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Dickens: A Christmas Carol

13. Stave 4 – "When did he die?"

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In this module, we read the first half of Stave Four, in which Scrooge is shown the reaction to the death of a local man – a man who he doesn’t yet realise is himself. In particular, we think about: (i) the character of the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, compared to the previous two spirits (“The Phantom slowly, gravely, silently, approached”); (ii) Scrooge’s enthusiasm for the visit (“I am prepared to bear you company, and do it with a thankful heart”); (iii) the conversation taking place within a “little knot of business” men regarding the death of a man ("I don't know much about it, either way. I only know he's dead”); (iv) the second conversation between two different businessmen (“Old Scratch has got his own at last, hey?"); (v) the figures of the “charwoman”, “laundress” and “undertaker’s man”, who have scavenged items from Scrooge’s house; (vi) the idea that Scrooge’s treatment after death is a reflection on how he treated people in life ("It's a judgment on him”); (vi) the ironic use of the language of commerce (“He frightened every one away from him when he was alive, to profit us when he was dead!”, “They have brought him to a rich end, truly!”, etc.); (vii) the different kinds of laughter that resonate throughout the novel – from the cruel, mocking laughter here to the wholesale laughter of the Cratchit family; (viii) Dickens’ use of language as he describes the corpse on the bed (“plundered and bereft, unwatched, unwept, uncared for”); and (ix) the themes of death and silence.


In this course, Professor John McRae (University of Nottingham) explores Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. In the first module, we introduce the novel by looking at the first two paragraphs of the story, including its famous opening line (“Marley was dead; to begin with”) and the reader’s first impression of the character of Scrooge (“Scrooge's name was good on ‘Change”). In the second and third modules, we go through some of the literary, cultural and historical context for the novel, including Dickens’ life and career up to 1843, the impact of the Industrial Revolution on British society and culture, the ‘invention’ of the ‘traditional, family Christmas’ in this period, and Dickens’ preoccupation with capitalism, poverty and children. In the following twelve modules, we read through the novel stave by stave: the fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh modules cover Stave One; the eighth and ninth cover Stave Two; the tenth, eleventh, and twelfth cover Stave Three; the thirteen and fourteenth cover Stave Four; and the fifteenth covers Stave Five.


John McRae is Special Professor of Language in Literature Studies and Teaching Associate in the School of English at Nottingham University, and holds Visiting Professorships in China, Malaysia, Spain and the USA. He is co-author of The Routledge History of Literature in English with Ron Carter, and also wrote The Language of Poetry, Literature with a Small 'l' and the first critical edition of Teleny by Oscar Wilde and others.

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Cite this Lecture

APA style

McRae, J. (2020, March 24). Dickens: A Christmas Carol - Stave 4 – "When did he die?" [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

McRae, J. "Dickens: A Christmas Carol – Stave 4 – "When did he die?"." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 24 Mar 2020,