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Existential Scrooge: A Kierkegaardian Reading of A Christmas Carol

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Abstract

This article examines Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol (1843) through the lens of Søren Kierkegaard’s philosophical concept of anxiety. Owing to its enduring popularity, A Christmas Carol rarely elicits rigorous explication, much less philosophical exegesis. This critical blind spot, however, should not prevent those interested in establishing a nexus between literature and philosophy from examining it as a serious and important artefact within the history of ideas. A Christmas Carol is indeed historically important, so much so that it may have influenced or even inspired Søren Kierkegaard’s The Concept of Anxiety (1844). This work, published on 17 June 1844, put forward the nature of anxiety and explored the ways in which it became manifest. For Kierkegaard, anxiety must precede the qualitative leap of faith which is freedom. Indeed, it is only through anxiety that the self can come to understand its relation between the finite and the infinite, the temporal and the eternal. A seminal existential text, it influenced a range of thinkers including Heidegger, Sartre, Jaspers and Tillich. It is timely, however, to propose that one of the key concepts of anxiety that Kierkegaard expounds in this extraordinary work, that of ‘the demonic’ or neurotic individual, was actually anticipated 6 months earlier, in the fictional form of Ebenezer Scrooge, in Charles Dickens’s widely published and translated popular masterpiece, A Christmas Carol.

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