The Board of Directors grudgingly gave me permission to write another entry about my pal Charles Dickens. Alas for most people Mr. D is trotted out only once a year at Christmas time. I concur his “A Christmas Carol” is a masterpiece but not for the manifest reason it is a thumping good story.  After a few flops Charlie Boy needed a bang-slap success sale and fast – which he did but his genius is he did it through a story meant to bitch-slap the 1% who could afford to buy it. 

Dickens was a lifelong advocate for The Poor. You will be shocked, shocked, shocked to know The Rich in his time believed poverty was the result of ones laziness and all your own fault; if you would only work harder you can pull yourself up by your bootstraps. Indeed, to assist the poor makes them worse off and upsets social and divine justice.*

Dickens felt otherwise: success on a personal level is meaningless without engaging with others in the world.  He wanted to get this point through the obstinate heads of thems in charge in a way they would actually listen. He did this through his works. Let’s go have a look see.

“A Christmas Carol” starts almost comic: “Marley was dead as a door nail”.  This is not chance. We need to know he is dead so the ghost is recognized as real and not coming from Scrooge’s own senses. Often in film Jacob Marley is the rushed introduction to get to the meaty middle. In the book Jacob Marley is a center character critical to story.

Scrooge in an amalgam of the 19th century elite. When the specter appears Scrooge can’t understand why Marley is chained: he was a good businessman who succeeded through persistent and self-made industry – good Protestant English virtues. Jacob explains plainly he is cursed because he did not do the actual task of Life: look outward and help others. Another small but crucial detail to Marley is showing Scrooge an escape from damnation will do him no good. This ain’t no “It’s a wonderful life” where Clarence earns his wings through a goodly deed. Marley does NOT get redemption for he is one of the damned. This is bone chilling!  In the better renditions of “A Christmas Carol” the directors keep the novel’s next scene where Marley shows Scrooge the legions of the damned roaming the earth impotent to help themselves and others. 

Sometimes modern readers criticize Dickens for creating a character who too quickly changes his approach. Scrooge’s transformation is too pat. It is hard to believe believe; we believe true transition takes time as anyone in counseling can attest. This is based on our failure to recognize Ebenezer is visited by a genuine ghost from hell ascertaining there is divine justice and the reality of eternal punishment. 

Thanks to this book Dickens transformed Christmas into the holiday we all now know, which includes ‘giving to the poor’. May The Ghost of Jacob Marley continue to haunt and remind us charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence remain our true business. 

 

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*Aren’t you glad you live in the 21st century where such a thing never happens?