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December 22, 2011 - Image 27

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2011-12-22

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l s ■ e




Reading between
the lines in Dickens'
A Christmas Carol.

Charles Dickens (1812-1870)

John O'Neill
Special to the Jewish News



benezer Scrooge, the elderly miser
haunted into generosity and holi-
day cheer in A Christmas Carol, is
the best-known and most infamous char-
acter in all the works of Charles Dickens.
For even though Scrooge is redeemed at
the end of the story, he remains synony-
mous with avarice and greed, thus his
lasting infamy.
Scrooge cannot be perceived otherwise. •
His miserly reputation is as immovable as
Ebenezer itself, the holy rock in the Book
of Samuel for which Scrooge is named.
He can be redeemed no more than can
the ghost of his late partner Jacob Marley,
named for the patriarch in the Book of
Genesis who cheats his brother out of his
With these Old Testament parallels,
what we have in Scrooge is a Jew. Not a Jew
per se, like Fagin in Oliver Twist. But a Jew
by inference. As Lenny Bruce might have
said, not a Jew, but certainly Jew-ish.


This aspect of
Scrooge has been
completely overlooked
by critics. Yet consider-
ing how forgiving the
critics have been in the more
blatant case of Fagin, it is no
surprise there has been no treat-
ment at all of Scrooge in relation to
An example of the acquittals extend-
ed Dickens in the matter of Fagin is that
of the late (Jewish) literary critic Irving
Howe, who stated in his 1982 introduction
to Oliver Twist, "I'm convinced Dickens
was not anti-Semitic, having no conscious
intent to harm Jews?'
Of course, there need be no intent to
harm Jews to establish anti-Semitism. But
that such a disingenuous alibi is afforded
Dickens in the blatant case of Fagin is
instructive as to why there has been no
consideration at all of anti-Semitism in
relation to the more implicit example of
It is also essential to stress that whereas
Scrooge is an implicit example of anti-
Semitic caricature, he is not a subtle
Let's assume Scrooge's conversion at the
end of the story is genuine and permanent
(and not temporary as suggested by the late
Edmund Wilson in his 1939 essay "Dickens:
The Two Scrooges"). Could Scrooge be
redeemed were he to embrace generosity
without an embrace of Christmas? The sug-
gestion is preposterous considering the pri-
ority Dickens placed on Christmas. And the
embrace of Christmas forced on Scrooge is
a forced acceptance of Christ.

. •


Dickens' Yule
Contrary to the prevail-
ing notion of critics that
A Christmas Carol is a secular
story, there is nothing secular about the
Dickens Christmas.
As Eleanor Farjeon stated in her 1954
introduction to The Christmas Books
(the first of which was A Christmas
Carol), "To separate the feast of Dickens
from the festival of Christ does Boz
poor justice," Boz being Dickens' pen
name in his earlier works.
Christ is so essential to the Dickens
Christmas that the author consid-
ered the holiday not just in terms of
the saga of Nativity to Epiphany, but
the entire New Testament. Paul Davis
makes this point in his 1990 book The
Lives & Times of Ebenezer Scrooge, cit-
ing "A Christmas Tree" (the first of the
Dickens Christmas stories) in which
the author lists every major event in the
life of Christ as part of the Christmas
story. Dickens repeated this in "What
Christmas Is As We Get Older:' the sec-
ond of his Christmas stories, which cites
Christ raising the daughter of Jairus
from the dead as part of the Christmas


Of course, A Christmas
Carol is the best example
of this Dickens tendency. Tiny
Tim, the afflicted son of Scrooge's
beleaguered clerk Bob Cratchit, tells
his father in church that he is pleased to
be seen with his crutch so as to remind
others "on Christmas Day who made
lame beggars walk and blind men see
Keeping Christ part of the Christmas
celebration is, of course, not in itself
anti-Semitic. But just as there is nothing
secular about the Dickens Christmas,
there is nothing tolerant about the
Dickens theology.
Gillian Avery writes in a 1995 introduc-
tion of the Dickens collection Holiday
Romance & Other Writings,"That an athe-
ist could be good would have appeared to
Dickens a palpable absurdity ... he is firmly
rooted in Christendom?'
This implies not only that nonbelievers
cannot be good, but also that nonbelievers
encompass all non-Christians.
Davis makes no mention of anti-Semi-
tism in his book. But he does call Scrooge's
odyssey "a journey from the Old Testament
to the New Testament?' He also contrasts
the Old Testament first names of Scrooge
and Marley (Ebenezer and Jacob) to the
good and humble Cratchit family made up
of New Testament names Peter, Martha and
Timothy. The last name Cratchit is also a
play on the word "creche'
As indicated, whether Scrooge remains
generous after his conversion is a topic
of debate. And just as the permanence of
Scrooge's conversion is unclear, so too is

Scrooge on page 28

December 22 • 2011


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