The Carol Philosophy

December 21, 2020

Carl Wilson, Friends of the Dickens Project Board Member, discusses the charity, altruism, and redemption behind Dickens's Carol Philosophy.



I have read A Christmas Carol every year for more than fifty years, facilitated discussions about the story, and even have written a novel loosely structured after Dickens’s first Christmas book.

And I have seen at least twenty adaptations—the Alastair Sim version—the Albert Finney musical—the Muppet musical—and my sentimental favorite—Mr. Magoo’s Broadway musical adaptation. Dickens may be famous for many things, but likely this is his most famous—and beloved—story of all.

And what a story it is! It was a wild success upon publication, drew crowds when Dickens read it in public, and still packs in audiences every holiday season at high schools, little theatres, and professional theatres around the world.

The book is full of famous lines or sentences—“Marley was dead: to begin with,” “Bah, Humbug,” “Are there no prisons?,” and “There never was such a goose.” But perhaps the most important words in the novel, the core of what Dickens called “The Carol Philosophy,” comes early on, when Scrooge is visited on Christmas Eve by his nephew, Fred, only child of Scrooge’s younger sister, Fan, now many years dead. Fred has come to visit his uncle to invite him to Christmas Day dinner. Dickens immediately establishes that their discussion is a ritual that perhaps both enjoy as sparring partners. 

But after Scrooge calls Christmas a “humbug,” Fred gets serious for a moment and says:

“There are many things from which I might have derived good, by which I have not profited, I dare say,” returned the nephew: “Christmas among the rest. But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round—apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that—as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys. And therefore, uncle, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it!”

After being visited by his partner’s spirit and the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Yet to Come, Scrooge sees the error of his ways, and redeems himself by helping out the Cratchit family, and spending Christmas Day with his nephew and friends, proving that the spirit of Christmas—whether in its religious or secular meaning—can save us all.

We have need these days of a kind, forgiving, and charitable time. Dickens’s view of the holiday was more humanistic than religious—he preferred the drink known as smoking bishop to an actual bishop--but he was a believer in the general goodness of the human race. “Mankind was my business,” Marley’s Ghost tells Scrooge. “The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business.”

At the end of the story, the narrator tells us that Scrooge has learned his lesson, and that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, "God bless Us, Every One! 

Happy holidays from all of us at the Friends of the Dickens Project.



Dickens enthusiast and published writer Carl Wilson started attending Dickens Universe in 2010, joining the Friends in 2014. A native Oregonian who resides in Portland with husband Evan and Devon Rex, Miss Lucretia Tox, Carl is a retired insurance executive and facilitator of Literary Arts, a readers and writers non-profit in Portland, Oregon. Carl’s love of Dickens begun when he read Our Mutual Friend as a child, a novel that has remained his favorite throughout the years. He has facilitated Literary Arts book groups on A Tale of Two Cities, Our Mutual Friend, A Christmas Carol, Great Expectations, and David Copperfield, as well as non-Dickens sessions on Thomas Hardy, the detective novel, and recently, E.M. Forster’s Maurice. At the 2013 Dickens Universe featuring The Mystery of Edwin Drood and Wilkie Collins’s The Moonstone, he presented a lecture entitled “Passion and Pastiche.” Under the pen name Christopher Lord, Carl published his own novel, The Edwin Drood Mysteries. 




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