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Judgment XX Ebenezer Scrooge


Fan; Ebenezer Scrooge;

Tiny Tim; Marley's Ghost.


A Christmas Carol

         When Dickens returned to England after his American tour in 1842, he published his travelogue American Notes For General Circulation and began work on Martin Chuzzlewit. While convinced this latter novel was his best work to date, installments of Chuzzlewit sold poorly. In it, he describes the American Republic as "so maimed and lame, so full of sores and ulcers, foul to the eye and almost hopeless to the sense, that her best friends turn from the loathsome creature with disgust.” Needless to say, sales in the States of Chuzzlewit were sluggish, and Dickens' observations in American Notes hadn't helped any: “...the heaviest blow ever dealt at liberty will be dealt by this country, in the failure of its example on the earth.” As lucrative as his tour of America had been, Dickens was short of money at this time, and declining sales compelled him to write something which would rejuvenate and redeem himself with his vast readership.


 Redemption came to Dickens in the novella A Christmas Carol in Prose, Being a Ghost-Story of Christmas, commonly known as A Christmas Carol. In early 1843, Dickens had toured the Cornish tin mines and been appalled by the examples of child labour. The suffering he witnessed there was compounded by a visit he made to the Field Lane Ragged school, one of many schools established in London for destitute, illiterate children. In February of that year, the Second Report of the Children's Employment Commission was published, which brought to light the plight of children working for the industrial revolution. Horrified by all this, Dickens prepared to write an inexpensive political pamphlet on these issues, tentatively titled An Appeal to the People of England, on Behalf of the Poor Man's Child. Fuelled with indignation at the self-satisfied smugness of his era, Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol instead, telling one of the doctors responsible for the Second Report: "you will certainly feel that a Sledge hammer has come down with twenty times the force - twenty thousand times the force - I could exert by following out my first idea."


 Begun in October, Dickens aimed to finish A Carol's writing and have it published and ready for people to buy in time for Christmas. He wrote with an intensity he later called “a white-heat”, and walked the streets of London by night, 15 to 20 miles at a go, inventing and working out much of the plot as he went. By late October, Dickens had invited a new illustrator to work with him, John Leech, who had been recommended to the author by his long-time collaborator, George Cruikshank. The commercial disappointment of Chuzzlewit, however, caused disagreements with Dickens' publishers, Chapman & Hall. With the need to publish A Carol by Christmas, Dickens undertook to finance its production himself. The galley proofs were printed with drab green endpapers which Dickens found unacceptable; these were changed to yellow which clashed with the title page. In the end, A Carol was bound in red cloth with gilt edging, and a first run of 6,000 copies were in stores by December 19. By Christmas Eve, they had sold out.


 Second and third editions were issued before the end of the year, and by the end of the following year, 1844, eleven more editions were released. Since that initial 1843 Christmas run, A Christmas Carol has never been out of print. The book has been translated into innumerable languages, and is Dickens' most popular and recognized work the world over. Not only an immediate success with the public, critics and fellow-authors were exceptionally positive about the book. Thackeray called it "a national benefit and to every man or woman who reads it, a personal kindness.” The poet Thomas Hood said, "If Christmas, with its ancient and hospitable customs, its social and charitable observances, were ever in danger of decay, this is the book that would give them a new lease." Mrs. Margaret Oliphant deplored the plum pudding aspect of A Carol, but noted the book made people behave better and called it “a new gospel”.


 There is a certain irony in the fact Dickens wrote A Carol, his most condensed polemic against material greed, as a way to boost Chuzzlewit's flagging sales and help him out of his own difficult financial straights. This irony was compounded when the author sued Parley's Illuminated Library for publishing an unauthorized version of A Carol in condensed form. Dickens won the suit of copyright infringement, and was awarded £2,300 by the court. Parley's, in turn, declared bankruptcy, leaving Dickens with the bill for legal fees. These amounted to £700, which was £470 more than A Christmas Carol had made for him on its initial printing.


 Ebenezer Scrooge is possibly Dickens' single most recognizable literary creation. He is the embodiment of everything gnarled, curdled, grasping, and miserable in a human being grown old and cold. The term scrooge for a black-hearted money-grubber has entered common parlance, as has his favourite phrase of deprecation: humbug. With humour, pathos, and not a small touch of the supernatural, Dickens illumines the bare bones of a man's short life, the wrong turns he makes, and the burial mound he carves out for himself. Not only is Scrooge a caricature of all misanthropes the world over, he is also the personification of the misanthrope in all of us. Dickens was able to accomplish this archetype not only through his usual gifts of observation in those he encountered, but by honing in on and amplifying his own remorse, pettiness, and fears concerning material security. Scrooge is described as a “solitary child”, who is “neglected by his friends” and rarely sees his family – two things which can be claimed for the sickly young Dickens' lonely childhood. As a boy, Dickens' closest relationship was with his sister, Fanny, clearly echoed in Scrooge's sister Fan. As reflected in A Carol's pawnbroker scene, Dickens as a child had to hock his family's curtains and bed linen for food money. Having become an international celebrity overnight instilled in Dickens a sense of being singled out, and he experienced what could be called survivor's guilt – a vein he would mine to great effect in Great Expectations. All throughout his adulthood, however, as successful and beloved as he was, Dickens always feared he would return to the poverty of his youth.


