Tuesday, December 05, 2017

“Your Reclamation, Then” | Dickens

Illustration by Harry Furniss.

As usual, as we look at Dickens' text, I'm going to copy the entire text of the section in bold italics and insert commentary. That'll help identify elements that we want to pay attention to in the adaptations.

When Scrooge awoke, it was so dark, that looking out of bed, he could barely distinguish the transparent window from the opaque walls of his chamber. He was endeavoring to pierce the darkness with his ferret eyes, when the chimes of a neighboring church struck the four quarters. So he listened for the hour.

To his great astonishment the heavy bell went on from six to seven, and from seven to eight, and regularly up to twelve; then stopped. Twelve! It was past two when he went to bed. The clock was wrong. An icicle must have got into the works. Twelve!

As we noticed last year, Dickens' version had Marley announce that the ghosts would visit one per night over three nights. I assumed that the first visit would start that very night on Christmas Eve, but Dickens makes it clear that that's not the case. Scrooge went to bed at 2:00 am on Christmas morning, so the clock rushes all the way through Christmas Day and we're now hearing it chime midnight as December 25th becomes the 26th.

Of course, most adaptations will ignore this and have everything happen on one night, but I'll point out the ones that stay faithful. I think I remember that some of them do.

He touched the spring of his repeater, to correct this most preposterous clock. It's rapid little pulse beat twelve; and stopped.

A repeater was a kind of clock that would chime the hours (and even minutes, using a different tone) when you pressed a button. It was a way to figure out what time it was in the dark without having to light a candle. I doubt many (if any) adaptations will include this detail, but maybe.

"Why, it isn't possible," said Scrooge, "that I can have slept through a whole day and far into another night. It isn't possible that anything has happened to the sun, and this is twelve at noon!"

The idea being an alarming one, he scrambled out of bed, and groped his way to the window. He was obliged to rub the frost off with the sleeve of his dressing-gown before he could see anything; and he could see very little then. All he could make out was, that it was still very foggy and extremely cold, and that there was no noise of people running to and fro, and making a great stir, as there unquestionably would have been if night had beaten off bright day, and taken possession of the world. This was a great relief, because "three days after sight of this First of Exchange pay to Mr. Ebenezer Scrooge or his order" and so forth, would have become a mere United States' security if there were no days to count by.

A couple of things are going on at the end of that paragraph. Basically, Scrooge is worried that he's going to run out of time to cash in certain IOUs. A "United States security" was a derogatory term that referred to the poor credit that the US had with other countries at the time. So Scrooge is concerned that some of his accounts will become worthless if time is speeding past deadlines.

Scrooge went to bed again, and thought, and thought, and thought it over and over and over, and could make nothing of it. The more he thought, the more perplexed he was; and the more he endeavored not to think, the more he thought. Marley's Ghost bothered him exceedingly. Every time he resolved within himself, after mature inquiry, that it was all a dream, his mind flew back again, like a strong spring released, to its first position, and presented the same problem to be worked all through, "Was it a dream or not?"

Scrooge lay in this state until the chimes had gone three quarters more, when he remembered, on a sudden, that the Ghost had warned him of a visitation when the bell tolled one. He resolved to lie awake until the hour was past; and, considering that he could no more go to sleep than go to Heaven, this was perhaps the wisest resolution in his power.

I doubt many adaptations will spend time on Scrooge's wakeful fretting. If memory serves, they'll either have him go right to sleep after Marley to be awakened by the First Spirit, or they the First Spirit simply shows up right away. We'll keep track, though.

The quarter was so long, that he was more than once convinced he must have sunk into a doze unconsciously, and missed the clock. At length it broke upon his listening ear.

"Ding, dong!"

"A quarter past," said Scrooge, counting.

"Ding, dong!"

"Half past!" said Scrooge.

"Ding, dong!"

"A quarter to it," said Scrooge.

"Ding, dong!"

"The hour itself," said Scrooge, triumphantly, "and nothing else!"

I'm having trouble following the timeline at this point. The clock sped ahead to midnight, then Scrooge fretted for 45 minutes and decided to just wait out the last 15 minutes until 1:00 am. But within those last 15 minutes, the clock chimes three 15-minute periods. Dickens seems to be messing with readers to make them as uncertain about the passage of time as Scrooge is.

He spoke before the hour bell sounded, which it now did with a deep, dull, hollow, melancholy One. Light flashed up in the room upon the instant, and the curtains of his bed were drawn.

The curtains of his bed were drawn aside, I tell you, by a hand. Not the curtains at his feet, nor the curtains at his back, but those to which his face was addressed. The curtains of his bed were drawn aside; and Scrooge, starting up into a half-recumbent attitude, found himself face to face with the unearthly visitor who drew them: as close to it as I am now to you, and I am standing in the spirit at your elbow.

I love that image, that Dickens, as storyteller, is right here with us as we read. It makes him immortal, which, of course, he is.

