Author Archives: Klarisa Loft

Negative Reviews and Criticism (Or Lack Thereof) on Dickens and A Christmas Carol

Through many a vigorous search, we have found that there are very limited reviews and criticisms that reflect a negative perspective on A Christmas Carol. It is a beloved classic that doesn’t seem to lose any magic or momentum as the years progress. However, a few were found that gave some slight criticism to the novel (although they usually followed or were followed by praise). Edgar Johnson, once a Dickens biographer, stated that Dickens, “leaves his surface so entirely clear and the behavior of his characters so plain that they do not puzzle us into groping for gnomic meanings…surely all the world knows that Dickens is never profound?” (Gold 153) This is a general statement on Dickens’ work overall, but can, therefore, be applied to A Christmas Carol. Johnson is claiming that Dickens’ characters are easy to interpret, without much complication. This makes them predictable and less meaningful.

In reference to other negative criticism, there are suggestions of what general populaces think as a whole. For example, in another writing by Edgar Johnson: “There have been readers who objected to Scrooge’s conversion as too radical to be psychologically convincing” (Johnson 488). People like this criticize Scrooge’s character development, declaring it unrealistic and unbelievable. We must take note that none of these readers seemed to ever write about their thoughts on the matter, but Johnson claims that they do exist. He then goes on to say that to state such things about Scrooge’s character, “is to mistake a semi-serious fantasy for a piece of prosaic realism” (Johnson 488). Through this statement, Johnson briefly expresses his belief that such people are wrong on the subject. Edward Wagenknecht, a twentieth-century literary critic, does something similar in his book Dickens and the Scandalmongers: Essays in Criticism: “Shall we ask what Scrooge would be like if we were to follow him beyond the frame of the story? Unquestionably he would relapse when the merriment was over…into moroseness, vindictiveness, suspicion…if a critic finds the conversion of Scrooge unconvincing, let him say so” (Wagenknecht 116). Both Johnson and Wagenknecht leave the floor open for others to criticize, and even give possible examples of what they might say (even if they don’t necessarily agree with the statement themselves). They likely do this because of the lack of negative criticism out there on Dickens and A Christmas Carol. So many people praise him that Wagenknecht even says himself that, “Dickens, after all, has no real need of protection” (Wagenknecht 119).

Jonathan H. Grossman, an English professor at UCLA, claims that there is an “absent Jew” in a few of Dickens’ works, including A Christmas Carol: “he never constructs a Jewish character like his mimetic characters, who exist in the context of a home or a community. Unless, perhaps, ironically a Jew at home and in the community is suggested by the character Ebenezer Scrooge” (Grossman 50). Grossman goes on to express the possibility of Scrooge being Jewish and uses the first conversation between Scrooge and his nephew, Fred, as an example. Scrooge asks Fred why he got married, to which Grossman proclaims, “makes sense if Scrooge is Jewish: a Jewish uncle sees his (Jewish) nephew’s celebration of Christmas dinner as a direct result of his marriage to a Christian” (Grossman 50). Here, he states that Scrooge may be upset at Fred’s marriage because it involved a Christian and now a Christian holiday. This is, of course, only valid if Scrooge is accepted as an originally Jewish character. The revelation of Scrooge accepting Christmas and the ideals that come with it in the end might suggest that Dickens is portraying Christianity as the more perfect religion and value system; the only belief that can really “save” a person, making the moral value of the novel almost unavailable to other religions.

Is A Christmas Carol too narrow or allegorical in its portrayal of a true Christian Christmas? Do you think that Scrooge’s personality shift throughout the novel is meant to symbolize him being “saved” in a Christian sense?

Is Dickens suggesting that, for a society to be morally good, it needs to uphold Christian values?