You may think you know all about those two fuddy-buddies in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.
But behind the scenes and squeezed between the lines of this holiday tale lie 5 shocking secrets. These secrets, once revealed, illuminate a darkness that lurked inside the counting house of Marley and Scrooge. Discover for yourself the truths behind their mysterious relationship, and why Marley was finally allowed to come out of death to haunt that old clutching sinner, Ebenezer Scrooge.
The 5 Secrets inside A Christmas Carol
- As small-hearted and penny-pinching a miser as Scrooge was, he was merely exercising the penurious business practices he had learned at the coattails of old Jacob T Marley. (As we will see, this explains why Scrooge was given his Second Chance, when so many others were not)
- Marley never regretted living the way he had lived. Oh, he certainly bemoaned his chained state by the time we see his crotchety buggered bum floating around in Scrooge’s bedchambers, but his regrets lie not in his mode of living but in the nature of his suffering. Had he known he was forging chains in life, he would have forged heavier ones, so that he would not be able to move in death, thus saving himself from an eternity of having to watch his old partner ‘bah humbug’ his way through life in his (Marley’s) office and house
- Scrooge not only practiced business the way Marley had taught him, but everything he owned came from his former partner, from the business (which, once upon a happier time, had been called Marley and Marley) to his house, to the very bed curtains which an old grasping woman stole from dead Scrooge in a ‘shadow of things that May be.’ Scrooge owed everything to Marley—his life and eternity included. This would seem to make Marley the more potent of the two characters
- Scrooge became the legendary crotchety miser we meet in the opening lines of A Christmas Carol only because of Marley. As shown by the Ghost of Christmases Past, a young Ebenezer always had the talent to accrue wealth. But it wasn’t until he met Marley that he decided the accumulation of wealth would be his heart’s desire, seeing it (because Marley showed it to him) as the means by which he might win a lady’s heart. But it was this very single-minded devotion which lost him the lady’s hand in marriage
- And finally, the big reveal: Scrooge may have decided in the end to ‘keep Christmas in his heart all the year round’ but that is not because he felt any sort of reinvigorated love for his fellow man. On the contrary, his ‘change’ is due to an overwhelming fear of suffering the fate that the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come had shown him. Because he did not wish to die alone and unloved, Scrooge decided, on waking that Christmas morning (THERE HAS NEVER BEEN SUCH A DAY!), to keep Christmas because he did not wish to die alone.
Marley Did It All in One Night
As Marley explains when Scrooge asks him why he is troubling him, ‘It is required of every man that the spirit within him should walk abroad among his fellowmen, and travel far and wide, and if that spirit goes not forth in life, it is condemned to do so after death. It is doomed to wander through the world and witness what it cannot share, but might have shared on earth—and turned to happiness!’
It is fear which drives Scrooge to his knees before Death (the final Spirit, the Phantom). It is fear which compels him to change his ways and go out to walk among his fellowmen at the end of the tale.
It is the fear of becoming what he saw in his old partner, Jacob Marley, when his apparition made its ghostly appearance.
Believe what you want—for it is the season of believing
I would rather not believe this. I prefer to believe—as millions of readers have happily believed over the decades—that Scrooge truly did have a change of heart, that his spirit came alive on finding that ‘the spirits did it all in one night.’
It pleases us to imagine that the former miser could experience a change of heart. It is inspiring, and suggests that anyone, no matter how miserable or depressed, can be shown the way back to a merry and wonderful life.
Of course, Dickens in his brilliance knew this was what his readers would want to believe. He says in his preface: ‘I wish to raise the ghost of an idea, which shall not put my readers out of humor with themselves, with each other, with the season, or with me. May it haunt their houses pleasantly and no one wish to lay it.’
That idea, of course, is that anyone might change, if they allow their eyes to be opened and confess to themselves that they are in need of change.
Did the miser remain deep inside, merely concealed behind a carefully crafted façade of good humor and a heaping application of the Christmas Spirit?
This open-endedness, this potential for multiples beliefs to the ending of a story, is the mark of a truly clever writer.
If this technique is something that can be learned, it must be learned by reading—much and often.
It was said of him ever afterward, that Scrooge knew how to keep Christmas well, if anyone possessed the knowledge.
Whether we believe or not, Dickens clearly believed, and it revived his career. It is clearly a writer’s joy to write about hope and change; let us learn from the masters and craft our own tales of hope and secrets and masterly thought-out character arcs. (See my previous post covering this vital writing subject, here.)
You might like to check out The Man Who Invented Christmas, a movie about the events which led to Dickens writing his classic carol of Christmas. Also, Mr. Dickens and His Carol, by Samantha Silva. This little book follows Mr. Dickens through London in a fictional account of the real life story about how he found the inspiration for Scrooge and Marley. Silva employs a similar style of writing as Dickens himself, with delightfully long paragraphs covering much and detailing the grimy side and mood of the ancient city and times of Scrooge and Dickens and Tiny Tim.