ties in quite nicely to the final tension that we might think about in what follows, so that tension between realism and myth. On the one hand Tess of the D'Urbervilles is a realist novel. It is a novel about the realities of living as an unmarried mother in an agricultural community in the earlier 19th century. It is a novel about the condition of the agricultural classes and about the connections between the genders. But it is also taking place in a landscape which has mythic connotations, which has connotations of legend. Obviously, we have the climactic scene at Stonehenge when Tess is arrested, but we also have references to the slightly more mythical associations with the land. So references, for instance, to the Cerne Abbas Giant, for instance, and a land as associated with connotations of fertility, of paganism. So again, we're seeing another tension here between, on the one hand, pagan myth and modern Christianity in the novel and of course modern science. So all of those tensions and there are probably many more that you can think of. But those, I think for me shape the way in which the novel is understood, the way which is constructed. I'm not going to go back over these in explicit terms, but I want you to keep these in mind, especially when we look at the two passages a bit later on, because these themes will be implicit in the passages I want to discuss a bit later on. So before turning to the novel in detail, I just want to spend a bit of time in this section to consider what is happening in the wider culture of the 1880s and 1890s in terms of gender and in terms of constructions of masculinity and femininity. So thinking back to the first of those tensions I mentioned on the previous slide. Of course, what Tess of the D'Urbervilles as a novel is all about is this thing called the sexual double standard. So essentially this code of morality in which on one hand men were permitted and indeed expected to be sexually active, to be sexually experienced, that was in the 1880s and going into the 1890s seen as being the birthright of manhood. Whereas on the other hand, women, or as I said on the slide here, most women, because this is very much a sort of a middle class morality, the proper woman, the acceptable middle class woman should remain pure. And by that I mean sexually ignorant or sexually innocent until she had entered marriage, which would then open up that realm of sexual experience. Of course for a woman to become sexually experienced outside of marriage would then lead to a state of being the so-called 'fallen woman', someone who was outside of middle class morals, of those sexual mores that are wider spread in culture and against which Hardy is writing in Tess of the D'Urbervilles and other novels, as I'll explain in a moment. So this standard, this double standard, sexual freedom for men, but sexual innocence for women or at the cost of their social respectability, this is not simply something which is pervasive in the culture or in the religiously informed moral standards of the mid to later 19th century, but also something inscribed even in law. Legislations such as the Contagious Diseases Acts, for instance, of 1864, 66 and 69. Now, even though these acts did not affect the settings that Hardy was writing about and the settings of Dorset and Wiltshire that feature in Tess of the D'Urbervilles, the Contagious Diseases Acts are nonetheless an interesting case study for thinking through the ways in which the sexual double standard was enshrined in law. Put simply, what the Contagious Diseases Acts were were a set of laws enacted within garrison towns, within port towns, so especially Portsmouth, for instance, came under the jurisdiction of the Contagious Diseases Act. And what the acts were about, were they enshrined in law the ability of the police to arrest any woman suspected of prostitution, to take her to an institution called a lock hospital and to be forcibly examined for evidence or signs of sexually transmitted disease. And of course the bringing into law of these acts was very closely connected to the threat of women infecting people in the Navy, in the Army. So this is also related to military might to the might of the nation and the health of the nation, the health of the body politic. Now, what we have here, of course, is a structure in which sexual responsibility is placed entirely on women. There was no sense here that sailors, soldiers who were going out and sleeping with these women, that they may also have to share some kind of responsibility if they also ended up getting sexually transmitted disease and being unable to serve, there was no sense that this was somehow some moral responsibility of the man, the blame was entirely put on the woman as a morally responsible party. So we can see here how the sexual double standard becomes enshrined in law. Now this led then to something called the Social Purity Campaign, or several campaigns for social purity, some of which who were arguing against the Contagious Diseases, Acts on the basis of that sexual double standard, saying, you know this is unfair, there was one standard being applied to women and another to the morality of men, and others who took a slightly more sort of conservative line and said that well actually prostitution is an evil that should be stamped out anyway, so taking that slightly more repressive line. Whichever line was taken, I think what is important here is thinking about that idea of purity. Thinking about how in the later 19th century womanhood is and sexuality is attached to this idea of purity. So these social purity campaigns did indeed succeed in repealing the Contagious Diseases Acts in 1886 or about four years before Tess of the D'Urbervilles appears. But nonetheless, Hardy has already written, by the time he writes Tess he's already written a number of novels dealing with this theme of purity and how it relates to sexuality. So we see how this works in Tess of the D'Urbervilles because it has an ironic subtitle, A Pure Woman. Now, on one level, according to the logic of the the sexual double standard Tess is far from being a pure woman, Tess is in fact a fallen woman. She has had sex outside of marriage. She has had a child who then goes on to die. There is a sense in which Tess is the definition of the fallen woman, of the impure self. But of course, Hardy means the subtitle ironically, because Tess, I mean what the novel is about is about resisting the constraints of a wider morality, of a wider puritanism. So on another level, Tess is actually morally pure inasmuch as again, she has done nothing which is wrong, at least in the eyes of the narrator, nothing which is legally wrong. So as I said earlier, there are limitations to how far we can read of Tess of the D'Urbervilles as belonging to the genre of tragedy, because it is all about Tess being acted upon by blind forces of chance, of being caught up in wider circumstances in which the individual is dwarfed and the standard of purity is one of those. So on one level then in social terms Tess is impure, but in broader sort of the moral terms that Hardy espouses Tess is pure. Tess is someone who is trying to resist unsuccessfully ultimately, but who tries to resist the constraints that are placed upon her. But this theme, as I said, does not emerge in Hardy's writing with Tess of the D'Urbervilles in 1890 he had actually already explored this in one of his earlier novels, so this is A Pair of Blue Eyes from 1873, a novel which is very closely modelled on Hardy's own experience as an apprentice architect and on meeting his first wife, Emma Gifford in Boscastle in Cornwall, and A Pair of Blue Eyes is actually set in the same sort of area in Cornwall that Hardy had visited. And in that novel, again, this is a novel about romance, about the pursuit of the supposedly perfect woman, a woman called Elfride, who is pursued by two characters, one of whom, a chap called Henry Knight, this slightly hypocritical character. Knight is absolutely obsessed with Elfride's status as innocent. Her virginity, so of course innocence here, becomes a synonym for sexual ignorance, for not being aware of or fully aware of ideas of sexuality and desire. Likewise, later on, after Tess of the D'Urbervilles Hardy would take this argument one step further in what was at the time his most controversial novel. So this is Jude the Obscure from 1895, a novel in which the titular Jude, Jude Forley and his partner Sue Bridehead actually go one step further than Tess, they are united in a union which is not sanctified by marriage, they have children, they have a number of children, tragically so, those of you who know Jude the Obscure will know. But their marriage or lack of marriage rather, their relationship is gradually crushed by social convention by the obligation to be in the correct type of sexual union. The obligation to be meeting Christian standards of morality. So this idea then of purity is something of a theme that runs throughout Hardy's work. It's also something that informs the gender politics of the 1880s and moving into the 1890s. So related to that particular historical context and again exploring this idea of gender is the cultural phenomenon known as the New woman movement, which emerges in the later 1880s, so at exactly the time that Hardy is beginning to think about Tess and is beginning to compose Tess of the D'Urbervilles. So this is the New Woman movement, but also the related marriage question. The institution of marriage itself comes under intense scrutiny in especially in 1888. And this is partially connected again to changes in law. Most significantly, the 1882 Married Women's Property Act. What the 1882 act does is it means for the first time, married women can own property. They can become private economic individuals. Up until this point, women on marriage, their property had reverted or had come under the ownership of their husbands. So there was a sense then in which the wife in marriage was not a discrete economic individual, not a private economic individual, but rather was a economic subset of the husband's wealth. So by the time we get to 1882 then the Married Women's Property Act starts to give women or married women a certain amount of economic autonomy or the right to own their own economic property. And this is of a piece with a wider questioning of the institution of marriage in the 1880s by the figure of the New Woman, the New Woman we might understand now as a form of proto-feminism. Essentially, the new women are those women who do not easily fit into feminine stereotypes who will for instance, dress in ways that do not conform to standard modes of femininity. So the so-called Movement for Rational Dress, the wearing of trousers when cycling rather than skirts, the questioning of marriage, the movement towards women's greater involvement in higher education, so with the establishment of places like Girton College at Cambridge. Likewise, slightly later, the campaign for women to study medicine at the University of Edinburgh and of course Sophia Jex-Blake as one of the pioneers of women becoming doctors, becoming qualified as medical practitioners. So the new women, then are a group of writers, thinkers, novelists, journalists, who are exploring the rights of women, who are questioning these older, moralistic standards of purity that Hardy is likewise taking aim at in his novels, and who are questioning primarily the utility of this institution of marriage. So in 1888, the new woman writer Mona Caird, writes an article called 'Marriage' in the Westminster Review questioning this institution of marriage, asking, you know what is it for? What does it achieve? Is it still fulfilling its original purpose? Or should we as modern fin de sicle, end of century men and women, should we be seeking to move beyond it? That then is picked up by The Daily Telegraph in August 1888. With a letter thread that they start off called 'Is marriage a failure'? Should we persist with marriage? Is it still doing the job that it was originally meant to do? Or should we move towards a freer State of Union? And this actually gets a lot of attention. This really becomes the national debate in summer 1888. So there are 27,000 letters written to The Telegraph in response to this marriage question. This is the sort of that the hot topic of, certainly of 1888 and for for a good few years after. So there's a sense then that marriage, the institution of marriage is coming into question from the new woman, from various