Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol
Published by Manesse, Bibliothek der Weltliteratur, 1978
“It seems to me a national benefit, and to every man or woman who reads it a personal kindness. GOD BLESS HIM!” These enthusiastic words were voiced by William M. Thackeray in February 1844. As a reaction to ‘A Christmas Carol’, they were addressed to his writer colleague Charles Dickens. Two months earlier, in time for Christmas, Dickens had published his novel. Already on the very first day, all of the 6,000 copies available were sold. Everybody talked about ‘A Christmas Carol’.
It revolves around old Ebenezer Scrooge. He is an unsympathetic man: greedy, penny-pinching, money accumulating and hoarding. After the death of his partner Jacob Marley, the businessman and money-lender makes his clerk work in his office under appalling conditions. There, it is just as cold as in Scrooge’s soul. Long before, he had decided to exchange warmth and love for money. That is clear for everybody to see – except for Scrooge himself.
And so the old screw is being paid a visit. The spirit of Marley speaks to him, entwined by a chain that carries everything that dominates Scrooge as well: money boxes, wallets, accounting books and much more. When Scrooge wants to know what this is all about, the mind replies with a sentence that captures the message of the whole story: “I wear the chain I forged in life.”
It is this chain that also binds Scrooge. Invisibly, of his own free will. This he learns from three other spirits. The Ghost of Christmas Past, Present, and Yet to Come confront Scrooge with cheerful scenes of past festivals, oppressive solitude, and a solitary death for him who has hardened his heart against joy and man. Their poverty is of no concern to him. It is no wonder, then, that no one mourns Scrooge, and only the vultures come, to make a profit by selling off his shroud.
With ‘A Christmas Carol’, Dickens denounced the conditions of his time, in Victorian England. It was common practice to exploit the workers in factories and coal mines, for a salary upon which they barely survived. Born in Portsmouth in 1812, Charles John Huffam Dickens knew what it was like to live at the poverty line.
As the second of eight children, he had to witness creditors having his father incarcerated in the London debtors’ prison in 1824. Taking his siblings with her, the mother joined his father. Charles, who was only 12 at the time, had to earn the money for the entire family. He spent 12 hours a day working in a warehouse.
Even when he later worked his way up and became parliament stenographer, these early experiences continued to have an effect. He dealt with them in his capacity as a writer. It is a happy ending he gave his Christmas Carol. Shaken to the core, Ebenezer Scrooge changes his life and opens his heart. Just in time he realized what really matters in a man’s life.