It was a strange figure - like a child: yet not so like a child as like an old man, viewed through some supernatural medium, which gave him the appearance of having receded from the view, and being diminished to a child's proportions. Its hair, which hung about its neck and down its back, was white as with age; and yet the face had not a wrinkle in it, and the tenderest bloom was on the skin. The arms were very long and muscular; the hands the same, as if its hold were of uncommon strength. Its legs and feet, most delicately formed, were, like those upper members, bare. It wore a tunic of the purest white; and round its waist was bound a lustrous belt, the sheen of which was beautiful. It held a branch of fresh green holly in its hand; and, in singular contradiction to that wintry emblem, had its dress trimmed with summer flowers. But the strangest thing about it was, that from the crown of its head there sprung a bright clear jet of light, by which all this was visible; and which was doubtless the occasion of its using, in its duller moments, a great extinguisher for a cap, which it now held under its arm.

Even this, though, when Scrooge looked at it with increasing steadiness, was not its strangest quality. For as its belt sparkled and glittered now in one part and now in another, and what was light one instant, at another time was dark, so the figure itself fluctuated in its distinctness: being now a thing with one arm, now with one leg, now with twenty legs, now a pair of legs without a head, now a head without a body: of which dissolving parts, no outline would be visible in the dense gloom wherein they melted away. And in the very wonder of this, it would be itself again; distinct and clear as ever.

It's easy to see why this Spirit gets the most variation in how it's represented. It has to be simultaneously old and young, while also as flickering and changing in appearance as a flame. Almost impossible to do with live action and even tough for the static images in comics. If anything's going to be able to get close, it'll have to be the animated versions.

It'll be fun to see which aspects of the Spirit the different adaptations focus on. And I wonder how those highlighted aspects will relate to Scrooge's reaction to this Spirit and what lessons he learns from it. For example, if the Spirit is depicted as old in a version, what does that say about its message to Scrooge? And how does that change if the Spirit is depicted as young? We won't be able to answer all of those questions this year, but by noting what the various versions are emphasizing in the Spirit, we'll lay groundwork to build more complicated theories on in the next couple of years.

"Are you the Spirit, sir, whose coming was foretold to me?" asked Scrooge.

"I am!"

The voice was soft and gentle. Singularly low, as if instead of being so close beside him, it were at a distance.

"Who, and what are you?" Scrooge demanded.

"I am the Ghost of Christmas Past."

"Long past?" inquired Scrooge: observant of its dwarfish stature.

"No. Your past."

Perhaps, Scrooge could not have told anybody why, if anybody could have asked him; but he had a special desire to see the Spirit in his cap; and begged him to be covered.

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

Scrooge reverently disclaimed all intention to offend, or any knowledge of having wilfully "bonneted" the Spirit at any period of his life. He then made bold to inquire what business brought him there.

"Your welfare!" said the Ghost.

Scrooge expressed himself much obliged, but could not help thinking that a night of unbroken rest would have been more conducive to that end. The Spirit must have heard him thinking, for it said immediately:

"Your reclamation, then. Take heed!"

I notice that while Scrooge still has some wit about him, he's being very polite to the Spirit. Marley wore him down to the point where he acknowledged that there may be some need for change. But Scrooge isn't ready to commit to making those changes. It sounds hard... and he's prideful.

So we'll take note of Scrooge's attitude towards the Ghost in the adaptations.

It put out it's strong hand as it spoke, and clasped him gently by the arm.

"Rise! and walk with me!"

It would have been in vain for Scrooge to plead that the weather and the hour were not adapted to pedestrian purposes; that bed was warm, and the thermometer a long way below freezing; that he was clad but lightly in his slippers, dressing-gown, and nightcap; and that he had a cold upon him at that time. The grasp, though gentle as a woman's hand, was not to be resisted. He rose: but finding that the Spirit made towards the window, clasped its robe in supplication.

"I am mortal," Scrooge remonstrated, "and liable to fall."

"Bear but a touch of my hand there," said the Spirit, laying it upon his heart, "and you shall be upheld in more than this!"

A lovely image and claim to end on. I wonder how many adaptations will include it.

So here's what we're looking for this year:
  • The timeline: which adaptations rush through the clock to get to midnight the next day?
  • The Spirit's appearance
  • Scrooge's attitude toward the Spirit.
  • Does the Spirit touch Scrooge's heart?


Caffeinated Joe said...

Quite a great scene. And definitely a spirit that is different from one adaptation to another. Interesting to see what we are in for. And I never really read or took in that final bit, about the hand on the heart. Such a deep meaning. I take it as not only will it keep Scrooge safe in their travels, but had he kept the memories of Christmases past with him throughout the years, they could have helped him live a better life.


Michael May said...

"...had he kept the memories of Christmases past with him throughout the years, they could have helped him live a better life."


Rosie said...

On the point of the clock chiming all four quarters before striking one, I wonder if it’s not that time has gone strange again but it’s supposed to be the kind of old fashioned clock that plays a tune in four parts through the hour? This might be a peculiarly British thing now I think about it. Church bells used to do it but it’s a lot less common these days - each quarter, a bit of tune is added so it’s A, AB, ABC (which always sounds a bit spooky because it’s unresolved) then ABCD [bongs for number of hour]. If this is what Dickens meant it’s surprisingly unclear in the way he writes the bongs though...

Michael May said...

OH! That would make a lot of sense! Thanks!


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