sections of society. And the new woman is by no means is this sort of politically unified movement. It encompasses a wide range of political stances of stances on questions of race, of biology and so on. So there are a lot of complex attitudes embedded within that movement of the new woman. But there is a sense as well in which the popular press is seeking to demonize these figures, is seeking to make of the new woman this new cycling, educated, independent figure, someone who is not willing to bow to previous standards of patriarchy in marriage. There is a sense in which the popular press is seeking to demonize this form of femininity or this mode of womanhood. So, for instance, very famously, you get illustrations like that on the slide here in the magazine Punch from 28 April 1894. So a couple of years after Tess of the D'Urbervilles appears this is Donna Quixote. Obviously based on Cervantes's Don Quixote. And we have here the image of the female reader holding aloft the symbolic key of the symbol of freedom and of emancipation. So holding this aloft as sort of a symbol of triumph. The other hand, we have significantly reading. Reading a book, as the caption says to the cartoon at the bottom there, that this woman has a world of disorderly notions picked out of books. There's a sense in which she has been reading too much. She's been educated beyond her reproductive purpose. There's this sense then, in fact, in which reading or rather the reading of certain texts and certainly maybe Hardy's novel would fall into this category. The reading of text is somehow itself dangerous to the social order. We have surrounding the figure of Donna Quixote, these dream images representing the targets of the new woman writers, people like Sarah Grand, George Edgerton. So at the bottom left we have the head of the tyrant man, in the upper right we have the dragon of decorum being slain by a woman with a pike that says 'divided skirt' on it. I don't know if you can see that on the image but of course as I said earlier the divided skirt is this symbol of rational dress, is a symbol of progressive gender politics. And the fact the dragon is called Decorum actually is worth an extra note, inasmuch as it's often complained by critics of the new woman that giving women education made them less polite, it made them less socially acceptable. In the top right as well, we can also see another presumably another new woman on a horse driving at a windmill with the words marriage laws on it so we're getting a specific reference to Don Quixote there. Down in the bottom right, we have the Cerberus of social opinion based on the three headed dog meant to guard the gates of Hell in classical mythology. So in effect, then, the new woman is seen here as attacking conventional morality. And of course, there are other references, we can see the books at the bottom of the picture, the woman reader treading on Tolstoy, for instance, this more classical voice of standard domesticity. And if we look at her other books, Donna, Quixote's other books we see she's got Mona Caird, who obviously had written the marriage article in the Westminster Review and also Ibsen as well, whose play A Doll's House had famously and controversially ended with its heroine Nora, escaping an unhappy middle class marriage. So this is the cultural conversation at the moment in which Hardy is writing Tess of the D'Urbervilles. And I'm saying all this not to make any claim that Tess is herself a new woman because she isn't. As I said earlier, Tess of the D'Urbervilles is a novel set before the 1890s, before the 1880s, it's very much about thinking back to an agricultural economy. So historically, Tess is not a new woman. She doesn't qualify in the same way that maybe Sue Bridehead does in Jude the Obscure. But rather what Hardy is doing in Tess is he's using that character to explore many of the same questions that the new women writers are, many of the questions that are being parodied here by the slightly conservative cartoon in Punch, which is making fun of these questions to do with marriage and with social purity.
Tess of the d’Urbervilles – Part 2
Christopher Pittard So with that point in mind then, let's turn back to Hardy's novel, let's have a look at some of the extracts from it and also we'll have a look at the genesis of the text, the stages that Hardy went through in writing it. So the first extract from Tess of the D'Urbervilles I want to look at is the scene in Chapter 2 where we first see Tess as she is part of the parade of the village young girls. So we get this description of Tess and you might want to pause the video to read through this page. But just working through it we have from the outset of this passage this emphasis that she is a young member of the band, her youth is emphasized, she is clearly this younger person, so we have this connotation of innocence from the outset and likewise, this reference to her being 'a fine and handsome girl, but not handsomer than some others possibly'. So Tess is a handsome girl, but she's not out of the ordinary run of beauty. So she's not this exceptional character. She is not this femme fatale figure. Certainly she has this beauty but it is not exceptional, it is not out of the ordinary when compared to the other girls in the village. We get this reference to her mobile peony mouth, her large innocent eyes. So we've got then this combination of an innocence, a sense of purity, but also the way in which Tess is already being described in terms of physicality and of embodiedness. Bear in mind that, of course, this scene is vocalised through a male point of view. It's not narrated directly from the perspective of a character like Angel Clare, for instance, but nonetheless, the way in which the narrative is vocalised, we are seeing Tess through a particular perspective, from a particular pair of eyes. And at this point, the gaze of the narration is masculine. It is looking at Tess as a young girl, but also as a potentially sexualized person. And that sits in tension with this reference to her purity and this reference to the innocence of her eyes. We get the reference to the red ribbon in her hair and the fact she was the only one of the white company who could boast of such a pronounced adornment. So, again, we've got a weird tension in this paragraph because on the one hand, it's already been noted how Tess is just like any other girl. She's not any more strikingly beautiful. She's not out of the ordinary. And yet she is the only person to have this symbolic red ribbon. This colour of vitality, of life, of blood, of tragedy as well, and especially this colour scheme of a red ribbon being placed against the colour of white, the white hues, again, symbolising a certain kind of purity. Bear in mind, as I said earlier about Tess as being novel about prophecy, as a novel about foreshadowing later events. We do see that red streak appearing at a crucial point much later in the novel, of course, with the death of Alec D'Urberville, the imagery of blood dripping down from the ceiling later on in the novel is already prefigured in this appearance of bright red against a white background. We then get on to actually this this this girl is named Tess Durbeyfield and was 'at this time of her life a mere vessel of emotion and untinctured by experience'. So again, we've got an idea of somebody who exists as a vessel of emotion, somebody to be filled up, but somebody whose purity has not been sullied by experience or whose innocence has not been dissolved in experience if you want to follow through that simile of a tincture of a drug dissolved in alcohol. We then get this this reference again to the geographical precision of Tess as well, the dialect that she speaks 'the dialect was on her tongue to some extent, despite the village school' So Tess is very much rooted in her community, in her landscape, she has the accent of the village, 'the characteristic intonation of that dialect of this district being the voicing approximately rendered by the syllable. UR'. UR of course we see twice appearing in the title of the novel Tess of the D'Urbervilles, we've got UR in D'Urbervilles, but also in the subtitle A Pure Woman, that U R is at the very heart of that term pure. So again, we've some very interesting games with language, with spelling happening here. We then go back to the mouth,'The pouted-up deep red mouth' and again, that colour of red, we see that coming back again 'the pouted-up deep red mouth to which this syllable was native'. So we've also got the language as well as being native to the mouth. If Tess is native to Wessex, then the language is native to Tess's mouth. We get this commonness, this connection between landscape and gender, landscape and especially landscape in a sexualized gender, we see this a lot throughout Tess of the D'Urbervilles, the way in which setting becomes bound up with ideas of desire and gender, especially feminine gender as well. So the 'deep red mouth to which this syllable was native had hardly as yet settled into its definite shape, and her lower lip had a way of thrusting the middle of her top one upward when they closed together after a word'. So again, there is this very, I hesitate to say, voyeuristic, because it's not quite that, but again, it's this focus on Tess's embodiment. It's this focus on the movements of her mouth, both inside and out references to the tongue and this play on tongue meaning language, but also tongue as in the physical organ or the physical part of the body. We then move on to the third chapter so 'phases of her childhood, lurked in her aspect still'. So here we are seeing Hardy's interest in a more evolutionary set of ideas or more evolutionary prospect and of course, Darwinian evolution isn't about individuals, it's about species, it's about a genus of a species changing over millions of years. But here nonetheless, we get this idea that Tess is somebody in-progress, somebody who has left behind earlier stages of being and yet carries the traces of those within her. She still has those phases of childhood lurking in her face, lurking in her aspect, and Hardy's actually quite skilfully using that slightly archaic phrasing of aspect to mean to mean face, to mean appearance. 'As she walked along today for all her bouncing handsome womanliness', so we've got this you know, this adult sexualized language, 'you could sometimes see her 12th year in her cheeks or her night sparkling from her eyes, and even her fifth would flit over the curves of her mouth now and then'. So that is quite a disturbing image this idea of the bouncing woman but bearing within her traces of the child. So immediately we are seeing that tension between innocence and experience, even though at this point Hardy has told her that she is she has this innocent mouth, she's still on the cusp of adulthood. Nonetheless, she has this trace of childhood innocence within her, this almost this composite photograph of the various stages of her life. There is almost here a sense of Tess as archaeological site as well. The way in which you can you can take away layers of her appearance to get to her 12th year, her ninth year, her fifth year. It's interesting how the central paragraph moves backwards in time, like an old archaeologist stripping away various layers of sediment to move back into into an earlier state of being. Tess herself to the narrator becomes somebody, a historical artefact, somebody whose history can be stripped away layer by layer. And then finally, we get in the final paragraph 'Yet few knew and still fewer considered this' so this this idea of seeing the youth of Tess in her face, this seems to be a privileged perspective of the narrator. We are getting a sort of an inside view that not many of the villagers seem to think of. 