What better way to celebrate Christmas than with a secular Turkish-American writer discussing Charles Dickens‘s A Christmas Carol, in light of modern (Jewish) Freudian psychotherapy?
Elif Batuman tried explaining the relationship of the book to her therapist, but he didn’t get it: “The Ghost [of Christmas Past] in particular reminded me of someone, with his kindness and spookiness, the way he said almost nothing, except to repeat back to Scrooge his own remarks. A few days later, I figured it out, and told my therapist: the Ghost reminded me of him. He didn’t reply, only smiled gently, in a way that I interpreted to mean, ‘I’m an Israeli Freudian, please don’t make me talk about A Christmas Carol.'”
At first, it seemed strange to me that such a Jewish discourse should be anticipated so plainly by a Christmas story—one written a decade before Freud was born. But when I thought about it more, it started to seem less strange. Freud read and admired Dickens; his first gift to his fiancée, in 1882, was a copy of David Copperfield. Why wouldn’t he have read A Christmas Carol, which is so much shorter? O.K., he was Jewish, but he was secular. He had a Christmas tree. When I was little, my parents also bought a tree every year, and we would put presents under it, and it was a little bit magical, even though we weren’t Christian. Wasn’t that a big part of Freudianism: that magic is often displaced, but never destroyed?
Read the “The Ghosts of Christmas: Was Scrooge the First Psychotherapy Patient?” in the New Yorker here. She describes the darker side of Christmas and Dickens’s dystopian world, but some argue that the classic Christmas story It’s a Wonderful Life does the same thing. According to Wendell Jamieson of the New York Times, the movie portrays “a terrifying, asphyxiating story about growing up and relinquishing your dreams, of seeing your father driven to the grave before his time, of living among bitter, small-minded people. It is a story of being trapped, of compromising, of watching others move ahead and away, of becoming so filled with rage that you verbally abuse your children, their teacher and your oppressively perfect wife. It is also a nightmare account of an endless home renovation.” Well, we wrote about that a few Christmases ago here. This theme was picked up in the mock poster below, which is making the Facebook rounds.
On the other hand, was A Christmas Carol as a Victorian spin on Dante Alighieri’s much older tale?
“First of all, both main characters begin in a dark wood—vividly illustrated as such in the Comedy and similarly rendered in chimney tops, alleyways, and dense fog in the Carol. The Pilgrim and the Miser have lost their way. Hence, they are taken on a mystical journey for the sake of their reclamation: Dante through Hell, Purgatory, & Heaven; Scrooge through the Past, Present, and Future. The three beasts that Dante meets before his journey begins (leopard, lion, and wolf) function similarly to the omens that Scrooge encounters on Christmas Eve: the hearse, the transformed door-knocker, the ringing bell.”
Read more about that here.
Whatever spin you put on the day, the Book Haven wishes you a Merry Christmas!