Art History in ‘A Christmas Carol’

On a whim, I decided to listen to this audiobook of A Christmas Carol.  Even though I have seen multiple adaptations of this book, I have never actually read it (or listened to it).  In my listening, the book rewarded me with two art history references!

However, the people behind CCProse need to correct a typo I saw in this “Videobook”.

Check out this sentence courtesy of the Gutenberg website:

“The ancient tower of a church, whose gruff old bell was always peeping slily down at Scrooge out of a Gothic window in the wall, became invisible, and struck the hours and quarters in the clouds, with tremulous vibrations afterwards as if its teeth were chattering in its frozen head up there.”

A reference to Westminster Abbey, yes maybe?

ETA: Richard Douglas in the comment section kindly corrected me on the geographical locations of London cathedrals and believes that it could be Saint Paul’s Cathedral. Check them out!

Listening to this book, Dickens obviously used the environment to match the mood of Scrooge.

The other reference:

“It was a very low fire indeed; nothing on such a bitter night. He was obliged to sit close to it, and brood over it, before he could extract the least sensation of warmth from such a handful of fuel. The fireplace was an old one, built by some Dutch merchant long ago, and paved all round with quaint Dutch tiles, designed to illustrate the Scriptures. There were Cains and Abels, Pharaoh’s daughters; Queens of Sheba, Angelic messengers descending through the air on clouds like feather-beds, Abrahams, Belshazzars, Apostles putting off to sea in butter-boats, hundreds of figures to attract his thoughts; and yet that face of Marley, seven years dead, came like the ancient Prophet’s rod, and swallowed up the whole. If each smooth tile had been a blank at first, with power to shape some picture on its surface from the disjointed fragments of his thoughts, there would have been a copy of old Marley’s head on every one.”

If you do a search on Dutch tile fireplaces, you will come across a plethora of these quaint and cozy additions.

ETA: Removed a broken photo embed.

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6 comments

  1. I doubt it’s Westminster Abbey, which is in an expensive part of London and mostly surrounded by government buildings, any residential property in the area is occupied by politicians and much too costly for a mean man like Scrooge! Also it doesn’t have a bell to ring the hours, that’s done by Big Ben, across the road. It’s more likely in one of the poorer parts of the inner suburbs, I’m not sure if Dickens names a particular location.

  2. Having checked the book, I’ll correct that. Dickens doesn’t name a location, but it seems to be in the old City of London, then as now the financial district. No one lives there now, it’s all offices. As to the church, it’s odd that he calls it gothic, as most of the churches were rebuilt by Christopher Wren after the great fire, in a 17th century style.

    • Thank you for the critique and good point on Christopher Wren. When I looked Gothic churches in London, Westminster Abbey came up, so I put two and two together. Since you mentioned that the Abbey is in the financial district, isn’t Scrooge a creditor of some sort?

  3. Sorry I wasn’t very clear. Westminster Abbey is in Westminster, about two miles upriver from the original Roman City of London, which is where Dickens’ story is set, and is usually just known as ‘the City’ and is the financial district. The main church in the City is St. Paul’s Cathedral, built by Wren – its churchyard is mentioned in the book. he also rebuilt a large number of parish churches in the City. There were a few that survived the great fire, and Dickens could be referring to one of those. I’m not sure what Scrooge’s occupation is meant to be, I imagine he was some kind of broker. Thinking about the house with the Dutch tiles (a detail I’d forgotten), that would have been close to the river, as Dutch merchants settled there in earlier times. A lot of that area was flattened in the 2nd world war, so I doubt it could be seen now.

    Have a good Christmas Day!

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