'A small minority, mainly strangers, would look long at her in casually passing by and grow momentarily fascinated by her freshness and wonder if they would ever see her again'. So again, this idea of Tess as being subject to a gaze and subject to a gaze of desire. And especially by strangers especially by people outside of the community, because bear in mind, what this novel is about is people like Angel Clare. People like Alec D'Urberville as well are incomers, are people who did not organically belong to the community. Angel is obviously a itinerant figure. Alec D'Urberville, on the other hand, is someone who pretends to the status of the ancient D'Urberville family, but is in many ways a faker, is in many ways a con artist performing a role here, a stranger to the ancient bloodline. So we have then this idea of Tess, closely connected with landscape, closely connected with locality, but somebody who is almost fetishized by outsiders. Somebody who's viewed by outsiders as somebody to be desired. And then finally, at the end of this paragraph, we get 'to almost everybody else she was a fine and picturesque country girl and no more'. So again, returning to that idea of Tess as being average, Tess as being the archetype of the picturesque country girl. But of course, as we know from the title of the novel, she is more than that. And likewise, as we've seen from this page, there is a real tension between Tess as everywoman, but also Tess as this person who is marked out for tragedy. So that idea that we looked at in the section just now from Chapter 2, where Tess's face carries all of her earlier stages of being, an evolutionary record of her own individual personality, that has a curious parallel in the way in which Tess develops as a character over the course of Hardy's writing of Tess of the D'Urbervilles. This was not a novel which appeared fully formed or appeared with only limited editorial changes necessary as Hardy proceeded through writing of it. This was actually a text which went through a great deal of thought and a great deal of revision. It was completed by Autumn 1890, but its genesis goes back two years before that. So to September 1888, when Hardy starts first sketching out the scheme for what will become his next novel, Tess of the D'Urbervilles. And we can actually see that Tess herself as a character goes through a number of developmental stages as Hardy is writing and rewriting and drafting and redrafting what would eventually become Tess of the D'Urbervilles. So when he starts sketching out the novel in September 1888, he wants to focus it, first of all, on this character called Love Woodrow. Clearly a name which is focussing on that idea of love of desire, but also Woodrow, the very rural name, very much based on a rural landscape. The name then changes at some point to Cis Woodrow. Then by July 1889, Cis Woodrow has changed to Sue Woodrow, and indeed at this point we now see it as a draught title for the novel that Harding is writing on. But at this point, it's called The Body and Soul of Sue. So again, that tension between body and soul, material and ideal, physical desire and religious morals. At some point in summer 1889, Hardy plays again around with names, Woodrow disappears, so now it's Sue Troublewell. We then get a further modification in July Sue Troublefield, so we're keeping that trouble but again, still playing with these rural names. By August 1889, however, we then get Tess emerging that's when the name Tess first emerges. We've actually gone back to Woodrow, so it's now it's called Tess Woodrow and the title of the novel has changed to Too Late, Beloved, this slightly melodramatic title. Although it is a title which would then become echoed in one of Hardy's later works, The Well Beloved. Throughout later 1889 Tess then goes through a number of different identities. So she briefly becomes Rose-Mary Troublefield, so back to Troublefield, then Tess Troublefield so back to Tess, and then finally, I think Hardy decides that Troublefield is a bit too obvious, it's a bit too on the nose for the name of his heroine. So that's when we get Tess Durbeyfield. But now the novel has been shifted again from Too Late Beloved to A Daughter of the D'Urbervilles. So again, focussing on family, focussing on family lines, but still not placing Tess centre stage, or at least not by name. So we can see how the focus of the novel is shifting back and forth. Then by August 1890, Tess Durbeyfield of course stays in place and Hardy adopts the final title of the novel, which is Tess of the D'Urbervilles. And by Autumn 1890, the novel is complete and is to be serialised in the Victorian illustrated newspaper The Graphic and I think we need to bear this in mind, the fact that Victorian fiction was not, as is the case today, was not originally published or in most cases was not orginally published in a single volume. It could be published in a series of volumes or in a lot of cases, as is the case with Tess of the D'Urbervilles it could be printed as instalments in a newspaper. And that in itself raises questions of the form of the novel. It raises questions of that relationship between fact and fiction, the fact that Tess of the D'Urbervilles appears alongside pages dealing with real life events. Which we might want to think about, what is the relationship between fact and fiction in how the novel first appears in 1890? Hardy actually missed the deadline for sending the first half of the novel to The Graphic. He'd actually agree to send it at the end of September 1890 and actually he missed it by about a week and eventually sent it on the 8th of October 1890. And then it was serialised in 1891 so it first appeals to the public serialised in this newspaper, The Graphic in 1891. However, I mean, the reason why I'm giving you all of this publication history is because this, again, is a good way of thinking about the morality of the novel or the way in which novel explores morality. Because the version of Tess of the D'Urbervilles that was first published in The Graphic newspaper in 1891 was actually significantly different. It's not the novel that we would recognise today. For one thing, it replaces Tess's sexual encounter or her rape and the birth and death of the baby Sorrow, that subplot doesn't appear until the novel until the volume addition, in The Graphic rather, that is replaced by a mock marriage. Likewise, the scene where Angel carries the dairymaids across the flooded lane, in The Graphic he carries them across in a wheelbarrow, in the volume version that was published a year or two later he carries them across in his arms which again has a much more suggestive feel to it. And actually, Hardy took those two versions he initially intended that the rape of Tess and the birth and death of Sorrow and of Angel carrying the dairymaids across the river in his arms, he actually used those as the basis of two other stories that he published in other journals, in magazines such as A Fortnightly Review, The National Observer that were slightly less squeamish about the moral content of those scenes. The Graphic, of course, was much more family oriented as a newspaper. But the point here is that Tess of the D'Urbervilles was a controversial novel. It was a novel which was printed in a particular middle class, lower middle class venue, The Graphic newspaper, and that in turn has an impact on what could be presented within it. The original version of Tess of the D'Urbervilles was a slightly sort of watered down version and it's only when it was published in volume form and all the instalments were gathered together into a collection and into a volume that people could buy, that then is when the cut material, so to speak, becomes re-inserted and that leads to the novel that we have today. So finally, then, I want to bring these various elements of this lecture together in a final passage, a final close reading exercise. And this is from Chapter 30 and this is the scene where Angel and Tess have taken the coach and are delivering the milk to the train station for it to be delivered for consumers in cities. So again, it's it's quite a lengthy extract. I'm not going to read it through and I won't go into quite so much detail as with the previous extract. But this might be a good place for you to pause, have a read through this and think about what you might get out of it. So what strikes me about this passage and in terms of the things I've been talking about over the last 57 minutes or so, is that firstly, this is a scene about the contrast between an older stage of agriculture, the Wessex countryside that Angel and Tess find themselves living in, working in, 'their secluded world', as it says in that first paragraph. And on the other hand, modern life, the coming of the railway, the fact that 'modern life stretched out its steam feeler to this point three or four times a day, touched the native existences and quickly withdrew its feeler again as if what it touched had been uncongenial'. So we have this sense then of Britain and of the wider space of Wessex as existing in two simultaneous timeframes or two time zones, the agricultural space of Wessex and the modern life of London, of the railway, and the encroachment of the railway into the space of Wessex. And the fact that where the two meet, the train station, is this in-between space, is crossover space, which seems uncomfortable, which seems slightly out of focus. So we have this 'feeble light', this 'smoky lamp of a little railway station, a poor enough terrestrial star yet in one sense of more importance to Talbothay's dairy and mankind than the celestial ones to which it stood in such humiliating contrast'. So here we have another one of the numerous astronomical references in Tess of the D'Urbervilles. I said earlier that that Hardy is fascinated by science. He is fascinated by the discourses around biology and especially evolutionary biology, geology and astronomy that are coming to the fore in the 19th century. So here we get this reference to the light at a railway station being this terrestrial star. And that in itself is a rather paradoxical formulation there's no such thing as a terrestrial star. It's either terrestrial or extra terrestrial out in space. So there's an oxymoronic quality to what Hardy is saying here. But this points up the contrast between, on the one hand, the deeply localised space that Angel and Tess find themselves in, this space which exists in its own seeming bubble, and the wider scope of the firmament, the wider scope of the galaxy and of the universe. This uncaring universe that Tess finds herself at the mercy of and Hardy is particularly interested in this theme, particularly in his poetry as well, in early poems from the 1860s, 1870s, poems like Hap and In Vision I Roamed, which are all about these visions of a godless universe, of a universe comprised of stars or planets far, far away, out of the scope of human imagination. So we get this is interesting reference then to places that are far away on the globe, in the country, so London as a space of modernity, but also this wider astronomical space of distant stars. We then get in the first paragraph the hissing of the train this sort of sibilance of the train almost personified, linking back again to that reference to the train finding the rural setting uncongenial almost as if the train is is hissing in resistance or is hissing as if it is threatened by the uncongeniality of rural space. The milk then being loaded by can into the truck and then this bit, this is interesting, 'the light of the the engine flashed for a second upon Tess Durbeyfield's figure, motionless under the great holly tree'. Bare in mind that at this point that the Tess has sheltered under the holly tree because it's raining at this point. And I think there's a very sort of cinematic quality to that moment. The light of the train suddenly and briefly illuminating this figure of the motionless Tess standing under the holly tree. Because, of course, what we have here is a prophecy of the novel's very ending, of the motionless body of Tess swinging from another type of tree, which is of course the gallows, the wooden set upon which she is hung. It's not a scene that we see actually it's not a scene that is directly narrated by Hardy. It's only something which is implied. But we see it here, we see this image, this snapshot this almost subliminal image in the brief flash of the train's light of Tess motionless beneath this wooden structure. So again, we've got this movement from nature to culture, from the natural holly tree to the manmade tree of the gallows. Likewise, we've got this, again, this emphasis on how foreign Tess is to the train 'no object to look more foreign to the gleaming cranks and wheels than this unsophisticated girl with the round bare arms, the rainy face and hair, the suspended attitude of a friendly leopard at pause'. Again, that suspended attitude, suspense of hanging. We've got again at the level of syntax Hardy is preparing us for what is going to come later on in the novel, 'the friendly leopard at pause, the print gown of no date or fashion and the cotton bonnet drooping on her brow'. Tess isn't even up to date in her own realm. Her gown is of no date, she seems to be outside of time or belonging to something which is always already in the past. And of course, the train being the very image of mid-Victorian modernity. There's almost this kind of dual between Tess and the train. One is the unstoppable future, the unstoppable industrial movement. And Tess is the motionless figure whose dress is of no fashion. Who seems to be some lifted out of the present day at this point. So then we get Tess and Angel having delivered the milk, then get back up on the cart and plunged back now into the now thick night. We've got that interesting contrast between the darkness, the absolute darkness of rural Wessex as opposed to that scene of modernity of the train. 