The annotated Christmas carol : a Christmas carol

by Charles Dickens

Other authorsMichael Patrick Hearn (Introduction), John Leech (Illustrator)
Hardcover, 1976




New York : C.N. Potter, 1976.


The celebrated annotator of "The Wizard of Oz" and "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" has now prepared a new edition of the Dickens classic and includes the history of the book's evolution.

User reviews

LibraryThing member mmyoung
This review is divided into two sections: the first deals with this reviewer’s assessment of this volume as an annotation while the second assesses the book annotated.

Part One: The Annotated Christmas Carol as a volume of annotation.

Frankly this reviewer was not impressed by the annotating. While
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some annotations seemed superfluous there were points where comment seemed called for and none was included. The annotator did point out some instances of cant but failed to discuss other points of possible confusion in the text. For example, it is difficult to judge generosity or economy when there is no clear sense of the ‘real world’ or ‘present day’ cost of things. Did Scrooge pay Cratchit more or less than was common for men in that situation? What are we to imagine Scrooge’s nephew did for a living? Was it normal for a clerk not to have actual winter coat or is Cratchit’s need to wear a comforter for warmth common? How unusual was it for someone to have rooms in a building otherwise let out only to offices? Was the Cratchit house of typical size for a family of that number? And was a family of that size typical for a clerk making the wages Cratchit could expect?

While the annotations were not adequate to answering these questions they also did a bad job of contextualizing the ways in which the England of Dicken’s time was changing as the industrial revolution took hold and society became more and more urban.

Part Two: The Christmas Carol - a story by Charles Dickens

The reviewer has always found this story to suffer from fractured logic and distasteful theology. Scrooge is initially visited by the ghost of Marley warning him as to the “after life” consequences of the way Scrooge has chosen to live. Then that aspect of the story is dropped. Scrooge’s visitors do not terrify him with warnings of punishment to come but rather taunt him with memories, loneliness and death. The Spirit of Christmas Past does no more than remind Scrooge of past hopes and disappointments. As Scrooge himself said, a bit of undercooked potato could bring about the same kind of vivid dreams. The Spirit of Christmas Present shows Scrooge all the people who are celebrating Christmas that year. Yet Scrooge knew that people were doing this long before he was visited by this Spirit. Indeed he complained of them doing so since their behaviour wanted thrift on their part and presumed much on the generosity of those who, like him, did not celebrate the season. Indeed the Scrooge, first met by the reader, would have asked what good all the singing, praying and worship was doing these people who would be as cold and hungry the day after Christmas as they were the day before. Would they have not been better off to invest the money spent on the Christmas dinner and used the energy they expended on Christmas celebrations to improve their own circumstances? As for the horror previewed by the Spirit of Christmas Future it was simply that Scrooge would die alone (something he must have long since realized) and that enterprising people would attempt to make money from his corpse and belongings. This reviewer is tempted to believe that the Scrooge met in the opening pages would have actually approved of, if not applauded, the behaviour of these men and women who did not let superstition and convention stand between them and the making of a profit. In sum, Scrooge’s dread realization was that he had once had foolish dreams, that those around him who partook in Christmas were not all repaid with warmth and good food and that he, like all human beings, would die. It is unconvincing that even three nights of dreams that underscored that reality would do much to shake him from the habits, attitudes and beliefs of a lifetime. Scrooge is not convincingly motivated by fear of the afterlife: he is, apparently, suddenly visited with the emotions that Charles Dickens imagined he would feel were he in Scrooge’s circumstances. Since someone who felt about the world as did Dickens would not have made the choices Scrooge made in the first place this realization is actually a tautology.

The denouement of Scrooge’s bad night with the ghosts does not make this reader feel that Scrooge was a man reformed but rather that Scrooge was a man who had been brainwashed. If the Scrooge of the next morning was shown to struggle with his newfound understandings of the implications of his actions then it might possibly have been uplifting for this reader. How can one applaud the generosity of a man who no longer struggles with the demons of avarice? How can one applaud the open-handedness of a rich man who has suddenly realized that he may die alone and that a small investment in those around him will guarantee care and attention in his old age? To praise Scrooge’s behaviour is like praising someone on Prozac for no longer acting depressed.

If this annotated volume ignored the reader’s “issues” with the book while addressing the questions mentioned earlier in this review it would be a fulfilling read for many. If this annotated volume had ignored those questions while dealing with the logical and theological issues it would be a worthwhile read.

It did neither.
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LibraryThing member Stbalbach
The classic Christmas story first written in 1843 when Dickens was still early in his career it was an instant success that allowed him to break out of debt. A richly detailed short story that requires annotations to fully appreciate the mid-19th century terms and venacular. It can be read over
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multiple times without tireing in its densely woven and richly described atmosphere. I plan to read it again next Christmas. The Norton Annotated is so well done it is hard to imagine anything better, a great piece of artwork in its own right.
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LibraryThing member VirginiaGill
I actually love Dickens and this story in particular. However, I did not enjoy this edition of the book. Picked it up thinking it would give me lots of interesting info for our book group discussion. Mostly just found it annoying. Skip all the notes, or read them at a separate sitting from the
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story itself and you will enjoy it far more.
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LibraryThing member nymith
My version of this timeless classic is Annotated, which I would certainly recommend as the ideal binding. There are a surprising number of "slang" terms of the time, and the footnotes can come in handy, I felt.

