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Dickens: A Christmas Carol

6. The Ghost of Christmas Past

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About this Lecture


In this module, we provide a close reading of the first appearance of the Ghost of Christmas Past, focusing in particular on: (i) the question of whether Scrooge is in fact asleep at this point, and the importance of such ambiguity; (ii) the way in which Dickens creates the effect of time slowing down, and then stopping altogether; (iii) the uncanny moment where the narrator says he is standing right behind us, the reader, and the sense that Scrooge isn’t the only person being visited by a ghost at this point; (iv) the ghostliness of writing itself, which is both immediate/present, being on the page in front of us, but also representing the voice of someone who is not present, perhaps even long-dead; (v) the influence of Victorian cinematic technology on the way the ghost is described as ‘dissolving’ in and out of view; (vi) the inherent contradictoriness of the ghost – both young and old, both near and far, etc. – and the way this reflects the inherent contradictoriness of memory; (vii) the impact of the phrase “as if” when describing the ghost’s strength – “as if its hold were of uncommon strength” – was the ghost’s hold of uncommon strength or not?; (viii) the extent to which the description of the ghost is framed in terms of perception (how it appears to Scrooge) as opposed to reality (how it actually is); and (ix) the question of whether Scrooge’s perception is blurred because he is actually crying at this point.


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 - The Ghost of Christmas Past [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Pittard, C. "Dickens: A Christmas Carol – The Ghost of Christmas Past." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 02 Dec 2020,