'Tess was so receptive that the few minutes of contact with the whirl of material progress lingered in her thought'. It's interesting this 'whirl of material progress'. Obviously the metaphorical whirl of progress, but also the literal whirl of the wheels of the train as well, Hardy is very good at embedding those images ata level of syntax and a level of sentences. And then she talks to Clare about these strange people that we've never seen, 'Londoners will drink it at thier breakfasts tomorrow'. And Angel makes again this sort of half facetious comment about the fact that actually they have to, the milk has to be adulterated in some regard because it's too strong for Londoners to drink. So again, we've got the language of adulteration, of the purity of something being watered down, again it's this image that runs all the way throughout Tess of the D'Urbervilles. And Tess then goes on to make this point about the lack of knowledge that we have of others. So when she talks about 'noble man and noble women, ambassadors and centurions and ladies and tradeswomen and babies who have never seen a cow...Who don't know anything of us and where it comes from. Or think how we two drove miles across the more tonight in the rain that it might reach them in time'. This idea than that, as I said earlier, one of the tensions of this novel is a class tension. It is that tension between the working class and the landed class or between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie to use Marxist language. And that's exactly what we get here. The sense that consumers of milk don't really have any insight into the labour that goes into that milk. The work that goes into creating that commodity, it simply seems to arrive by magic, by the magic of the train and the people who drink it pay no heed. It's not something that they think about. So, again, we've got this almost archetypal question in Victorian fiction, of sympathy, of being able to feel for the other or being able to imagine a situation of the other and what we get in Tess of the D'Urbervilles is this continual failure of sympathy, of characters not being able to sympathize with others. And of course we see that with disastrous results in Angel's reaction to Tess when he finds out the truth of what happened and that factor of that image of people passing each other by, of not being able to fundamentally connect. And of course, the theme of luck, the theme of fate plays into this as well with the letter that Tess attempts to deliver to Angel and which misses its destination by a stroke of bad fortune. And then, of course, this passage ends with Angel saying, no, we didn't drive entirely on account of these Londoners, but also on our own or because of 'that anxious matter, which you will I'm sure set my mind at rest dear Tess'. And of course we know again some foreshadowing if we've read this novel before we know that is not what is going to happen, that Angel's mind will not be set at rest. We are again seeing this language of irony and of prophecy. I think this is why it's important actually to read Tess of the D'Urbervilles twice because as I said earlier, it's a novel about challenging linear time. It's a novel about things recurring, of prophecies made in the first half, coming to bear fruit in the second half. So the red ribbon that Tess wears at the outset, is then mirrored in the ribbon of red blood from Alec D'Urberville's body. The image here of the train illuminating that snapshot of Tess motionless beneath the tree is then of course played out in a very different context at the end of the novel, and of course if we only read the novel once we don't pick up on that, because we don't know how the novel will end. So I would absolutely recommend that this is a novel that you read twice because then once you know what's going to happen, you can see the ways which Hardy has prepared us for that, the way in which this is also a novel, not just about the forward movement of plot, but also about the backwards movement of memory and the forward movement of prophecy. And on that note, I shall leave it there. So thank you very much.
A Christmas Carol
A Christmas Carol remains one of Charles Dickens’ best known works, so why does it’s legacy endure nearly 180 years after it was first published?
In this session, Doctor Christopher Pittard introduces the novella, analyses the opening paragraphs, and explores the character and description of the Ghost of Christmas Present.
A Christmas Carol – Part 1
Christopher Pittard Hello everyone, I am Dr. Christopher Pittard, I'm senior lecturer in English Literature at the University of Portsmouth, and this is a lecture on Dickens's A Christmas Carol. I know many of you will be reading this text for GCSE. Some of you may be teaching this text as well. So in this lecture, I want to go over some potential approaches to this novel. And the lecture itself is going to be split into three distinct parts. So the first of these parts is introducing the novella itself. So speaking very briefly about some of the historical contexts and some of the critical questions that we might explore in relation to Dickens's A Christmas Carol. I won't go over all of those questions in detail, but they will give you an idea of certain approaches to understanding the text. In the second section, I then want to undertake a very close reading of the opening paragraph. So thinking about the way in which Dickens constructs that opening paragraph, the way in which he uses language, imagery, metaphor, sentence construction, we're going to go over that first paragraph in quite some detail to gain a sense of Dickens's technique, the way in which he's playing with language, but also in terms of what happens in that initial paragraph, how that prepares us for what will happen over the course of the rest of the novella. And finally, in the third section, I wanted you to same sort of exercise, but in maybe less detail because this is something I want you to be thinking about and have a go at yourself. So we'll have a look at another passage from the novella, and this is description of the ghost of Christmas present. And again, I'll think of some ideas or go through some ideas with you for looking at that character and the way in which that character is described. But I won't go into quite so much detail as the first extract. So really, this will be about getting you to think about how to read the text and how we might understand what Dickens is doing. So let's start then with part one. This is introducing a Christmas Carol. And before I go any further, I want to go back actually to that opening slide that we had right at the beginning of the lecture with the various images of adaptations, of A Christmas Carol, whether that's The Muppet Christmas Carol, which also for my money is is perhaps the best adaptation, so the adaptation that crystallizes I think Dickens's anarchic humour and resists reducing him to this kind of heritage figure, which I think he's often reduced to. Via the Bill Murray Scrooged, the Alistair Sim Scrooge, the George C. Scott Christmas Carol from the 80s. And of course, in the middle there, the cover of Dickens's first publication of A Christmas Carol in late 1843. I started with this imagery, because in many ways, when we think about reading A Christmas Carol, when we think about analysing A Christmas Carol, we are put in a rather unusual situation, in as much as this is a text we already know or this is a text we already think we know. I would say actually that A Christmas Carol is the one single novella, the short novel, in the history of English literature, where everybody, or nearly everybody, knows the plot. Even if they haven't read it, even if they've never picked it up and opened it up, we all seem to instinctively know the story of Scrooge and Marley and the three ghosts and that redemptive arc that runs through the novel. And that, of course, has advantages, it means that A Christmas Carol is this cultural cornerstone. It is this set of images that we instinctively recognise. And Dickens is very shrewd, actually, in the way in which he organizes the novel. The structure of the novella has a part to play here, the way in which it is very logically organised into those five sections, the five staves, as Dickens calls them, to maintain this music metaphor. There is something very structurally obvious about A Christmas Carol, which it's prelude with Marley, the three ghosts, and then the epilogue where Scrooge is redeemed. So there's something about the structure of the novel itself which makes it easy to implant itself in our memory. So these are the advantages of this being such a famous novel. The disadvantages, however, are that it then becomes a very difficult text to approach with new eyes, to approach in anything approaching how readers would have looked at this in 1843. And I think we have a lot of preconceptions about what is actually happening in A Christmas Carol, which tend to come more from film, tend to come more from adaptations over the years the various ways which A Christmas Carol has been adapted for television, for film, all of these adaptations have imposed their own little additions or interpretations over the text. And in many ways, when we think about what is actually going on in the text, more often than not, we're thinking about what's going on in the films. So what I want us to do is to think about going back to Dickens's text, going back to what is actually happening in the novella, in what ways does it surprise us? In what ways actually does it do things that we maybe weren't expecting it to do because we are so familiar with television and film adaptations. So that is actually going to underline the rest of what I want to say about about the novel. Firstly, however, I want to very briefly put A Christmas Carol into a broader historical context. As I mentioned just now, it was written in 1843, published for Christmas 1843, published in a very handsome hardback edition. So in fact this novel is itself a commodity in itself, a gift, to be given it's by no means a cheap artefact, but it is a novella which is written in the midst of great deprivation, of famine, of hardship. It is actually written in the early period of what is commonly known as the Hungry Forties. So that decade of the 1840s, where we are nearing the end of the industrial revolution, the industrial revolution, which starts in the later stages of the 18th century and is nearly complete by the 1850s. But in the 1840s, we are really beginning to see the social and economic effects of a shift away from an agricultural to an industrial economy. The 1830s, the 1840s, are the age of the rise of the great cities, for instance, most obviously London, but also industrial centres like Birmingham and Manchester and so on. And what happens with the rise of the cities, what happens with this move away from an agricultural economy is that you get these huge centres of population and of course, in those huge centres of population, you get concentrations of poverty, of disease, of deprivation. This situation is, of course, exacerbated by agricultural failures elsewhere. So most famously in the 1840s in Ireland, the so-called great famine, the great potato famine, whereby you have a still relatively large population surviving through farming, but then whose crops are failing and that is leading to to emigration, to movement, again, towards the industrial centres. But this leads to a concentration of poverty and hardship. It's no coincidence that the 1840s are also the decade that sees Marx writing something like Marx and Engles, writing something like the Communist Manifesto, thinking about ideas of inequality and material lives, material hardship. My aim here is not to say that Dickens is in any way a Marxist. He