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Dickens: A Christmas Carol

2. The Opening Paragraphs

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About this Lecture


In this module, we provide a close reading of the opening paragraphs of the novel, focusing in particular on: (i) the unusual punctuation in the very first sentence of the novel (“Marley was dead: to begin with”); (ii) the importance of written documents and of writing more generally (“Scrooge signed the register”), including the piece of writing that it ‘A Christmas Carol’ itself; (iii) the poetic soundscape of Dickens’ prose, including repetition of sounds at the beginnings and ends of words; (iv) the themes of promising, exchanging, and changing, and the idea of the simile as a kind of literary exchange, i.e. comparing one thing to another; (v) the character of the first-person narrator, and the extent to which this narrative voice should be identified as that of Dickens himself; (vi) the themes of religion and the state of the nation; and (vii) the direct address of “you”, i.e. we, the reader.


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 Opening Paragraphs [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Pittard, C. "Dickens: A Christmas Carol – The Opening Paragraphs." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 02 Dec 2020,