I'm sure you've got snow, that your fireplace warms the living room. You can bet it's 70 here. I've just turned on the furnace for the first time, but even so, only after the sun went down. But it's December, damnit, and I'm determined to pull A Christmas Carol from my bookshelf again and walk into Dickens's 19th-century England: plum pudding, waistcoats, bed curtains, Jacob Marley's Ghost, Old Fezziwig. I need an overcast day, a couch, a faded afghan, and a few hours. "Marley was dead, to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that."
Read it aloud. Have you tried this?
Dickens does this great thing with series, and they need to be spoken:
The registrar of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner.... Scrooge was his sole executor, his sole administrator, his sole assign, his sole residuary legatee, his sole friend, and his sole mourner.... Oh! But he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge! A squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner!
Poor Master Scrooge had a reason to be bitter. Remember that Thanksgiving I told you about when I was stuck at school? — four awful days in an empty dorm — I felt just like young Ebenezer, "alone again, when all the other boys had gone home for the jolly holidays...." But then, his sister comes to fetch him — here's where I start crying....
"I have come to bring you home, dear brother!"
"Home little Fan?"
"Yes! Home, for good and all! Father is so much kinder than he used to be.... He spoke so gently to me one night that I was not afraid to ask him once more if you might come home; and he said Yes, you should...."
I like to sit with Scrooge when he peeks a look back at his happier past:
"Good Heaven!" said Scrooge, clasping his hands together, as he looked about him. "I was bred in this place. I was a boy here!"
"You recollect the way?" inquired the Spirit.
"Remember it?" cried Scrooge with fervour; "I could walk it blindfold...."
And I want to be steeped in the stuff, in a way you can't be in California — or this century:
The walls and ceiling were so hung with living green ... from every part of which bright gleaming berries glistened. The crisp leaves of holly, mistletoe, and ivy reflected back the light, as if so many little mirrors had been scattered there.... Heaped up on the floor... were turkeys, geese, game, poultry, great joints of meat, sucking-pigs, long wreaths of sausages, mince-pies, plum-puddings, barrels of oysters, red-hot chestnuts, cherrycheeked apples, juicy oranges, luscious pears, immense twelfth-cakes, and seething bowls of punch that made the chamber dim with their delicious steam.
It doesn't matter, every time I read it, that I know sister Fan will die in childbirth, that Scrooge will leave his true love because she has no dowry. I know that Tiny Tim won't lose his leg, Bob Cratchit won't lose his station, Scrooge won't lose his bed curtains. And I know I'll be as tickled as the old man himself when he wakes up from his dreadful dream.
"I am as light as a feather, I am as happy as an angel, I am as merry as a school boy. I am as giddy as a drunken man...."
"Hallo there!.... What's to-day, my fine fellow?"
"Today!" replied the boy. "Why, Christmas Day."
"It's Christmas Day! I haven't missed it! The spirits have done it all in one night!"
And Dickens will do it again—make me hate the old miser, pity the sad boy, and pray for Scrooge's redemption: "Spirit... if the courses be departed from, the ends will change. Say it is thus with what you show me?" Dickens will transport me to wintry London — "Foggier yet and colder! Piercing, searching, biting cold...." — and make me forget the Pacific Ocean out my window. Love....