I won't summarise the story, since everyone ought to know it by now. But even if you know
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everything, and sneer at Tiny Tim as sentimental and the character transformation of Scrooge as implausible, I really would advise you to read the story before you condemn it. I was quite surprised by its enjoyability.

One doesn't think of Dickens and fantasy as going together, does one? But this story proves he had a fine, vivid imagination in that direction, and hence the supernatural is effortlessly crafted. Imagery for Marley and the Three Spirits is sublime, each one seeming to outdo the last.

The other key set of descriptions in this story is that of Dickens' London. A superb creation. The imagery of Christmas is beautifully evoked, what with mouth-watering descriptions of a streetmarket and economically elegant passages devoted to bleak coastal celebrations...

The prose isn't perfect, of course. Each chapter bulges with at least a few overactive details, and sometimes the wording is garbled and in need of editing. And in terms of plot and character, Dickens' famed sentimentality does intrude from time to time - such as in the character of Belle (the Angel of the House) and during the Fezziwig ball scene.

Yet what does it matter? Despite these flaws, A Christmas Carol is marvelous. To begin with Scrooge and see it all happen with him, is in a way, to take part in that redemption as well. I found his transformation entirely plausible, and by the time I reached the final act, I shared his joy entirely. Happiness radiated from the pages, and I finally understood why this is considered such a timeless part of the Christmas tradition.
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LibraryThing member saroz
I've always had some issues with Dickens' Christmas Carol. The central messages - that people are more important than money, and that it's never too late to make changes in yourself - are timeless, and their presentation within a ghost story is very appealing (and a large part of what keeps the
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story living, I think). As a child, though, I found some of it massively over-sentimentalized, especially the role of Tiny Tim, who embodies a distasteful, pitying view of people with disabilities that doesn't (and shouldn't) fit the mores of today. As I've grown older, I've come to see the wish fulfillment aspect of the final pages - where Scrooge undoes decades of malignant behavior by throwing around a lot of money - as a bit troubling, too. But it's a story I want to like, even when it bothers me; there's a core to it that I think is important, and the ghosts are - to use an overplayed word - iconic.

Michael Patrick Hearn's The Annotated Christmas Carol goes a long way toward helping people like me put the story, and both its positive and negative aspects, in full context. This is the kind of "layman's acadame" volume that fulfills a desperately needed function: it treats the lay reader as smart and intelligent, and pulls together a lot of different historical and biographical strands that will help them understand a culturally meaningful work that probably only saw through the lens of entertainment. it's not a deep-dive or a truly academic text, but it points the way toward those deeper, denser materials if the reader chooses to go on and take the next step. If not, it at least leaves them with a more informed appreciation.

The one caveat here is that Hearn's perspective, and presumed audience, is distinctly American. That shouldn't come as a surprise, but it might - I was a little bit thrown how often he uses annotations to explain old British currency, or tell us where in London we might find a certain location. (It must be said, though, that this is a twenty-year-old book, and the internet has globalized a lot more day-to-day cultural information in the intervening years.) More intriguing is his repeated emphasis on Dickens' disastrous social standing in the United States preceding Christmas Carol, thanks mostly to criticisms he published following a visit. I'd never heard anything about this aspect to the failure of Martin Chuzzlewit and Dickens' need for a big hit, but it makes sense and Hearn provides solid grounding. I just don't think a British author, writing for a British audience, would have given it so much air. That's not a criticism - just an observation.

While the annotations are often very interesting, explaining words and phrases that have fallen out of fashion, making comparisons to Dickens' own life, and describing how some sequences were revised before publication or transformed by early stage adaptations, the "stars" of the book are the introduction and two appendices. The extensive introduction chronicles the development of A Christmas Carol (including the failure of Chuzzlewit), its publication, and its critical reception. It also fully describes his despair at the treatment of the poor, especially children, which largely sparked the creation of Christmas Carol and goes some way toward contextualizing the problematic Tiny Tim. The first appendix acts as a book-end, covering Dickens' decision to tour with Public Readings of Christmas Carol, taking us from his separation from his wife to the health issues he developed on the road and resultant early death. Together these two sections take up more than 100 pages of the book and are excellent, engaging reads. The second appendix is more of a curio - the full text of Dickens' reduced-length Christmas Carol utilized for the Public Readings - but a valuable inclusion nonetheless. The book is completed with an extensive bibliography of and on Dickens.

This is an excellent volume for anyone who has ever read A Christmas Carol, or even grown up watching one of the innumerable adaptations, and wants to better understand it. My only thought toward a reprint would be a chapter to overview film and TV adaptations, and their trends, especially as in the last 30 years we have moved much more fully away from "heritage" (text-authentic) productions to ones that reframe or modernize the story. Otherwise - this is an ideal "next step" for a personal library, and it would actually make an excellent Christmas gift in and of itself.
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