This quotation reflects the miserly attitude of the lead character Ebenezer Scrooge, who prefers to walk up a wide stairs in the dark rather than spend money on lighting the way with a candle (A Christmas Carol was written before the days of electric light that we take for granted today). Scrooge even ‘trims’ the candle (cutting the wick to make it last longer) before climbing the stairs on his way to bed.
Scrooge thinks he witnesses an apparition of a locomotive hearse (a funeral coach and set of horses) rushing past him as he climbs the stairs. He has already been spooked by thinking he has seen the face of his former business partner, Jacob Marley, in the door knocker as he arrived home. Despite this, he still puts out the candle flame.
Dickens has already hinted that the stairs that Scrooge is climbing in darkness are very wide, suggesting that a funeral hearse could have gone up them sideways, with room to spare. The introduction of an apparent locomotive hearse rushing past Scrooge reinforces to the reader just how wide they are.
Character Profile: Ebenezer Scrooge.
Ebenezer Scrooge is one of the most famous characters created by Charles Dickens and arguably one of the most famous in English literature. The protagonist of A Christmas Carol, Scrooge is the cold-hearted and mean-spirited accountant. His business partner, the equally mean Jacob Marley, died seven years previous and he lives alone, having never married. Through a visit on Christmas Eve of the ghost of Marley and the three subsequent spirits, Scrooge is awakened to his meaness and the impact it has on others.
He fastened the door, and walked across the hall, and up the stairs; slowly too: trimming his candle as he went.
You may talk vaguely about driving a coach-and-six up a good old flight of stairs, or through a bad young Act of Parliament; but I mean to say you might have got a hearse up that staircase, and taken it broadwise, with the splinter-bar towards the wall and the door towards the balustrades: and done it easy. There was plenty of width for that, and room to spare; which is perhaps the reason why Scrooge thought he saw a locomotive hearse going on before him in the gloom. Half-a-dozen gas-lamps out of the street wouldn’t have lighted the entry too well, so you may suppose that it was pretty dark with Scrooge’s dip.
Up Scrooge went, not caring a button for that. Darkness is cheap, and Scrooge liked it. But before he shut his heavy door, he walked through his rooms to see that all was right. He had just enough recollection of the face to desire to do that.
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