absolutely isn't in any sense, there's very much a sense in which Dickens's approach to economics is based on an idea of Christian morality rather than the idea of revolution or class warfare. Dickens really wants everyone to get along wheras Marx wants to overthrow the bourgeoisie. So Dickens is by no means a Marxist, but he and Marx are dealing with the same kinds of questions. They are dealing with the same kinds of questions of how do we deal with ideas of famine? How do we deal with the historical circumstance of a growth in industrialism and the growth of alienation within huge city spaces. So we get in the press of the time, the press of the hungry forties, comments such as that, and this is a few Christmases later, actually, so this is December 1846 I have on the slide here, The Times. So writing three years after A Christmas Carol is first published. And the Times is a strangely apologetic for continuing to write about this problem that there are thousands of people who are starving who are without wealth. The Times leader, the editorial writes "It cannot be more irksome to our readers that we should be continually harping on the same subject. It is painful to ourselves to be compelled to regard death by starvation as one of the standing topics for our leading columns". So there's a sense then in which this is the ongoing story. This is the ongoing historical context. And this is why Dickens then writes A Christmas Carol, a story which is all about the circulation of commodities, which is all about the sharing of wealth and the amelioration of hardship. We also get Dickens being directly inspired by his visit to a ragged school in London, a ragged school is a school for poor children, for working class children, bear in mind, of course, we do not have at this point any form of widespread public education in England. So we dont get until the later 19th century the 1870 Education Act. So schooling is very much on an ad hoc basis, obviously if you're rich, you can go to one of the major schools, Eton or Harrow. If, however, you're at the bottom of the pile, if you are fortunate, you might go to a ragged school to serve a charitable institution. And Dickens had visited one of these ragged schools in late summer, early late summer, 1843. And he writes to his friend Angela Burdett-Coutts on the 16th of September, he says "I've very seldom seen in all the strange and dreadful things I've seen in London and elsewhere, anything so shocking as the dire neglect of soul and body exhibited in these children". So he is thinking about especially the way in which deprivation affects children, the way in which it affects the young. He's also very much concerned about a recent report in to child labour and the way in which children are employed in hard labour, employed in mines and heavy industries and so on. And there's very much a sense for Dickens, as a member, or as an emerging member of a fairly comfortable middle class, he's also very much bound up with sentimental ideas of childhood, ideas that actually the child is a figure of innocence, that the child is somebody who should be outside of the marketplace, who shouldn't be necessarily subject to these ideas of economic deprivation. So seeing the children then at the ragged school, perhaps this idea in his mind, we can see actually how it is in his letter to his friend Angela Burdett-Coots. Talking about the dire neglect of soul and body exhibited in these children, we can see how this actually plays into later on in A Christmas Carol, the ragged figures of the children Ignorance and Want huddled under the cloak of the ghost of Christmas present. Those children, who in being hidden under the cloak, this becomes a metaphor for the way in which these children are hidden from the polite view of society. So that was a very, I mean, that was a very broad strokes introduction to the historical context in which Dickens is writing, the kind of things that are going on that influence him, in 1843 when he comes to sit down and write A Christmas Carol. And what I want to do in this sort of the final section of this part is just to think about some of the broader questions that that historical context raises and these might be questions that you want to think about in lessons and to think about in your own close readings of selected passages from the novel. These are questions that I think interest me and that arise out of reading A Christmas Carol through history, through cultural approaches to the novella. So the first question then is to consider how far or how far reaching is Dickens's criticism of social inequality? So I mentioned just now the fact that Dickens is writing it around the same time as Karl Marx, a philosopher and economist of the Communist Manifesto and Capital who has this very obviously, a very far reaching program of social revolution. Dickens doesn't quite go that far in A Christmas Carol, as I mentioned earlier, Dickens's sense of morality in the novel is very much based on Christianity, is very much based on Christian morality. And although Dickens is often taken to be this revolutionary figure, he's sometimes taken to be this figure who is a social reformer, who wants to get rid of political inequality, who wants to get rid of economic inequality, that only goes so far because of course, what we have in A Christmas Carol, is a novel where the class system is never really fully challenged. Dickens's argument in A Christmas Carol is not actually to tear down class division. It's not to completely erase class hierarchy. It's not revolutionary in that sense. Rather, Dickens's model of reform in A Christmas Carol is rather more based in those who are better well-off taking responsibility for those who are less well-off. So it is a form of paternalism, we might call it, a social paternalism, paternalism of noblesse oblige, of those in the middle class taking on responsibility for those in the working class, but those two classes are never really challenged. That structure is in place. It all becomes a matter really of how you treat the other with sympathy, with decorum and so on. So we can think then about how you know, how far reaching is this novel as a criticism of the movement towards an industrial capitalist society? And related to that is this second question which is focussed on Scrooge and the terms of Scrooge's transformation. And this, I think, is where we have to distance ourselves from the film versions. You know, we've all seen films of A Christmas Carol, we've all seen television adaptations, and there's very much a structure that a lot of those films and adaptations tend to follow because they always tend to follow, they tend to follow this plot of Scrooge's transformation happening at the end, as being this climactic moment when Scrooge is sort of resistant most of the way through and then at the end that very famous scene where he's confronted with his gravestone, he's confronted with his name and the open grave and that in the cinematic version is where he redeems himself, when he realizes he's done wrong. Actually, if we look at what happens in Dickens's novel Scrooge's redemption is actually much earlier than that, actually fairly, surprisingly early on in A Christmas Carol, Scrooge begins to repent. He begins to regret what he has done. Scrooge's transformation is actually won in the novel surprisingly quickly and surprisingly easily. So this then raises another question, if Scrooge is actually won over fairly early on, or earlier than we tend to expect it, with the the first ghost, the ghost of Christmas past, what then is the point of the rest of the book? What then is the point of the ghost of Christmas present and the ghost of Christmas yet to come coming in, why, if Scrooge is already redeemed, why do we continue? Why does Dickens feel it necessary to continue with the plot? And the answer actually is very simple. The answer is that Dickens's novel A Christmas Carol, is not actually about the redemption of Scrooge. It's not actually about the conversion of Scrooge. That is not the central point of the text. What is the central point of the text is the redemption of us as readers. So actually, Scrooge might be converted fairly early on in the novella, but actually we as readers need a bit more convincing. We as readers, maybe Dickens thinks we need a little more argument to accept what Dickens is telling us, and this is actually a really odd position to think of ourselves in, because we tend to think of ourselves as readers of A Christmas Carol, as already siding with Dickens, we know we tend to think when we see the novel, we know Scrooge is a bad guy, we know we're somehow better than him, you know, and we get a vicarious thrill, as it were, out of patting ourselves on the back of saying, you know, we're better than Scrooge, we get it and he doesn't until the end of the film. Actually in the novella it's much more complex than that, Dickens is actually making out that we as readers are the ones who really need to be convinced. Scrooge actually becomes the vehicle of our own redemption. The third question that we might want to consider. I won't go into this in too much detail for the rest of this talk, but it's something you may want to take away with you and think about in terms of reading through A Christmas Carol, is this question of the use of the ghost story. And the ghost story as a genre, because in many ways A Christmas Carol is a very paradoxical text. On the one hand, it is very much rooted in real life situations, it is very much rooted, as I said just now, in existing inequalities, in narratives around famine, narratives around industrialization, the movement to the city. It is very much based in lived experience and the sufferings of real life people. So we might expect then if Dickens wanted to address these real life concerns, you know, we might expect him to write this novel of realism. We might expect him to write a novel that is recognizably taking place in a real world where, you know, where ghosts don't exist, where we dont sort of, you know, be taken out of the window at night and take on this wonderful tour in the air over England and so on, or where we can go back in time to our earlier state of being. We might expect Dickens to write a novel, actually, that would be intensely realistic. But that's not what he does. He actually uses the genre of the ghost story. He uses this fantastical genre to make points about the real world. So you might want to think, why is that? What does the ghost story offer? What does a ghost story do as a genre which makes this criticism of society more compelling. What is it that the ghosts can do that normal human beings can't? What kind of commentary can they offer? Now that's a sort of a trickier question, and, you know, you might want to think about that in a bit more detail. I'm not going to offer any sort of a hard and fast answers in this lecture but it is something to to think about. What is the tension between fantasy and reality in this novel? And why might Dickens use the genre of the ghost story to offer a criticism of actually real world concerns? And then the final question and again, this is something I've hinted at earlier, and it's not again, something I don't have time to go into today, but something you might want to carry away with you is to think about the material form of the book itself. As I already mentioned, it was published in a fairly luxurious edition. A Christmas Carol is itself a commodity. It is itself something to be given at Christmas. So we might think then about what is the effect of that? What is the effect of the structure of the novel, the fact that it is arranged in these staves, in these five chapters. As I said earlier, the fact that it has this very easily memorizable structure. So in this second section, I want to perform a close reading of the opening paragraph of a Christmas Carol. And this is usually a technique that I would use in introducing a text where maybe not everybody in the audience might know the novel. I often find that close reading the opening paragraph of the text is a good way of getting people into the study of the text, even if they have no prior knowledge of it, because that is where the readers of A Christmas Carol in 1843 would have been having bought their copies and opened it up, not knowing anything about this novel. Now, of course, as I said in the first part, that is slightly trickier with A Christmas Carol, because it is so culturally famous, because it has so many films and adaptations. There's that sense in which we already know this text without even having read it in the first place in many cases. So what I want to do with this close reading exercise is pay very close attention to specifically Dickens's style, the way in which Dickens writes, the way in which he constructs his sentences and how those sentences build up into a paragraph and how that paragraph in turn builds into a novella. So what I'm going to explore here is a technique which you can then use, you can then apply to any paragraph, any section from A Christmas Carol. We are in effect going to take something like an X-ray of how Dickens's novel works. So we're going to look at the opening of the text, I shall read the first paragraph, I'll actually read the first two paragraphs of this novella. This might be a good, as this is a recording, this might actually be a good point for you to pause the narration and have a look. Read through these paragraphs yourself in your own time and come up with some ideas about what what is going on in these various sentences in these two paragraphs that open up one of the most famous novels in English. So I'll let you have a read through these paragraphs. Let's say just hit the pause button and then we'll resume in a second working through this sentence by sentence. So the first sentence then of A Christmas Carol, is quite an unusual opening for a novel. It is one of the most famous openings in 19th century literature, we tend to think maybe of the Victorian novel, the 19th century novel certainly, as being characterised by its opening sentences. And A Christmas Carol is no exception. But it does something quite odd. This is a rather unusual opening sentence. 