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"A Christmas Carol" with Alastir Sim as Scrooge

This classic film is not showing in Athens, but should be essential viewing for ever family over the Christmas period. Ebenezer Scrooge is the principal character in Charles Dickens' 1843 novel, A Christmas Carol. At the beginning of the novel, Scrooge is a cold-hearted, tight fisted and greedy man, who despises Christmas and all things which engender happiness. A quote from the book reads "The cold within him froze his old features, nipped his pointed nose, made his eyes red, his thin lips blue, and he spoke out shrewdly in his grating voice ..." His last name has come into the English language as a byword for miserliness and misanthropy, traits displayed by Scrooge in the exaggerated manner for which Dickens is well-known. The tale of his redemption by the three Ghosts of Christmas (Ghost of Christmas Past, Ghost of Christmas Present, and Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come) has become a defining tale of the Christmas holiday. Scrooge's catchphrase, "Bah, humbug!" is often used to express disgust with many of the modern Christmas traditions.

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

One school of thought believes that it stems from a grave marker for an Ebenezer Lennox Scroggie. The marker identified Scroggie as a “meal man” (corn merchant), but Dickens misread this as “mean man”.
Still more claim that Dickens based Scrooge's views on the poor on those of demographer and political economist Thomas Malthus.
Yet others that the minor character Gabriel Grub from The Pickwick Papers was worked up into a more mature characterisation (his name stemming from an infamous Dutch miser, Gabriel de Graaf.)
Jeremy Wood (James/Jemmy/Jacabos), owner of the Gloucester Old Bank and possibly Britain’s first millionaire, became a nationally known figure for his miserly ways, and may have been another.
The man whom Dickens would eventually mention in his letters[6] and who strongly resembles the character portrayed by Dickens' illustrator, John Leech, was a noted British eccentric and miser named John Elwes (1714 – 1789).

The story of A Christmas Carol starts on Christmas Eve, with Scrooge at his place of business. The book says that Scrooge lives in London, England. It is usually assumed that he is a banker or professional money lender. Some recent versions portray him as a solicitor. Whatever his main business is, he seems to have usurious relationships with people of little means. These relationships, along with his lack of charity and shabby treatment of his clerk, Bob Cratchit, seem to be his major vices.

His nephew however, has great regard to Christmas and we are introduced to him early in the story.

Scrooge has only disgust for the poor, thinking the world would be better off without them, "decreasing the surplus population," and praise for the Victorian era workhouses. He has a particular distaste for the merriment of Christmas; his single act of kindness is to give his clerk, Bob Cratchit, the day off with pay. Done more as a result of social mores than kindness, Scrooge sees the practice akin to having his pocket picked on an annual basis.

After introducing Scrooge and showing his shabby treatment of his employee, business men, and only living relative, the novel resumes with Scrooge at his residence, intent on spending Christmas Eve alone. While he is preparing to go to bed, he is visited by the ghost of his deceased business partner, Jacob Marley. Marley (who had died seven years earlier on Christmas Eve) spent his life exploiting the poor and as a result is damned to walk the Earth for eternity bound in chains of his own greed. Marley warns Scrooge that he risks meeting the same fate, and that as a final chance of escape he will be visited by three spirits: Past, Present, and Yet to Come. The rest of the novel acts as a biography and psychological profile, showing his evolution to his current state, and the way he is viewed by others.

As promised, the Ghost of Christmas Past visits Scrooge first and takes him to see his time as a schoolboy many years earlier. Here it is suggested that his father abandoned young Scrooge at his boarding school, even during Christmas. This is relevant to Scrooge, because it shows the beginnings of his lack of socialization and empathy. He does not socialize because he never experienced steady growth in a strong family unit. He does not empathize thanks to the way he was treated: as a child, he was the least of his father's concerns, and this in turn taught him not to feel for fellow humans. Furthermore, his mother died giving birth to Ebenezer, for which his father blames the boy. In some versions of the story, his father goes to jail for not paying debt - it is hinted that he may have died while in prison. Later the ghost shows how his success in business made him become obsessive and develop a workaholic tendency. His money and work-obsessed personality traits eventually compel Scrooge's fiancée, Belle, to leave him, which further hardens his heart. The death of his sister Fan, the one relative who had a close relationship with him, also injures him greatly enough that he loses any love he had for the world. Scrooge has only his nephew left but doesn't particularly care for him, likely due to Scrooge blaming him for his sister's death following childbirth (much as Scrooge's father blamed him for his mother's death).

The visit by the Ghost of Christmas Past also reveals the origin of Scrooge's neurotic hatred of Christmas; most of the events that negatively affected Scrooge's character occurred during the Christmas holiday season.

One of the sources of his negative ways is the pain he feels for losing his love, Belle. Engaged to be married to her, he keeps pushing back the wedding until his finances are as healthy as he would like; something that, given his insatiable lust for money, he would probably never have. Realizing this, Belle calls off the engagement and eventually marries someone else, causing Scrooge to further withdraw from society and relationships.


Scrooge and Bob Cratchit illustrated by John Leech in 1843.Scrooge is then visited by the Ghost of Christmas Present, who shows him the happiness of his nephew's middle-class social circle and the impoverished Cratchit family. The latter have a young son (Tiny Tim) who is lame, yet the family still manages to live happily on the pittance Scrooge pays his clerk. When Scrooge asks if Tim will die, the ghost – quick to use Scrooge's past unkind comments to two charitable solicitors against him – suggests "they had better do it now, and decrease the surplus population".

The ghost also warns him of the evils of Ignorance and Want. As the spirit's robe is drawn back Scrooge is shocked to see these two aspects of the human psyche suddenly manifest before him as vicious, terrifying, little children, who are more animal than human in appearance.

The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come shows Scrooge the final consequences of his actions. Tiny Tim has died from his illness, leaving the entire Cratchit family in mourning. In addition, Scrooge's solitary life and disdain for those in need will ultimately lead others to find comfort and happiness from his own death. No one will mourn his passing and his money and possessions will be stolen by the desperate and corrupt, the very people he condemned in life. His final legacy will be that of a cheap tombstone in an unkept graveyard. Scrooge then weeps over his own grave, begging the ghost for a chance to change his ways before awakening to find it is Christmas morning. He has been given an opportunity to repent after all. Scrooge does so and becomes a model of generosity and kindness. "Many laughed to see this alteration in him, but he let them laugh and little heeded them. His own heart laughed and that was quite enough for him. And it was always said of him that he knew how to keep Christmas well if any man alive possessed the knowledge."

Wednesday, December 23, 2009