Why Is "A Christmas Carol" So Readable?

I mean, in comparison to most of Dicken’s other stuff.
I tried to read “Martin Chuzzlewit” a few years back-I gave up-the prose was just too weird. In contrast “A Christmas Carol” is so well written, it makes perfect sense to a modern reader.
Was this because ACC wasn’t one of those paid by the word things that Dickens had with his publisher?
In any case, i always reread ACC at Christmas time-it is such a great story!
God belss us every one!:smiley:

Maybe because we’re so familiar with it? We know the story so well we can appreciate the details without losing the thread of the story?

I think that’s what happened when I read LOTR. I first read it in HS, and I found it confusing and difficult to follow. When I re-read it a few years later, I appreciated it much more.

Great Expectations and Hard Times are shorter. I think they’re easier to appreciate. I tried reading The Pickwick Papers recently but I just could not get into it and I gave up.

Maybe it’s just that ACC really is a masterpiece. After all, he wrote a few more Christmas books that he thought would be as great or better than ACC. They were successful at the time, but nobody reads them now. Maybe they’d be worth a serious tv adaptation now. Cricket on the Hearth was given the full Rankin-Bass treatment, including songs. Just the idea makes me go “Yeccch”!

It’s incredibly rich in memorable scenes. Also, nobody can draw a character better than Dickens, and he never did it better than in “A Christmas Carol.”

For me, even after 1001 movie adaptations, going back to the original is always rich delight.

I don’t know whether Dickens was paid by the word, but most of his novels were originally published serially, and he sometimes had more than one novel in progress at once; whereas A Christmas Carol was (I think—correct me if I’m wrong) published all in one piece. I don’t know whether that explains anything or not, but it might account for ACC being more focused.

That may well be part of it.

So is Oliver Twist, which I had to read as a freshman in high school and was surprised at how accessible it was.

Pickwick does get better later on. It was his first novel, and he didn’t really hit his stride until at least 100 pages in, about the time Sam Weller appears.

Yeah, maybe so. I think he was at the top of his game when he wrote it.

Chuzzlewit is difficult, and arguably Pickwick, but I think the other Dickens is very, VERY readable. Tale of Two Cities, Oliver Twist and David Copperfield aren’t hard.

I’ll agree. I love A Christmas Carol – and I don’t think it’s because of its being well-known. Dickens was really into the story, and it’s a wonderful mix of sentimentality, wit, personal recollection (it;'s been persuasively argued that the Crachit’s Christmas is based on Dickens; own experiences), and indignation (Dickens rails against several abuses of the poor in the book – all of them “live” issues at the time. One of them makes it into the current Zemeckis film). He was definitely writing from the heart, and it shows.

Some of his other works are equally readable. He wrote four more Chistmas books, but none as good as Christmas Carol, with the later ones pretty hard to slog through. I’ve read A Tale of Two Cities a couple of times.
But I agree that The Pickwick Papers is, in my experience, dreadful. But I never got as far as Sam Weller. And it’s not just his early words. as I mentioned, the later Christmas books are awful. And I had to read Hard Times for a class, and hated every moment of it.

I’ve had mixed experiences w/ Dickens myself. David Copperfield,* A Tale of Two Cities**, and the (ISTR) excerpted version of Great Expectations that I read in high school were all extremely accessible and enjoyable, to the point of being page turners. Yes, the trademark Dickens long sentences were there, but nothing terribly difficult to handle.

On the other hand, when I tried to read Oliver Twist it was just a bit too sappy for me. Currently I’m in the middle of Bleak House, and it’s been hard going compared to ATOTC or David Copperfield. There’s nothing wrong with it, and it’s not difficult to follow or understand. I think the plot is just a trifle pedestrian compared to the other Dickens I’ve read. I’m planning on working my way through as much of his work as I can while I’m here in Russia (unless I can get my paws on a copy of Gibbon’s *Decline and Fall *in English), and Christmas Carol is next on the list. (Orthodox Christmas comes later, so I’ve got some extra time to polish off Bleak House. ;))

  • Not to be confused with that long overlooked classic, *A Sale of Two… *

I think various people have already nailed the fact that ACC wasn’t serialised, hence the brevity and the brilliance.
Not that he isn’t a fine storyteller in the longer form of course.

I really only chipped in here to say that my wife was born across the street from the real Dotherboys Hall. (In Bowes, Co. Durham for those interested) and yes, when the wind and rain whip in from the moors you can really appreciate how well Mr. Dickens captured that grey, bleak, harsh existence.

For the novels first published in serial form, Dickens was paid per instalment.

However, because each instalment needed to fill 32 pages of text, thus rendering them the same length, one might argue he was paid a fixed sum for a fixed number of words produced per month.

A Christmas Carol first appeared in one piece, a novel written over period of 5 or 6 weeks. With a clear idea in his mind of the story’s construction, the author was better able to produced a more focused work. When writing the serialised tales, Dickens sometimes didn’t know himself how the story would end. Plotting stories in this way inevitably led to some loss of focus.

I’ve only read a few things by Dickens, and find that the readability varies widely. Nicholas Nickelby is notoriously unreadable, but I found Oliver Twist and Great Expectations to be like modern literary novels once I was use to the old-fashioned language.

I often find that I have to give old books more of a chance. A few chapters into Uncle Tom’s Cabin, I almost put it down because it seemed to be hammering on and on with the plantation patois. But I persevered and it turned out to be well worthwhile; the story turns out to be a page turner.