'Marley was dead: to begin with'. We've got already in this opening sentence, this clash of endings and beginnings. A Christmas Carol starts off with this first name character being dead, being at the end of his life. Of course, we know later on that this is not actually the end of Marley's existence, but there's something disorienting about starting the novel in this way. We expect an opening sentence to be about beginnings, to open up a vista to us. And it seems that what Dickens is doing in this opening sentence is actually presenting us with an ending. At least in the first part of the sentence, I think what's most interesting about this sentence from a structural point of view is the use of that colon in the middle. This is a very perfectly formed sentence. We have six words divided into two statements of three words, three words each and divided in the middle by that colon. I think that colon is doing a very important thing in the context of the sentence. For a start it is making 'to begin with' graphically dependent on 'Marley was dead' . 'To begin with' arises grammatically out of Marley being dead. That is what the colon does. It separates a statement from a secondary statement that arises out of that that first opening statement. And I think the fact that this is a colon rather than a comma is really quite important. You will find actually, it's worth actually looking at whatever copy of A Christmas Carol you have because you do find actually that a surprising number of editions get this opening sentence wrong. They actually replaced the colon with a comma. So it's worth checking actually what your edition says. The colon is the correct version. It is the authorised text of A Christmas Carol. But I think a lot of editions actually expect it to be a comma because it sounds like it should be, that the sentence has that cadence to it, that it should be a comma, a pause, rather than the colon stopping dead and then moving on to a subordinate clause. So already from the outset, we have to be on the guard against what we think is being said and what is actually being said. Something that sounds like it should be a comma is, in fact, a colon in this opening sentence. And I think actually this colon is perhaps for that reason one of the most famous pieces of punctuation in Victorian literature. So what is that colon doing then? What is the effect of making 'to begin with' dependent on, or arising out of Marley being dead? And I think there are two things going on here so that colon actually raises an ambiguity. So the two things here are the two meanings of that phrase 'to begin with'. Because on the one hand 'to begin with' refers to the narrative as if the storyteller here the narratorial voice, who we have to be careful of course not to confuse with Dickens, the narratorial voice is saying 'Marley was dead: to begin with' in our story. This is the opening statement. This is how our story will begin. So we have 'to begin with' in that sense that once upon a time reading of 'to begin with''. So that's the first meaning, but of course, the second meaning is actually that 'to begin with' is a description of Marley's state of being dead, Marley was dead to begin with, but later on, he wasn't dead, later on he actually starts the novel dead, but actually he comes back to life. And of course, for readers in 1843 we may not know that's what's going to happen. Of course, for us as readers in May 2020, it's very different because we're familiar with A Christmas Carol, we know actually that Marley is going to come back from the dead. But what we have here in this opening sentence is the fact that Marley was dead to begin with, but later on, he has a ghostly life. He comes back to haunt Scrooge. So that then, I think, is the importance of that colon and the importance of this double structure, of that opening sentence, three words and another set of three words linked together by this punctuation, by this colon, it emphasizes that ambiguity of 'to begin with', this is not only a story that is beginning, but it is also the story of Marley not being dead, of coming back from the dead. Starting off the story as being dead, but not actually remaining so.
A Christmas Carol – Part 2
Christopher Pittard So we move on to the second sentence then and 'there is no doubt whatever about that'. Now, this, again, is a very strange thing for the narratorial voice to be saying, because this assertion here, there's no doubt whatoever about that, it should actually put us on our guard. It should actually make us suspect that there should be doubt, because if there is why does the narrator feel the need to establish that Marley being dead is a fact? Why insist on that? Why? Why say, you know, he's dead. We could take it on trust. No doubt whatever. We have to believe that. If someone was saying this in a conversation with us, you know, we might very reasonably think, why are they focussing on this? Why? You know, why are they so insistent that we should believe that, there should be no doubt whatever about what they're saying. And usually when we're in that situation, we begin to think hold on, you know, maybe this person is so insistent on saying what they're saying is true that we begin to doubt we begin to think, you know, maybe this isn't quite the case. Maybe the person is protesting too much in effect. Which is what the story is doing here. Marley was dead, there's no doubt whatever about that. But actually, that assertion puts doubt in our mind. It suddenly begins to make us think, hold on, is there a sense of someone being dead but not being dead at the same time? So from the second sentence onwards, we are moving into the genre of the ghost story. We are moving into the conditions of the ghost story, which, of course, we do see later on in the first chapter at the beginning of the third paragraph, which I won't talk about today, but it's something you can have a look at in your own time. So we then move on to this these third and fourth sentences 'The register of his burial was signed by a clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker and the chief mourner'. So what we get here then is again, that proof that Marley is dead. We're three sentences in to A Christmas Carol, and the narrator is still trying to convince us that Marley is dead and showing us that Marley's death is guaranteed by a written document. The register of his burial has being signed by all of these various officials. So there's a sense then that if somebody is written to be dead, then they must be. The written document confirms it, it's the official documentation, the official paperwork. All the paperwork's been signed off. So therefore, it must be true. But of course, this is heavily ironic because A Christmas Carol itself, the novel is also a written document. It is also a piece of paper, is also a piece of paperwork, which has been signed off maybe not by an official, but certainly by the authorial figure Dickens himself. A Christmas Carol is also a written document, this questioning Marley's death. So we're already in the in the realms of thinking about how language works, how documents work, how writing operates, is something necessarily true simply because it is written down, because it is signed by the official clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker and the chief mourner? We then get in the second sentence of this little section that I've highlighted 'Scrooge signed it'. Scrooge himself is the person who guarantees Marley's death in writing. So Scrooge's name here, raises questions of promises and of exchange. 'Scrooge's name was good upon 'change for anything he chose to put his hand to'. We've got this idea then of words becoming commodities, of language becoming commodities. Scrooge has signed off on Marley's death. So that becomes an article of exchange. It becomes a guarantee, as it were. So we've got this sense then of words as commodities, the space of the marketplace as invading language itself. 'Put his hand to' as well, actually, is a really striking choice of phrase that that that Dickens chooses here. It is also ironically ambiguous. It suggests both a hand as handwriting, so hand a signature. The fact that Scrooge's word is good enough that anything he signs is genuine, is true, is a good commodity, a good thing to be exchanged. So we got that meaning of hand, but we've also got hand as referring to handiwork, referring to labour. That sense of doing something by hand, of being a hand who works in a factory. Now, of course, we know that Scrooge is not a labouring figure. He is someone who benefits from the labour of others, but who is someone who is outside of that realm of factory work, of hard labour, of labouring by hand. But I think Dickens is really clever here in using that term 'he chose to put his hand to'. Yes, we've got hand in terms of Scrooge signing something, signing something off, but we've got that ghostly figure already of the figure of the labourer, the figure of someone who survives by hand, that role in the economy that Scrooge has refused. But of course, we see these labourers much later on in the novel. Most obviously with the ghost of Christmas present, with the tours of the industrial mining landscapes of Cornwall later on in the text. So this is also the subtlety of the language here is raising that theme of economics, is raising that theme of how societies economically organised. So we come to the final sentence of this opening paragraph. 'Old Marley was as dead as a doornail'. So earlier I said how in that previous couple of sentences we have that idea of promise, of exchange. The fact that Scrooge's name is good on the exchange for anything he cares to confirm, anything he cares to sign off. So we get another form of exchange here, we get, it's tied to Marley's death through the use of simile, that rhetorical figure of saying that something is like something else. Marley was as dead as a doornail. Marley's death can be compared pretty similarly to a doornail. So two points here. First, all this is reinforcing this idea of language as a system of exchange. The idea of Marley being dead is somehow linguistically equivalent to the symbol of a doornail. So ideas of symbols being exchanged for each other, of words being exchanged for each other, as if they were money, as if they were commodities. But again, we conclude this final paragraph still with that insistence on Marley's death. And I know we're taking this paragraph rather slowly, but even if we were reading this at normal speed, I think even if we knew nothing about A Christmas Carol, we would be wondering at this point, why is the narratorial voice going on about this? Why this insistence at every sentence, at every turn that Marley is dead, this is surely now putting us on our guard, surely adding up to a sense in which Marley isn't dead. There's something weird going on, something uncanny happening. So we move on to the second paragraph 'Mind!' So the second paragraph actually interrupts the prose. It is a single word sentence. Everything we've looked at so far has been of a particular length. I spoke rather briefly about the structure of that first sentence, the way in which it is very elegantly composed of two three word statements connected by that colon. We then have a slightly longer second sentence, an even longer third sentence. A fourth sentence which then starts to bring these elements together. It's quite long, but it has a colon again. 