A tale for reading out loud
It seems A Christmas Carol is a story that is particularly designed to be read aloud. Of course, it’s packed full of drama, compelling characters and is hilarious and heartwrenching in equal measure, so that might have something to do with it – as well as the fact that everyone loves Christmas (unless you model yourself on Ebenezer in his post-revelation, ‘bah humbug!’ days). Listening to, or indeed performing a reading of A Christmas Carol warms the heart and soul as much as any roaring fire will do on a cold winter’s night.
Dickens began to perform public readings of his work in 1853, on his return to England after a tour of Italy. These readings would prove immensely popular and over many years, right up until his death, he would perform many, touring across England, Ireland and Scotland and even going as far afield as France and America. The most popular story in all of his readings was A Christmas Carol and due to its read-aloud success rate, Dickens composed a condensed version that could be read in full in the space of an hour and a half. It was reported that one particular reading of A Christmas Carol taking place in Boston, America in 1867 made for an especially emotional affair – one observer noted that the reading of a passage about the physically weak but strong spirited Tiny Tim “brought out so many pocket handkerchiefs that it looked as if a snow-storm had somehow gotten into the hall without tickets.” (a lovely and very seasonal image.)
The innate read-aloud quality of A Christmas Carol is also apparent in its narrative layout and very title. There can be little coincidence in the musical relations in the story of ‘carols’ and ‘staves’ – the name Dickens gave to the separate sections of the story, also an archaic term used to refer to the verses of a song – and the fact that it works especially well when read aloud.
Not only are we carrying on Dickens’ tradition of reading A Christmas Carol out loud through the Evening Read-In, but we honour his famous public readings (as well as his pioneering idea that everyone should be able to enjoy and participate in public readings) every year at The Penny Readings, by reading a passage from A Christmas Carol at the event. If you come along this year, then it’ll be one of many treats but if you don’t manage to get a ticket, or even if you do and want to hear the whole story being read aloud, make sure you’re here for The Evening Read-In over the next five weeks.