Sounding Out Scrooge

December 28, 2020

Reading A Christmas Carol aloud brings new immersive delights to the story. Helene Androski, retired Reference and Instruction Librarian at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, demonstrates with a favorite passage describing Scrooge.



Hi, this is Helene Androski sheltering at home in Madison, Wisconsin, and missing all my new made friends from the Dickens universe. I would like to share with you, my favorite passage, which actually is the entire of A Christmas Carol, his masterpiece in my opinion, however, I will just confine myself to one passage to illustrate my point.

As many of you do, I'm sure, and if you don't, I highly recommend it, my husband and I read A Christmas Carol out loud to each other, each holiday season. And we have come to see that the sound of the words really enhances the text. But lately, I have also come to realize that the feel of the words, as you were saying them out loud, further enhances the sound and the text and the meaning. I'd like to give a special shout out to Christian who has taught us the joys of the close readings of Dickens. And, let you know that I'm taking this to a new level.

So the passage that I would like to share with you to illustrate my point, is when we first encounter Scrooge near the beginning of A Christmas Carol in Stave One Marley's Ghost. And do try this at home, but watch at this point, just watch my face while I'm doing this. And of course, I'm going to exaggerate for effect, but if you can't exaggerate with Dickens, then I don't know where you can. So here we go:

Oh! But he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge! a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster.

So, what happens when you're reading this passage? You cannot say those words: squeezing, wrenching, grasping without squeezing, wrenching, and grasping your face. Just as it all crabs up. When you're talking about his secretiveness, you have to hiss as if you were hissing it at a stage villain in a Victorian melodrama, and when you are speaking out the words that describe what Scrooge is not "generous fire", your face opens up, you almost smile. So, you are now getting an enhanced sense of what Scrooge is. You're seeing the words on the page. You have heard them, which adds to it, but now you can feel what it's like to be Scrooge.

Other passages. There are passages throughout this book that have the similar effect. I dare you to read out loud the passage describing the grocers on Christmas Eve or the throne upon which the Spirit of Christmas Present sits without having your mouth, water, gratis, and maybe feel subsequently bilious. I dare you to say the name Fezziwig without smiling. You can't do it. And when you get to the end of my husband's favorite passage, when the redeem Scrooge realizes that the spirits have done it all in one night and he has not missed Christmas, when you Whoop Halloo, you're going to feel happy no matter what.

So. I encourage you to read out loud a Christmas Carol, and not only listen to the words, but feel the words because I have a feeling of this upcoming holiday season, we're all going to need a bit of extra cheer. So, I hope that this has, inspired you to do it, as I said, and I hope to see you all next year at the Dickens universe.

By the way, don't forget to check back soon for another installment of Dickens-to-Go.




Helene Androski is a retired Reference and Instruction Librarian at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a lover of Dickens ever since she laughed her head off over "Barkis is willin'" in junior high English class. When not rereading Dickens and other Victorians, she teaches a class on historical mystery novels for UW Continuing Studies.


Dickens-to-Go is a weekly program of short videos designed to whet the viewers' appetite for "more" of their favorite author. You can join Dickens Project faculty, friends, and students as they share a favorite passage from Dickens and say a few words about why they selected it.

What are your favorite passages? We hope you will make a video too! Email Courtney Mahaney for video submission guidelines.