Ebenezer Scrooge

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Ebenezer Scrooge
Marley's Ghost-John Leech, 1843.jpg
Ebenezer Scrooge encounters "Jacob Marley's ghost" in Dickens's novella, A Christmas Carol
Created byCharles Dickens
Portrayed bySee below
In-universe information
GenderMale
TitleA Christmas Carol
OccupationBusinessman[a]
FamilyFanny or Fan (late younger sister)
Fred (nephew)

Ebenezer Scrooge (/ˌɛbɪˈnzər ˈskr/) is the protagonist of Charles Dickens' 1843 novella, A Christmas Carol. At the beginning of the novella, Scrooge is a cold-hearted miser who despises Christmas. The tale of his redemption by three spirits (the Ghost of Christmas Past, the Ghost of Christmas Present, and the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come) has become a defining tale of the Christmas holiday in the English-speaking world.

Dickens describes Scrooge thus early in the story: "The cold within him froze his old features, nipped his pointed nose, shrivelled his cheek, stiffened his gait; made his eyes red, his thin lips blue; and spoke out shrewdly in his grating voice." Towards the end of the novella, Scrooge is transformed by the spirits into a better person who changed his ways to become more friendly and less miserly.

Scrooge's last name has come into the English language as a byword for stinginess and misanthropy, while his catchphrase, "Bah! Humbug!" is often used to express disgust with many modern Christmas traditions.

Description[edit]

Dickens describes Scrooge as "a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint,… secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster." He does business from a warehouse and is known among the merchants of the Royal Exchange as a man of good credit. Despite having considerable personal wealth, he underpays his clerk and hounds his debtors relentlessly, while living cheaply and joylessly in the chambers of his deceased business partner, Jacob Marley. Most of all he detests Christmas, which he associates with reckless spending. When two men approach him on Christmas Eve for a donation to charity, he sneers that the poor should avail themselves of the treadmill or the workhouses, or else die to reduce the surplus population.

Flashbacks of Scrooge's early life show that his unkind father placed him in a boarding school, where at Christmas-time he remained alone while his schoolmates traveled home. He then apprenticed at the warehouse of a jovial and generous master, Fezziwig. He proposed to a woman named Belle and dedicated himself to making enough money to rise out of poverty, but his fiancée was disgusted by his obsession with money and left him one Christmas, eventually marrying another man. The present-day Scrooge reacts to these memories with a mixture of nostalgia and deep regret.

After the three visiting spirits warn him that his current path brings hardship for others and shame for himself, Scrooge commits to being more generous. He accepts his nephew's invitation to Christmas dinner, provides for his clerk, and donates to the charity fund. In the end, he becomes known as the embodiment of the Christmas spirit.

Origins[edit]

Several theories have been put forward as to where Dickens got inspiration for the character.

  • Ebenezer Scroggie, a merchant from Edinburgh who won a catering contract for King George IV's visit to Scotland. He was buried in Canongate Kirkyard, with a gravestone that is now lost. The theory is that Dickens noticed the gravestone that described Scroggie as being a "meal man" (corn merchant) but misread it as "mean man".[1][2] This theory has been described as "a probable Dickens hoax" for which "[n]o one could find any corroborating evidence".[3]
  • It has been suggested that he chose the name Ebenezer ("stone (of) help") to reflect the help given to Scrooge to change his life.[4]
  • One school of thought is that Dickens based Scrooge's views on the poor on those of demographer and political economist Thomas Malthus, as evidenced by his callous attitude towards the "surplus population".[5][6]
  • Another is that the minor character Gabriel Grub from The Pickwick Papers was worked up into a more mature characterization (his name stemming from an infamous Dutch miser, Gabriel de Graaf).[7][8]
  • Jemmy Wood, owner of the Gloucester Old Bank and possibly Britain's first millionaire, was nationally renowned for his stinginess, and may have been another.[9]
  • The man whom Dickens eventually mentions in his letters[10] and who strongly resembles the character portrayed by Dickens's illustrator, John Leech, was a noted British eccentric and miser named John Elwes (1714–1789).

