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Dickens: A Christmas Carol

5. Illustration and Text

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About this Lecture


In this module, we think about the interplay between text and illustration, focusing in particular on: (i) the rapidity with which the text was adapted for the stage after it was first published in 1843; (ii) the fact that even the first publication of the novel featured a visual element in the form of illustrations by John Leech; (iii) the extent to which ‘A Christmas Carol’ is a novel that particularly emphasises seeing and vision; (iv) Dickens’ engagement with the Victorian technologies of the magic lantern and the phantasmagoria, especially in the way that scenes with the Ghost of Christmas Past and the Ghost of Christmas Present seem to ‘dissolve’ into one another; (v) the contribution of the rich, hand-coloured images in the first edition of the novel to the theme of capital circulation within the novel itself; (vi) the literary and artistic history of using a series of images to depict a character’s moral progress, e.g. William Hogarth’s ‘A Rake’s Progress’); (vii) the centrality of Scrooge to Leech’s series of illustrations, and the extent to which this implies a certain interpretation of the text; (viii) the contrast between the text that closes the novel and Leech’s accompanying illustration; (ix) Leech’s illustration of the figures of Ignorance and Want: the realism of the two children compared to the cartoonish depiction of Scrooge, the (un)reality of the buildings in the background (what are they? are they really there or not?), and the extent to which the clash of visual styles in this illustration reflects the clash of literary genres in Dickens’ text.


In this course, Dr Christopher Pittard (University of Portsmouth) explores Charles Dickens’ 1843 novella, ‘A Christmas Carol’. In the first module, we think about the background to ‘A Christmas Carol’, the circumstances that led Dickens to write it, and the political issues to which Dickens is responding. In the second module, we provide a close reading of the opening two paragraphs of the novel, before turning in the third module to think about the genre of the ghost story. In the fourth module, we think about the politics of A Christmas Carol, before turning in the fifth module to think about the interplay between the text of ‘A Christmas Carol’ and the illustrations by John Leech that accompanied the 1843 first edition of the novel. In the sixth, seventh and eight module, we provide close readings of three short sections of the novels – one for each of the spirits of Christmas – before turning in the ninth and final module to think about how the novel ends.


Dr Christopher Pittard joined the University of Portsmouth in 2009, having held previous teaching positions at Newcastle University and the University of Exeter. His main research focus is on the popular culture of the nineteenth century, especially the emergence of popular genres in the Victorian fin de siecle and detective fiction in particular. His monograph, Purity and Contamination in Late Victorian Detective Fiction, considers how such fictions (and the periodicals in which they appeared) engaged with ideas of material and social purity, ranging from Sherlock Holmes cleaning the face of criminality in “The Man with the Twisted Lip” to the moral policing carried out by the Social Purity movements and late Victorian antivivisection campaigns. His publications in this area include discussions of Arthur Conan Doyle, Arthur Morrison, Fergus Hume, and of the Strand Magazine more widely.

Cite this Lecture

APA style

Pittard, C. (2020, December 02). Dickens: A Christmas Carol - Illustration and Text [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Pittard, C. "Dickens: A Christmas Carol – Illustration and Text." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 02 Dec 2020,