Charles Dickens was prompted to write A Christmas Carol as his response to the evident evils of capitalism; but it was also an attempt to pay his ever-increasing unpaid bills. Six weeks after visiting Manchester where the fancy first occurred to him, his novella was complete. Dickens was in the event underwhelmed with the profits it generated, but his story went on to become synonymous with the modern Christmas ideal.
The first few paragraphs of the novella set the scene of Ebenezer Scrooge in his counting house on Christmas Eve in London,1843 forging both character and environment together as if at one. So realistic is the character of Ebenezer Scrooge that his name has come to denote someone who is miserly or overly concerned with money.
What does the name Ebenezer mean? Ebenezer is a biblical name (1 Samuel 7:2-4) originating from a stone used by Samuel to commemorate the divine victory over the Philistines, saying, ‘Thus for the LORD has helped us’. The stone became a tangible reminder of the Lord’s power and protection. Dickens chooses his words carefully ' For he was ‘hard and sharp as flint’, linking the name back to the stone of Samuel. Does Dickens use this name to show he has a particular purpose for his main character? Does the name foreshadow another divine victory?
Why would Dickens choose such a name as Scrooge? The onomatopoeia works deliciously well, demonstrating Dickens’ understanding of his audience who would be reading out aloud to the rest of the family. The word is also a blend of ‘scrouge’ the verb to squeeze or to press, used 1820-1830 (itself being a blend of crew and bruise) and gouge, an act of extortion, to swindle, and is also an layer of decomposed rocks or minerals found along the walls of a vein, solidifying the Christian name and surname together.
How does Dickens link Scrooge and his environment? Dickens interlinks the character of Scrooge with the dark, overcrowded and polluted environment of the City of London where he both lives and works, ‘a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping….old sinner.’ He is edging ‘his way along the crowded paths of life’ as everyone else. Survival in early Victorian London is physical and tough.
He is the physical embodiment of the cold winter weather ‘The cold within him froze his old features, nipped his pointed nose, shrivelled his cheeks, stiffened his gait; made his eyes red, his thin lips blue.’ He has been ‘nipped’ and ‘shrivelled’, becoming physically less as a result. His movement has stiffened and his thin lips are blue, creating the image of a walking corpse, ‘external heat and cold had little influence on Scrooge. No warmth could warm, no wintry weather chill him. No wind that blew was bitterer than he’.
Scrooge is also depicted as having power to control the weather for ‘he carried his own low temperature always about with him; he iced his office in the dog-days; and didn’t thaw it on degree at Christmas.’
He was unapproachable and no friend to children or animals, for ‘no children asked him what it was o’clock’ and ‘even the blind men’s dogs appeared to know him; and when they saw him coming on, would tug their owners into doorways and up courts’.
Come with us on our Christmas Carol walking tour in the City of London. Explore the icy alleyways and dark court-yards haunted by Scrooge as he went on his business, wringing money out of his customers, and treating with disdain the poor and those who would try to help them.
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You may also enjoy this related blog post:
Who is your favourite Scrooge?
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In : Christmas
Tags: walking literature victorian