Kelly writes that Scrooge may have been influenced by Dickens's conflicting feelings for his father, whom he both loved and demonised. This psychological conflict may be responsible for the two radically different Scrooges in the tale—one a cold, stingy and greedy semi-recluse, the other a benevolent, sociable man.[11] Robert Douglas-Fairhurst, a professor of English literature, considers that in the opening part of the book covering young Scrooge's lonely and unhappy childhood, and his aspiration for money to avoid poverty "is something of a self-parody of Dickens's fears about himself"; the post-transformation parts of the book are how Dickens optimistically sees himself.[12]

Reginald Owen as Scrooge in the 1938 film adaptation

Scrooge could also be based on two misers: the eccentric John Elwes, MP,[13] or Jemmy Wood, the owner of the Gloucester Old Bank who was also known as "The Gloucester Miser".[14] According to the sociologist Frank W. Elwell, Scrooge's views on the poor are a reflection of those of the demographer and political economist Thomas Malthus,[15] while the miser's questions "Are there no prisons? ... And the Union workhouses? ... The treadmill and the Poor Law are in full vigour, then?" are a reflection of a sarcastic question raised by the reactionary philosopher Thomas Carlyle, "Are there not treadmills, gibbets; even hospitals, poor-rates, New Poor-Law?"[16][b]

There are literary precursors for Scrooge in Dickens's own works. Peter Ackroyd, Dickens's biographer, sees similarities between Scrooge and the elder Martin Chuzzlewit character, although the miser is "a more fantastic image" than the Chuzzlewit patriarch; Ackroyd observes that Chuzzlewit's transformation to a charitable figure is a parallel to that of the miser.[18] Douglas-Fairhurst sees that the minor character Gabriel Grub from The Pickwick Papers was also an influence when creating Scrooge.[19][c]

Portrayals in notable adaptations[edit]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Scrooge's type of business is not stated in the original work. He is said to operate from a warehouse, having apprenticed in another. At least part of his business consists in exchanging money obligations and collecting debts. Several adaptations have depicted him as a money-lender.
  2. ^ Carlyle's original question was written in his 1840 work Chartism.[17]
  3. ^ Grub's name came from a 19th century Dutch miser, Gabriel de Graaf, a morose gravedigger.[20]

Citations[edit]

  1. ^ "Revealed: the Scot who inspired Dickens' Scrooge". The Scotsman. 24 December 2004. Retrieved 2020-01-14. Details of Scroggie’s life are sparse, but he was a vintner as well as a corn merchant.
  2. ^ "BBC Arts - That Ebenezer geezer... who was the real Scrooge?". BBC. Retrieved 2016-04-30.
  3. ^ "Mr Punch is still knocking them dead after 350 years". Telegraph.co.uk. Retrieved 2017-06-16.
  4. ^ Kincaid, Cheryl Anne. Hearing the Gospel through Charles Dickens's "A Christmas Carol" (2 ed.). Cambridge Scholars Publishing. pp. 7–8. Retrieved 24 December 2014.
  5. ^ Frank W. Elwell, Reclaiming Malthus, 2 November 2001, accessed 30 August 2013.
  6. ^ Nasar, Sylvia (2011). Grand pursuit : the story of economic genius (1st Simon & Schuster hardcover ed.). New York: Simon & Schuster. pp. 3–10. ISBN 978-0-684-87298-8.
  7. ^ "Real-life Scrooge was Dutch gravedigger", 25 December 2007, archived from the original 27 December 2007.
  8. ^ "Fake Scrooge 'was Dutch gravedigger'", 26 December 2007, archived from the original 6 December 2008.
  9. ^ Silence, Rebecca (2015). Gloucester History Tour. Amberley Publishing Limited. p. 40.
  10. ^ The Letters of Charles Dickens by Charles Dickens, Madeline House, Graham Storey, Margaret Brown, Kathleen Tillotson, & The British Academy (1999) Oxford University Press [Letter to George Holsworth, 18 January 1865] pp.7.
  11. ^ Kelly 2003, p. 14.
  12. ^ Douglas-Fairhurst 2006, p. xix.
  13. ^ Gordon 2008; DeVito 2014, 424.
  14. ^ Jordan 2015, Chapter 5; Sillence 2015, p. 40.
  15. ^ Elwell 2001; DeVito 2014, 645.
  16. ^ Douglas-Fairhurst 2006, p. xiii.
  17. ^ Carlyle 1840, p. 32.
  18. ^ Ackroyd 1990, p. 409.
  19. ^ Douglas-Fairhurst 2006, p. xviii; Alleyne 2007.
  20. ^ Alleyne 2007.
  21. ^ Fleming, Michael. "Jim Carrey set for 'Christmas Carol': Zemeckis directing Dickens adaptation", Variety, 2007-07-06. Retrieved on 2007-09-11.
  22. ^ "Doctor Who Christmas Special – A Christmas Carol". Retrieved 22 November 2010.
  23. ^ "Christmas Day". Radio Times. 347 (4520): 174. December 2010.
  24. ^ "BBC Radio 4 - Saturday Drama, A Christmas Carol". BBC.
  25. ^ Heymont, George (29 January 2016). "Rule Britannia!". Huffington Post. Retrieved 30 September 2016.
  26. ^ "From Charles Dickens to Michael Caine, here are the five best Scrooges". The Independent. December 19, 2018.

References[edit]

External links[edit]