Background.

A Christmas Carol.
  • The fog came pouring in at every chink and keyhole, and was so dense without, that although the court was of the narrowest, the houses opposite were mere phantoms” is a quotation from A Christmas Carol (Stave 1).
  • A Christmas Carol is a novella, or short story, written by Charles Dickens and first published in the Christmas of 1843. The allegorical tale tells the story of the transformation of the mean-spirited Ebenezer Scrooge through the visits of the spirit of his former business partner and three ghosts over the course of a Christmas Eve night. It remains a much-loved traditional Christmas tale.

Context.

This quotation comes at the beginning of Stave 1 of A Christmas Carol. The author, Charles Dickens, has already introduced the reader to the character Ebenezer Scrooge and his deceased former business partner, Jacob Marley. He is now telling us the story is set on a cold and foggy Christmas Eve, where Scrooge is working late at his counting house (along with his clerk, Bob Cratchit).

Dickens uses the weather to as a metaphor to symbolise Scrooge’s characteristics We have already been told the weather is bleak and biting cold, just like Scrooge’s personality on this Christmas Eve night. The fog, spreading everywhere and through keyholes, masks what Scrooge cannot see, such as the poverty and need all around him. This relates to the theme of social injustice that runs through A Christmas Carol. The houses opposite that resemble mere phantoms also hint at what it to come in the story.

Fog is often used in literature to both set a scene and represent a bad omen. In the opening of his 1853 novel Bleak House Dickens also used fog to symbolise the mystification caused by the endless bureaucracy of the law.

Illustration from the original publication of A Christmas Carol showing Ebenezer Scrooge being visited by the ghost of his former business partner, Jacob Marley.
Illustration from the original publication of A Christmas Carol showing Ebenezer Scrooge (left), here being visited by the ghost of his former business partner, Jacob Marley, bound by the chains he forged in life.

Literary Technique.

This is an example of the literary techniques Charles Dickens uses in his works, here using foreshadowing. Foreshadowing is a technique when an author indirectly hints at what is to come later on in the story. In the dense fog the houses on the opposite side of a narrow street are described as mere phantoms. Later on that evening, Scrooge does indeed witness the air … filled with phantoms from his window after hearing their wailing whilst being visited by the ghost of Jacob Marley. Dickens uses elements of the genre Victorian Gothic in A Christmas Carol, which help to add to the suspense of this supernatural story.


Symbolism in A Christmas Carol: Weather.

Weather is used as a motif in A Christmas Carol to represent Scrooge’s character and how it changes. As we are introduced to Scrooge the weather is cold, bleak, biting with a heavy fog that permeates at every chink and keyhole. This bleak weather reflects the coldness of Scrooge’s character whilst the fog is symbolic of masking what he cannot see, namely that he is ignorant to the plight of those less fortunate around him. Towards the end of the story, when Scrooge is a changed person, the fog and mist from the previous day has lifted, the day is described as bright rather than bleak and although it remains a cold mid-winter day it is not biting and humourously described as piping for the blood to dance to.


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 one Christmas Eve by the ghost of Marley and three subsequent spirits, Scrooge is awakened to his meaness and the impact it has on others.

Source.

Taken from the following passage of Stave 1 (Marley’s Ghost) of A Christmas Carol:

Once upon a time—of all the good days in the year, on Christmas Eve—old Scrooge sat busy in his counting-house. It was cold, bleak, biting weather: foggy withal: and he could hear the people in the court outside, go wheezing up and down, beating their hands upon their breasts, and stamping their feet upon the pavement stones to warm them. The city clocks had only just gone three, but it was quite dark already—it had not been light all day—and candles were flaring in the windows of the neighbouring offices, like ruddy smears upon the palpable brown air. The fog came pouring in at every chink and keyhole, and was so dense without, that although the court was of the narrowest, the houses opposite were mere phantoms. To see the dingy cloud come drooping down, obscuring everything, one might have thought that Nature lived hard by, and was brewing on a large scale.

The door of Scrooge’s counting-house was open that he might keep his eye upon his clerk, who in a dismal little cell beyond, a sort of tank, was copying letters. Scrooge had a very small fire, but the clerk’s fire was so very much smaller that it looked like one coal. But he couldn’t replenish it, for Scrooge kept the coal-box in his own room; and so surely as the clerk came in with the shovel, the master predicted that it would be necessary for them to part. Wherefore the clerk put on his white comforter, and tried to warm himself at the candle; in which effort, not being a man of a strong imagination, he failed.

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The fog came pouring in at every chink and keyhole, and was so dense without, that although the court was of the narrowest, the houses opposite were mere phantoms.
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Resources.

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