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A Christmas Carol / The Chimes by Charles…
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A Christmas Carol / The Chimes

by Charles Dickens

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Christmas Books (1-2)

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The Chimes: A Goblin Story of Some Bells that Rang an Old Year Out and a New Year In is Charles Dickens' second Christmas story and was published in 1844, a year after A Christmas Carol. This story has a sharper satirical edge than its predecessor, and directly addresses many of the prevailing ideas in the 1840s regarding the poor. I've already reviewed the first story in this volume, A Christmas Carol, so this review will focus on The Chimes. It was a nice way to assuage a sudden hunger for Dickens (brought on, no doubt, by seeing a performance of A Christmas Carol), but it left me unsatisfied on several counts.

Dickens is so warmly affectionate to his characters. Did ever an author love his creations more? I relished his sketches of Toby (called Trotty) Veck, who is fully convinced that he is a very strong, vigorous man who can carry anything and go anywhere. In reality he is a frail, simple little old man who is worn out with long years, poor food, and hard work as a messenger in all weather. This kind of self delusion is lovable somehow.

The Chimes are the bells that Trotty hears all day as he stands outside and waits for commissions. One night, after a disheartening encounter with some local rich men who either pose as a condescending Friend and Father of the poor, reduce humanity to calculations, or believe the poor have no right to exist (much less to be cared for), Trotty wanders up to the bell tower and is visited by the spirits of the Chimes. These spirits berate him bitterly for ever doubting that mankind would rise up and improve itself, and as a punishment Trotty is forced to see visions of his daughter Meg's coming years of misery and degradation. In the end, Meg tries to kill herself and her baby (a plot thread based on a real case, in which a mother tried to drown herself and her child, failed in killing herself, but did drown her child). I don't want to spoil it, but Dickens does manage to wrest a happy ending out of this wreck. It is, after all, just a vision.

Unfortunately I can't agree with part of Dickens' message, that it is man's destiny to pull himself up out of the mire of poverty, ignorance, and sin. The villains all say that the poor are "born Bad," and Dickens uses this effectively in poor Trotty's inner monologues with himself, to argue that it isn't true. Wikipedia puts it well: "The Chimes' intention is to teach Trotty that, far from being naturally wicked, mankind is formed to strive for nobler things, and will fall only when crushed and repressed beyond bearing." But the problem is, humanity has already Fallen. I don't want to disparage for a minute the bitter realities of the Hungry Forties in Britain, and terrible circumstances certainly provide opportunity and impetus for terrible deeds. But, unlike Dickens, I do believe in universal human depravity, and though we were "made to strive for nobler things," we never will reach them or even desire them apart from divine intervention. We can't save ourselves, and our long history of trying and failing only bears this out.

Short as this story is, Dickens still infuses it skillfully with metaphors and memorable descriptions. I loved the idea of Trotty's mittens being like an inn, with a "private apartment only for the thumb, and a common room or tap for the rest of the fingers" (155). Or his description of the almost indecent way we celebrate the coming of the New Year before the Old is even dead.

It isn't hard to see why this story never reached the acclaim of its predecessor, A Christmas Carol, despite the memorable and lovable Trotty Veck. It doesn't really have much to do with Christmas, for one, and it lacks the warmth of the Cratchits to give it humanity and the message of the three spirits of Christmas past, present, and future to give it clarity. I had to reread the Chimes' reproaches several times to even understand what they were accusing poor Trotty of, and even then it was (I confess) really Wikipedia that shed some light on the exchange. Overall, this was an interesting though not completely engaging read, and I think I will need to open one of the full-length novels to get my Dickens fix. ( )
2 vote wisewoman | Dec 22, 2011 |
Containing A Christmass Carol and The Chimes, this is arguably a Dickens classic. Though sometimes a bit overdramatic and cliché, it's still hard not to e moved by these stories. ( )
  JeroenBerndsen | Feb 19, 2008 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Charles Dickensprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Gorey, EdwardIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Includes 2 novels: A Christmas Carol, The Chimes. It's unclear if all these books listed as V.1 actually contain the same works - particularly in the case where books don't include isbn info.
This isbn is for the work "The Christmas Books: V.1 - A Christmas Carol, The Chimes"
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0140430687, Paperback)

In October 1843, Dickens hit upon the idea of writing a story that would not only celebrate Christmas but alert people to the desperate needs of England's poor. "The Christmas Carol" was the result. "The Chimes" is a topical satire set on New Year's Eve.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:38:11 -0400)

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