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Dickens: A Christmas Carol

8. Stave 2 – Back to School

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In this module, we read the first half of Stave 2 as Scrooge is is taken to see his old school by the Ghost of Christmas Past. In particular, we focus on: (i) the (apparently) retrograde flow of time after Scrooge has gone to bed (“Twelve! It was past two when he went to bed. The clock was wrong”); (ii) the vividness of the description as the Ghost of Christmas Past draws back the curtains of Scrooge’s bed; (iii) the importance of smell in Scrooge’s recollection of the past (“He was conscious of a thousand odours floating in the air, each one connected with a thousand thoughts”); (iv) Scrooge’s happiness at seeing his old school friends wish each ‘Happy Christmas’ and his sorrow at seeing himself – “A solitary child, neglected by his friends”; (v) Dickens’ belief in the formative nature of childhood experiences, especially the experience of abandonment and/or neglect; (vi) Dickens’ use of negatives to paint a vivid picture of Scrooge’s emotional state (“Not a latent echo in the house, not a squeak and scuffle from the mice behind the panelling…”); (vii) the “softening influence” that these images have on Scrooge, the first signs of his transformation; (viii) the joy that Scrooge finds in books ("Why, it's Ali Baba!"); and (ix) the contribution of the imagination to human happiness in the works of Dickens’ more generally.


In this course, Professor John McRae (University of Nottingham) explores Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. In the first module, we introduce the novel by looking at the first two paragraphs of the story, including its famous opening line (“Marley was dead; to begin with”) and the reader’s first impression of the character of Scrooge (“Scrooge's name was good on ‘Change”). In the second and third modules, we go through some of the literary, cultural and historical context for the novel, including Dickens’ life and career up to 1843, the impact of the Industrial Revolution on British society and culture, the ‘invention’ of the ‘traditional, family Christmas’ in this period, and Dickens’ preoccupation with capitalism, poverty and children. In the following twelve modules, we read through the novel stave by stave: the fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh modules cover Stave One; the eighth and ninth cover Stave Two; the tenth, eleventh, and twelfth cover Stave Three; the thirteen and fourteenth cover Stave Four; and the fifteenth covers Stave Five.


John McRae is Special Professor of Language in Literature Studies and Teaching Associate in the School of English at Nottingham University, and holds Visiting Professorships in China, Malaysia, Spain and the USA. He is co-author of The Routledge History of Literature in English with Ron Carter, and also wrote The Language of Poetry, Literature with a Small 'l' and the first critical edition of Teleny by Oscar Wilde and others.

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APA style

McRae, J. (2020, March 24). Dickens: A Christmas Carol - Stave 2 – Back to School [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

McRae, J. "Dickens: A Christmas Carol – Stave 2 – Back to School." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 24 Mar 2020,

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