'Scrooge signed it'. So again, that sense of the colon as bringing together clauses as articulating blocks of language. And then finally we get in the first paragraph, that sentence which starts to bring in ideas of metaphor and ideas of simile 'as dead as a doornail'. So the text is gaining in confidence, it's playing with language, it's playing with ideas of exchange, of the construction of sentences and all of that suddenly comes to an abrupt halt when we get to this point, the beginning of the second paragraph and that exclamation, that one word explanation 'Mind!'. It pulls us up short. We've got into a certain kind of rhythm of reading these sentences throughout the first paragraph. Then suddenly we're told to stop. We're told to say, hold on a minute, we need to review this. We need to think about how this simile works, think about the story that we've been told so far. So the sentence construction itself, or I say sentence, its not even a sentence, it's a fragment of a sentence, it's a single word, the way in which this passage is constructed, the structure of it ties in to the way in which you read, the rhythm by which we read it. So moving on then to what follows after that one word interruption, that sudden jolt that we get as as readers. I think there's a lot going on here actually, there's a lot embedded in this particular sentence, which I think needs a bit of unpacking, needs a bit of explanation, because it demonstrates, I think, more fully why we have that sense of disorientation at the start of this second paragraph. So firstly, we get the imposition of a narrative voice here, a first person narrator 'I don't mean to say that I know, of my own knowledge, what there is particularly dead about a doornail'. So we've got this narratorial I speaking, because up to this point it's not really being clear whether this is going to be a novel in the first person or in the third person. And actually that first paragraph we could absolutely say is in the third person, there doesn't seem to be a narratorial perspective, there doesn't seem to be a narratorial identity involved, this could simply be some kind of omniscient narrator. So the first point then is in the beginning of the second paragraph we're suddenly made aware of this narratorial perspective. We're made aware that this is actually a story being told by somebody. And yet, this narratorial voice, and I'm being very careful here to use that term narratorial voice because I don't want us to think that this is Dickens himself. This is not Dickens speaking directly. This is actually another character who Dickens has created. We have to always be very careful not to confuse the figure of the author, Charles Dickens with the first person narrator of his novels. These are two very distinct figures, and we need to keep that in mind. But I think what is interesting here is that actually, we never really hear, or we only fleetingly hear again from this first person narrator. This narrator actually doesn't play any part in the story, we don't hear about this narrator later on saying, oh, I went to Scrooge's office or I met Bob Cratchit or I spoke to Tiny Tim or any of that. This narrator, this narratorial voice, whoever this I is, who's speaking to us, actually does not play any role in the events that happen. And for the most part actually, disappears from view, is completely invisible. So actually, you could get, following this, you can go into the second and third staves of A Christmas Carol, and you could actually forget that there was a first person narrator, you could quite easily slip back into thinking that this is a novel written in the third person. And I think this is really interesting because actually what we have here is another ghost. If you ask people how many ghosts are there in A Christmas Carol, most people will say four, so the three ghosts of Christmas and Jacob Marley. You might get people who are more familiar with the novel, who would say there are countless ghosts, because, of course, there's that scene where Scrooge looks up into the sky and the sky is full of spectres, is full of the ghosts of those who have who've not lived the best lives that they could. But very few people actually say there are five ghosts in A Christmas Carol. I think that there are. We've got the three ghosts of Christmas, we've got the ghost of Jacob Marley, and then this ghost, the narrating figure, this figure who suddenly pops up out of the woodwork, to say, well, I'm telling the story, I'm narrating this, a figure who actually does his best to fade into the background, to not draw attention to himself. Well, I think we need to pay attention to that, because actually there's another ghost here, that Dickens is sort of slipping under our radar here, this ghost of a spectral narrator. So that's the first point that is interesting about this sentence. The second point goes back to the point I made earlier about the use of simile, the use of figurative language 'as dead as a doornail', because what we get here is actually this examination of this simile being examined in more detail, almost as if it is like the quality of a coin being tested, you know, to bite into it to make sure it's not a forgery or holding a banknote up to the light to make sure it's valuable to make sure it's a valid token of exchange. We see the same thing happening here. We see the narratorial voice testing the simile that's just made. Say well, no does this really work? Does this really, is this a fair exchange? Can we exchange the idea of being dead with the idea of a doornail? Is a doornail dead in the first place? The narrator says I don't know what there is, particularly dead about a doornail. So what is important here, firstly, is a question of whether inanimate objects can be said to be dead or not. Therefore, implying that they're are not that inanimate in the first place. So we've got this idea then of things that are inanimate coming to life or having the potential to come to life. And of course we see that much, much later in the book or a little bit later in the book where objects come to life, where, for instance, the door knocker on Scrooge's front door momentarily turns into the face of of Marley. So A Christmas Carol then takes place in this rather uncanny world, takes place in a world where nothing is really dead. Not humans who have died because they come back as ghosts, but not even objects, even objects seem to have a life of their own. Seem to have this animation or this quality of animation about them, and that is a really strange feeling there's a really strange, uncanny sense of the universe of this novel. So we move onto the next sentence and the narrator is still testing the quality of his language. He's still testing if that simile works. 'I might have been inclined myself to regard a coffin nail as the deadest piece of ironmongery in the trade'. Why? Why a doornail? Why not a coffin nail? Now, surely that comparison makes a lot more sense. So the narrator here is breaking off from the story, it's worth noting here at this point that the narrative has stopped. We've stopped thinking about moving the story forward, we still don't know who Marley is actually at this point, we don't really know who Scrooge is at this point. So the narration of events and characters has completely stopped. We're actually now talking about language. We're now talking about well does this metaphor work? Does this simile actually work as a piece of fair exchange? So the narrator then is breaking off from the narrative to think about the accuracy of his simile and wonders why the phrase dead as a coffin nail doesn't exist. You know, you don't say as dead as a coffin nail. We dont have that saying and the narrator's sort of thinking, well, maybe we should. Maybe it would make more sense to say something was as dead as a coffin nail. And I think there are two points to be made here. The first of which is that we instinctively realise that this simile works through alliteration. It works through that repetition of sound as dead as a doornail. That repetition of the D sound. The D sound. That works at almost an unconscious level to make us think, yes, these two things are similar, they sound alike, they have that same verbal quality. A doornail sounds dead, so actually then we're also being asked to consider the sounds of words. We're being asked to consider the poetry of language, the way in which language operates through being spoken, through being heard, the way that you are, again, in a rather ghostly way, listening to me speak now even though I'm not present at the moment that you're listening to this lecture. You're listening to the sounds that I'm making. And if we think about this, I mean, it's worth actually going back actually to that third sentence, which also is playing with ideas of sound, of repetition, of alliteration. The clergyman and the clerk, for instance. Whatever we, maybe we didn't notice that when we were looking at that sentence a few moments ago. But again, it has that rhythm to it, that sense of alliteration and repetition. The clergyman and the clerk are of similar standing because they sound like each other. Likewise, the door nail is dead because they are connected through that alliterative function. So that's the first point I find interesting about this sentence. The second is that actually, what happens here is that the narrator doesn't quite understand how similes work. And I think that's really interesting because that then tells us that this narrator is not Dickens himself, because Dickens, of course, is a master of using simile. He's a master of using metaphor. We would expect Dickens to know how a simile works. And what I mean by this simile, by the narrator not understanding how simile works is that of course, similes depend on difference between two terms. They depend on things being fundamentally different in order to be more striking. So there's no inherent connection between a doornail and the idea of death, but because a doornail is inanimate, we can sort of make that imaginative leap. So simile, in order to be striking, in order to be useful or poetically interesting, metaphor and simile, the two terms, have to be different. There has to be distance between them. So a coffin nail, for instance, is already too close to the idea of death to provide a good simile, we dont think of that as being a sort of striking image because the coffin nail is already too close to the idea of death, of being rammed into a coffin. It's too close, that idea of mortality. So you think actually that's not a very good simile at all it's too obvious. It's like saying somebody is as dead as a dead thing. No, that's a very weak simile, because you're essentially comparing two things that are already too close together. So we've got then, the narrator of the story, who is not Dickens, because Dickens would absolutely realise how simile works, we've got the narrator reflecting on language, and exchange and how figurative language operates. So having raised this question then of why should a doornail be particularly dead? How does this figurative language work? The narrator then sort of lapses into a sort of resignation. He lapses into this resigned acceptance that that is the phrase, that's the phrase that everybody knows, and actually, it's that way because the wisdom of our ancestors is in the simile based on he's suggesting here the comparison is true because it's existed for years. It's the phrase that's been handed down over generations. It's the logic of it's always been that way. Now, again, that is definitely not Dickens. That's definitely not how Dickens thinks. Dickens actually in real life is very much a reformer. He's very much interested in modernity and being up to date. He's very sceptical of appeals to authority or appeals to