Archive for December, 2016

Dickens on Gain

Charles Dickens knew need. His father could hold down a job in 1820s Victorian England, but he couldn’t hold onto money.

After selling family possessions to pay debts, the elder Dickens sent twelve-year-old Charles to work in a shoe polish factory. The adolescent labored twelve hour days, six days a week.

The entire Dickens family landed in debtors’ prison, a peak of humiliation for the future literary giant. Eventually, an inheritance from a passed grandmother returned Charles to formal schooling.

But, as biographer Henry Vittum observes, “the experience left a mark on Dickens which a life of immense popularity and great wealth could not erase…His writings bear witness to his interest in the economic and social factors which made such childhood agony possible.”

Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is a staple of seasonal community theater. It has something for everyone with eyes to see and ears to hear: greed, conflict, horror, reflection, sympathy, redemption, blessing.

As we all recall, the antagonist, Ebenezer Scrooge, “was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone…A squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching covetous old sinner!”

He was “hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire… solitary as an oyster.”

When Scrooge’s nephew attempts to redirect his humbug attitude, Scrooge asks, “What right have you to be merry? What reason have you to be merry? You’re poor enough.”

The nephew responds in kind: “Come, then. What right have you to be dismal? What reason have you to be morose? You’re rich enough.”

“What else can I be?” retorts Scrooge. “What’s Christmas time to you but a time for paying bills without money; a time for finding yourself a year older, and not an hour richer.”

Christmas time, says the nephew, is “when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.”

His words fall on long, deaf ears.

And so appears a series of apparitions. First, the ghost of Scrooge’s deceased business partner, Jacob Marley, arrives in chains.

“I wear the chain I forged in life,” explains Marley. “I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it.”

Scrooge defends Marley: “You were a good man of business.”

Marley clarifies with remorse, “Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business.

“Why did I walk through crowds of fellow-beings with my eyes turned down, and never raise them to that blessed Star which led the Wise Men to a poor abode? Were there no poor homes to which its light would have conducted me!”

When the ghost of Christmas past arrives, we see a crack in Scrooge’s shell. The ghost takes Scrooge back in time, to his hometown and to a school yard where a boy sits all alone, neglected.

We are not told explicitly who the boy is, but “Scrooge said he knew it,” Dickens writes. “And he sobbed.”

And that was the turning point.

 

Kevin Thompson writes weekly for The Boerne Star. He can be reached at kevin@kwt.info.

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