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Near the beginning of Stave 2 of A Christmas Carol, the Ghost of Christmas Past draws aside Scrooge's bed curtains:

The curtains of his bed were drawn aside, I tell you, by a hand. Not the curtains at his feet, nor the curtains at his back, but those to which his face was addressed. The curtains of his bed were drawn aside; and Scrooge, starting up into a half-recumbent attitude, found himself face to face with the unearthly visitor who drew them: as close to it as I am now to you, and I am standing in the spirit at your elbow.

What exactly is the narrator implying when they say that Scrooge is "as close to it as I am now to you, and I am standing in the spirit at your elbow."? The in-scene meaning is obvious — the spirit is really close to Scrooge. But there's an out-of-scene implication about the narrator's proximity to the reader that's both odd and confusing.

Are we supposed to take this as meaning the narrator is supposedly physically sitting with the reader and telling them the tale? Is there some spookier implication? Is it metaphorical? I'm also not quite sure what "standing in the spirit" is supposed to mean.

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The sentence should be parsed as "I am standing, in spirit, at your elbow."

Being with someone "in spirit" (or "in the spirit" as Dickens puts it) is the opposite of being with them "in the flesh". It shows although the narrator is not physically here, it is as though you are imagining him here, and envisioning his spirit being beside you.

Were the narrator here in the flesh (i.e. physically), he would be standing "at your elbow" (i.e. right next to you, by your elbow). So overall, he is saying that the ghost is as close to Scrooge as you are imagining the narrator to be to you.

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  • Dickens famously never used one word where two would suffice. Adding a "the" into that phrase is fully in character. Mar 4 at 20:11

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