 In Tiny Tim, we have Scrooge's antithesis – young where Scrooge is old, poor where Scrooge is wealthy, crippled where Scrooge is able-bodied, happy where Scrooge is cantankerous and mean. Scrooge's one-time partner Jacob Marley is based on the economist Robert Malthus, with many of Scrooge's heinous comments being a straight paraphrasing of Malthus - a detail not lost on Dickens' more learned readers of his day. In the redeemed, atoning Scrooge we see a character Dickens had employed a number of times in his earlier fiction: that of the benevolent man of wealth – Pickwick, the Cheerybles, old Martin Chuzzlewit. Later, in Our Mutual Friend, something of a parody of the reformed miser resurfaces in Neddy Boffin. Scrooge, of course, is the apotheosis of such a character. His dark night of the soul and acute rebirth are a testament to epiphany, atonement, and the chance to redeem oneself – key elements of the card of Judgment.


 At the time A Carol was written, the yearly observance of Christmas had fallen away for many people. Always fond of the season himself, from memories of his childhood and the works of such writers as Washington Irving, Dickens captured the zeitgeist of a mid-Victorian era re-examining its relationship with the Christmastide tradition. Victoria and Albert had popularized the inclusion of the ritual Christmas tree, and The Oxford Movement had reintroduced elements of religious observance such as the nativity, Childermas, and Epiphany Eve into the season. Dickens' contribution was a focus on the humanitarian aspects of Christmas, its appreciation of family and friends, and its emphasis on charity, forgiveness, gratitude, and hope. These concerns in turn tie in with the New Year and tendencies natural to the winter solstice, such as self-evaluation, resolution, and rebirth. Seen in a certain way, Scrooge is Father Time to Tiny Tim's Baby New Year.


 In A Carol, Dickens set the personal aspects of the Christmas celebration of life and its thanksgiving within a context of social reconciliation. A noticeable rise in charitable giving around Christmas time is directly attributable to Charles Dickens. His A Christmas Carol and subsequent Christmas books influenced our modern Western observance of the holiday, specifically its emphasis on family gatherings, seasonal food and drink, dancing, game playing, and a generosity of spirit.


 This theme of redemption and regeneration, integral to the Judgment card, is further embodied by inestimable versions and retellings of A Christmas Carol throughout the years. It was adapted for the stage almost immediately, and in 1901 it was the first film adaptation of a Dickens' work. It has been refilmed countless times and ways since – from puppets and animation to live-action and mime – and adapted for other media such as radio, opera, ballet, and Broadway musical. Dickens himself, during the Christmas of 1852, adapted A Christmas Carol for a public reading he gave for the Industrial and Literary Institute at Birmingham Town Hall. It was so well received that Dickens went on to publicly perform his “Carol philosophy” in abbreviated version 127 times until the year of his death. That year, 1870, saw his farewell public reading performance, at which he recited A Christmas Carol to his adoring audience one last time.


 On June 9th, 1870, the death of the much-loved author was announced. “Mr. Dickens dead?” a bereaved barrel girl in Drury Lane was heard to ask, “Then will Father Christmas die too...?”



Notes for General Circulation : 


  • The 20th card of the Major Arcana is an allegory of spiritual rebirth. The scene is Christmas morning and Scrooge has awoken from his bad sleep. He has shaken off his old life and the tomb which no one will visit except to ridicule. In their place, Scrooge has embraced love, symbolized by becoming Tiny Tim's "second father" and carrying him on his shoulders.

  • Some find grace naturally, others need help. Scrooge's visitation by Marley and the three ghosts "quicken" him, as with an epiphany, into a state of grace. This gift of insight and vision is a wake-up call, and the Judgment card represents just such a demand for total conversion.

  • The darkness and alienation of the watery Moon card, together with the arid and extrovert intellectualization of The Sun card, when balanced, engender the creation of the soul. Tiny Tim, as child of man and woman, signifies this spiritual fruition. As it is Christmas morning, Tiny Tim can suggest the Christ child - the Son of Man, the Lamb of God, the Redeemer - who will himself be resurrected.

 Spirit of Tiny Tim, thy childish essence was from God! ... Much did thy loved ones learn from thee; much can the world learn of the nobility of patience from thy sweet child life. Unawares thou wert thyself an answer to thy Christmas prayer: "God bless us every one!"

  • The Judgment card in a formal pattern indicates a successful conclusion, an act of benign generosity, an eleventh-hour volta-face, a second chance, the importance of every action, the call to share the world's material riches, the crucial need to stay open and alive rather than closed and defensive no matter one's age, the dawning of hope after the darkness, a spiritual crisis, and the weakness of a seemingly indestructible evil. 


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