tradition. He's always very sceptical of arguments that go along the lines that well social inequality is acceptable because that's the way it's always been, we shouldn't try and improve society, we shouldn't try and improve language. So the fact that the narrator here is saying, well, you know, it's the wisdom of our ancestors, it's a way it's always been, you know, who am I to overturn tradition? That is a very unDickensian sentiment. And again, it's more evidence of thinking that actually the narrating I of A Christmas Carol, should not be identified with Dickens himself. So that's the first clause here, and it's interesting here that we now move from colons to semi-colons, so the punctuation is becoming more complex, the sentence structure is becoming more complex. After the semicolon, the writer goes on to say 'my unhallowed hands shall not disturb it, or the Country's done for'. So again, this clause is introducing two of the novels major themes. Two of the themes that we'll see played out in what follows in A Christmas Carol. One of which is religion 'my unhallowed hands', my hands that are somehow unreligious, are secular or profane. And the state of the nation 'or the Country's done for', bear in mind, as I said earlier on in in the first part, this is also a novel about the state of England, about the condition of the working class and the responsibilities that the middle and upper class have towards them. So we're bringing together here on the one hand an idea of Christian sympathy, on the other hand idea of broader national politics. Worth noting as well, we get that reference to hands as well. This is the second time we've seen hands in the space of a page. And again, hands are these wonderfully complex images in Victorian fiction. And in fact, I think there's something rather apocalyptic here in this narrator's assertion that the country is done for if we question how language works. There seems to be a sense of well we have to accept how simile works, we have to accept our metaphor works because if we don't the whole structure comes tumbling down. What happens to order? So suddenly we've gone from Mar;ey being dead to begin with to the country being done for, to national crisis, to the breakdown of society. All of these contexts we might miss if we if we read these paragraphs too quickly, if we sort of get past because we think you know, I want to get to the story, I want to see what happens next with Scrooge and Marley. So finally, then, the final bit of these two paragraphs, 'You will therefore permit me to repeat emphatically that Marley was as dead as a doornail'. So the paragraph then appears to end where it began, with a repetition of Marley being dead. Going back to the the simile, dead as a doornail. And again, that that emphasis, you know the fact of this claim of Marley's death is being repeated and is being repeated emphatically. You have to believe me. I'm going to repeat this again. I'm going to say this emphatically. Marley is dead. He's as dead as a doornail. There's nothing more to be said on the matter. Which, of course, we know is ironic because we are at the very beginning of a much broader tale. But while this paragraph seems to have cycled back to the very beginning of the novel, by the time we get back to that beginning, there's a lot that's been discussed under the surface of the text. And in fact, the final move here is to bring us as readers into it. So if at the beginning of the second paragraph we have a narrating I, 'I dont mean to say that I know', the narrating I suddenly pops up, at the end of the second paragraph suddenly the narrator is implicating us. 'You will therefore permit me'. We as readers sitting in at home reading A Christmas Carol, we may be sitting looking around at this point, who me? I have to permit you to repeat? It's a very clever piece of writing. The narrator is suddenly bringing us into the space of the novel, we're giving permission to the narrator to carry on with his narrative, which goes back to what I was saying earlier about how A Christmas Carol is not really about convincing Scrooge, because that is actually achieved fairly early on in the text, but rather it is about convincing us and getting us to change.
Christopher Pittard So in this final section then I'm going to do a shorter version of the exercise I did in the second part. So in the second part, we looked at the opening page of A Christmas Carol. We went into that in a lot of detail. So what I want to do is repeat that with the ghost of Christmas present, who appears slightly later in the novel. And as I say, I'm not gonna go through this passage in quite the same level of detail, partially because, again, for time constraints, but also because I want you to be thinking about this. I want you to take the techniques that we looked at in the second part, that attention to language, attention to the narratorial voice, to the construction of sentences, the punctuation, the way in which they're paced and so on, that balance between reflection on language and pushing the story forward. Take all of those techniques and apply those to the next passage, which is a description of the ghost of Christmas present. So again, I'm not going to read this out in its entirety, this might be a good point for you to pause the recording and to read through this and to think about what you might come up with. And obviously, when when you come back having done that, I'll have a few, six or so points that I find particularly interesting about this passage. So this might be a good place for you to press pause and to think about what is going on in this section. So as I say, I'm not gonna do a sort of sentence by sentence close reading this time. But I just want to point out a few points of interest that might provide a starting point for such a reading that you can work through in your own time. So the first point rather obviously is that the ghost of Christmas present represents a state of excess. In Leach's picture here he's surrounded by too much food. He is a figure who dwarfs Scrooge. He's this giant figure, this larger than life figure. Everything about the ghost of Christmas present is over the top, is excessive. And this is not excess as indulgence, but rather excess as plenty, and again, this is where we need to think about the novel in the context of the 1840s, the context of the hungry forties, of poverty, of famine, of deprivation. So there's a sense in which the ghost of Christmas present is a figure of wish fulfilment, of Dickens giving us this character of someone who is so excessive, who could potentially feed the thousands who are starving in Ireland, in industrial centres of Great Britain and so on. If we look, for instance, at his speech patterns, his introductory dialogue is nearly all exclamation. 'Come in! Come in and know me better, man!, even his speech is excessive, even his speech is over the top. And likewise, the description of the ghost of Christmas present is similarly excessive. If we look, for instance, at that final paragraph, there's this piling up of clauses in the main paragraph here, like the piling up of food in Leach's image. Description, layered upon description, layered upon description. Again, this is not again about moving the story forward. It's not about event. It's not describing what is happening. Again, it is pausing and it is painting this picture, painting this picture of excess, of detail layered upon detail. So the second point I find interesting about here is the reference to the garment 'It was clothed in one simple green robe or mantle bordered with white fur. This garment hung so loosely on the figure that it's capacious breast was bare, as if disdaining to be warded or concealed by any artifice'. And I think as we saw in the first close reading exercise we did, I think we always need to be on the lookout for ambiguity. I think it's a really good technique in reading to be looking out for words that might have multiple meanings or where the multiple meanings coexist. So it's not a case of saying one meaning is correct and one is incorrect, but rather thinking about how these two meanings are in tension with each other and how that tension makes the text interesting, how it makes it complex. So I think the word that strikes me out of this paragraph is that word artifice and artifice has a double meaning here. So on the one hand, we have artifice as meaning something manmade, artificial, which of course is where we get that term artificial from. Something like clothing, clothing is manmade, is artificial, it doesn't occur in nature. So it is the work of human art. So that's the first meaning of artifice as something which is constructed, something which is manmade. But the second meaning of artifice is also artifice as deception, something which is meant to trick you, something which is meant to fool you. A trick, a sleight of hand. So the language here focuses on a lack of constraint, it refers to his unconstrained demeanour, the ghost of Christmas present's unconstrained demeanour, both literal and emotional as well. So the fact that the ghost of Christmas present is somebody who is unconstrained because he has all this food around him, he has this access to resources, but also is emotionally unconstrained, he's over the top, he's always shouting at Scrooge. He's hearty. He's always happy. So there's a sense then in which the ghost of Christmas present is completely open, is completely emotionally visible, but that word artifice that makes us think, well, you know, is there something he's holding back? Is that something that he's hiding? And of course, there is. It's those figures of Ignorance and Want, those two children I mentioned near the beginning. So we've got this sense of the ghost of Christmas present as somebody who seems obvious, who seems all surface, but who has this artifice within him, who has this trickery about him, this concealment about him. We also have the reference to the sword that is rusty through lack of use. So we've got then this idea of the ghost of Christmas present as representing a lack of conflict, of peace on earth, of the removal of war, the end of war. His sword has become rusty through lack of use. He seems to exist in this utopian realm, this perfect realm where people are no longer in conflict, there doesn't need to be any conflict, there doesn't need to be any useful weaponry or swords. And finally, we have the reference to Scrooge's transformation. The fact that actually Scrooge's transformation has already begun 'He was not the dogged Scrooge he had been; and though the spirit's eyes were clear and kind, he did not like to meet them'. And as I said earlier in the lecture, in the first part, modern adaptations of A Christmas Carol tend to focus on the process of transforming Scrooge, and Scrooge's full transformation is usually delayed until the end. But here we can see that actually already Scrooge is not the dogged Scrooge he had been. Actually, his transformation is already fairly well advanced. Scrooge is already beginning to feel shame. He's already beginning to feel sorrow. The fact that he cannot feel up to looking into the ghost's eyes. So finally, then we get this sense of Dickens's aim in A Christmas Carol, is not the conversion of Scrooge because that is already being achieved, but we've still got at least another ghost to go, and this is actually at the beginning of the ghost of Christmas present, so we're not even quite halfway through the three ghost structure of the novel yet. So Scrooge has already changed, he's not the dogged Scrooge he once was. But we need to be convinced, we're the ones who need to be taught in this novel to be more compassionate, to be more sympathetic to others, to take on those lessons of the three ghosts. So I'll leave it there but I will let you have a look through this passage. Think about what you might think about in terms of sentence structure, in terms of imagery, theres a lot more to get out of this that I haven't had time to go through today.
Subject events for schools and colleges
Get an insight into studying subjects at university with our subject-specific events and Taster Days.
English and creative writing courses
Writing has the power to transport readers and listeners to an entirely different time and place. Tailor your studies to suit your goals, and graduate with the knowledge and skills find your dream career.
Reasons to get a degree
Discover the benefits of getting a degree and the opportunities you'll get at uni