- ‘Ruddy, brown-faced, broad-girthed Spanish Onions, shining in the fatness of their growth like Spanish Friars‘ is a quotation from A Christmas Carol (Stave 3).
- 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.
In this quotation Dickens humoursly compares the appearance of some Spanish Onions to that of Spanish Friars. The Ghost of Christmas Present, the second of the three spirits that haunt the miser Ebenezer Scrooge, in order to prompt him to repent his selfish ways, has taken Scrooge to see a street full of people enjoying a Christmas meal. Various descriptions of the richness of the food at this feast is given, such as this one.
Dickens compares onions from Spain to that of friars from the same country. Friars are male members of certain Catholic religious orders. Some, such as Franciscans friars, traditionally wear brown robes, reflecting the original followers of the Order who wore old undyed brown clothing often donated to them by peasants.
The perception of Spanish Friars as fat is likely to have entered popular culture through the popular comical play The Spanish Friar, or the Double Discovery, written by John Dryden. It dates from the late 17th century but continued to be performed well into the 19th century and at least until the time Charles Dickens was writing A Christmas Carol. One of the characters the work pokes fun at is a fat friar.
This is an example of the figurative language Charles Dickens uses in his works, here using the literary technique of hyperbole (exaggerated language) in the form of a simile to compare Spanish Onions to Spanish Friars. The use of similes helps an author to strengthen a description, and for the reader it helps to better visualise a character or scene in their heads. Dickens is particularly comparing the characteristic of size – the fatness of their growth. The perception of Spanish Friars being fat at the time A Christmas Carol was written almost certainly derives from the anti-Catholic comical play The Spanish Friar, or the Double Discovery. Dating from 1681-1682 it was written by the English poet, literary critic, translator, and playwright John Dryden (1631 – 1700). In the play, a central character is Father Dominic, a Roman Catholic priest who grows fat on charitable donations intended for the church.
The Ghost of Christmas Present rose.
“Spirit,” said Scrooge submissively, “conduct me where you will. I went forth last night on compulsion, and I learnt a lesson which is working now. To-night, if you have aught to teach me, let me profit by it.”
“Touch my robe!” Scrooge did as he was told, and held it fast.
Holly, mistletoe, red berries, ivy, turkeys, geese, game, poultry, brawn, meat, pigs, sausages, oysters, pies, puddings, fruit, and punch, all vanished instantly. So did the room, the fire, the ruddy glow, the hour of night, and they stood in the city streets on Christmas morning, where (for the weather was severe) the people made a rough, but brisk and not unpleasant kind of music, in scraping the snow from the pavement in front of their dwellings, and from the tops of their houses, whence it was mad delight to the boys to see it come plumping down into the road below, and splitting into artificial little snow-storms.
The house fronts looked black enough, and the windows blacker, contrasting with the smooth white sheet of snow upon the roofs, and with the dirtier snow upon the ground; which last deposit had been ploughed up in deep furrows by the heavy wheels of carts and waggons; furrows that crossed and re-crossed each other hundreds of times where the great streets branched off; and made intricate channels, hard to trace in the thick yellow mud and icy water. The sky was gloomy, and the shortest streets were choked up with a dingy mist, half thawed, half frozen, whose heavier particles descended in a shower of sooty atoms, as if all the chimneys in Great Britain had, by one consent, caught fire, and were blazing away to their dear hearts’ content. There was nothing very cheerful in the climate or the town, and yet was there an air of cheerfulness abroad that the clearest summer air and brightest summer sun might have endeavoured to diffuse in vain.
For, the people who were shovelling away on the housetops were jovial and full of glee; calling out to one another from the parapets, and now and then exchanging a facetious snowball—better-natured missile far than many a wordy jest—laughing heartily if it went right and not less heartily if it went wrong. The poulterers’ shops were still half open, and the fruiterers’ were radiant in their glory. There were great, round, pot-bellied baskets of chestnuts, shaped like the waistcoats of jolly old gentlemen, lolling at the doors, and tumbling out into the street in their apoplectic opulence. There were ruddy, brown-faced, broad-girthed Spanish Onions, shining in the fatness of their growth like Spanish Friars, and winking from their shelves in wanton slyness at the girls as they went by, and glanced demurely at the hung-up mistletoe. There were pears and apples, clustered high in blooming pyramids; there were bunches of grapes, made, in the shopkeepers’ benevolence to dangle from conspicuous hooks, that people’s mouths might water gratis as they passed; there were piles of filberts, mossy and brown, recalling, in their fragrance, ancient walks among the woods, and pleasant shufflings ankle deep through withered leaves; there were Norfolk Biffins, squat and swarthy, setting off the yellow of the oranges and lemons, and, in the great compactness of their juicy persons, urgently entreating and beseeching to be carried home in paper bags and eaten after dinner. The very gold and silver fish, set forth among these choice fruits in a bowl, though members of a dull and stagnant-blooded race, appeared to know that there was something going on; and, to a fish, went gasping round and round their little world in slow and passionless excitement.
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