Deconstructing Scrooge by Lorna Derksen. LESS THAN ONE month after
publishing A Christmas Carol in 1843, Dickens raged at pirates who altered his
Deconstructing Scrooge by Lorna Derksen LESS THAN ONE month after publishing A Christmas Carol in 1843, Dickens raged at pirates who altered his story to produce their own cheaper versions. Yet since then, the story of Scrooge has continued to evolve beyond Dickens’ pages. If he had any inclination of creating a classic story, Dickens could never have known that he had also created a character whose life would far surpass his own imagination. Bruce Bueno de Mesquita’s The Trial of Ebenezer Scrooge (2001) provides front row seats to a heavenly trial that shows us a side of Scrooge we would never have imagined. Surprisingly, the kind and generous Scrooge we are shown is clearly that of A Christmas Carol. How could we have so misread this classic tale? Ebenezer Scrooge is as dead as a purgatorial ghost when we meet him in the Court of Heavenly Justice. He is accused of being a miserly, greedy, self-serving wretch – in short, his old self – and thus unworthy of entry into heaven. In his defense his lawyer Tiny Tim Cratchit denies such unjust claims. He instead proclaims that Scrooge has been wronged throughout his life and vows to exonerate his character through reliable witnesses and undeniable evidence. Ali Baba testifies to Scrooge’s difficult childhood proving that he was merely the victim of others’ cruelty. Dick Wilkins thanks his friend, a young adult Scrooge, for easing the burden of subjugation under their demanding and ruthless employer, Fezziwig. A fellow businessman and Scrooge’s partner, Jacob Marley, both demonstrate that, unlike the friendless wretch we assumed him to be, Scrooge had friends including a significant bond with Marley who cares for his dear friend’s welfare, even after death. The defense scores significant points when statistics from the 1840s prove Scrooge to be a generous employer to Bob Cratchit by the standards of the time. Rather than being miserly, Scrooge’s laundress suggests he lived within a moderate income. Had we been reading A Christmas Carol with a keen eye, barrister Cratchit suggests, we would have noticed how it is Scrooge who alerts us to the presence of Want and Ignorance under the skirts of Christmas Present. Truly, Scrooge was aware of and cared for the needy. Our ignorance as readers is placed squarely on Dickens’ shoulders. It was he who chose to emphasize the unpleasant aspects of Scrooge’s character while hiding Scrooge’s true feelings and intentions. By trial’s end, Tim Cratchit has convinced all that Scrooge is a good man deserving of entry into paradise. However, appearances are not to be trusted in The Trial of Ebenezer Scrooge. Amidst the startling evidence, we trip onto a plot outside the courtroom that is much more insidious than the exoneration of Scrooge’s character. Nightly visits to Scrooge’s cottage from Tiny Tim and a menacing spectre reveal the ultimate goal behind the trial. Scrooge has sold his soul to the devil; the corrupt Tiny Tim is colluding with Mephistopheles to ensure Scrooge’s soul enters heaven. But every night when he returns home from court, Scrooge regrets the direction his choice is taking. Here his spirit servant girl, little Eppie, to whose aid he came in his last year of life, keeps him company. More truly, she keeps Scrooge tethered
to his heart as Tim and the ghost work out their deceptive scheme around him. When Eppie begs Scrooge to read to her from Christopher Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus, we see clearly her role as the good angel in Faust’s drama prodding Scrooge to reconnect with his heart and make a choice for life. With each reading and with each encounter with Eppie, Scrooge’s heart is challenged to tell the truth. In the end, with Eppie’s pleading on the final day of the trial, Scrooge repents. It took me two readings to buy into Bueno de Mesquita’s new interpretation. Initially I felt like accusing the author of falsely testifying on behalf of Scrooge’s character just as prosecutor Cratchit accuses Dickens of falsifying the facts in his original tale. What right does he have in manipulating this classic? I could not understand why the original story of Scrooge’s conversion held such little appeal for the post-modern author that he would alter the story so significantly. Bueno de Mesquita seems to have crafted his story in playfulness. In the preface, he thanks family and friends who have listened to his retelling of Scrooge’s story every holiday season for as long as he can remember. In my second reading I decided to approach the clever story as play and found myself warming up to our ambiguous Scrooge. Still, what does this post-modern Scrooge offer us that the Victorian Scrooge cannot? Bueno de Mesquita writes The Trial of Ebenezer Scrooge to “uncover the good that lies hidden in even the worst of hearts.” He desires to reveal the truth behind the lives of A Christmas Carol’s familiar characters thus dispelling the false assumptions we have made, particularly about the loathed Ebenezer Scrooge. To do this he frees Dickens’ characters from their allegorical confines to reveal conflicting motives and ambiguous personalities. With A Christmas Carol, Dickens created an allegory, a story in which flat characters representing good or bad teach us of the moral path. Perhaps the simplistic structure of allegory is what appeals to me every Christmas when I watch a version of A Christmas Carol. If my life has become complicated around weird emotions during the holiday season, it is often in viewing the Carol that I am reminded of a higher value. Its clear path invites me to rise above the quagmire of my emotions and value love, life and community. But perhaps it is this same simplistic allegorical style, a Judeo-Christian based genre of teaching, whose moralizing doesn’t sit well with a post-modern crowd. For a modern audience, the myth of Faust may have more resonance. Rather than being allegorically black and white, Faustian characters have ambiguity. For example, during his purgatorial trial, Scrooge is caught between service to the dark side and his love for the vulnerable and honest Eppie. At one moment in court his eyes narrow in scornful contempt of his creator Dickens, only to be later filled with tears as he recalls the embracing friendship of his sister Fan. This is an ambiguous Scrooge to whom we can relate. The Faustian tale may also offer a more believable process of change. Scrooge’s gradual conversion in relationship with Eppie may be more convincing, speaking to our modern experiences of transformation. In A Christmas Carol, Scrooge’s conversion parallels a traditional understanding of the Christian experience of salvation. Believe in your heart and you will be saved… once and for all. Dickens’ version of conversion comes after one night of wrestling with truth. Bueno de Mesquita’s version, based on Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus, comes through a
developing relationship with the feminine. Most of us probably experience change in our lives in a similar gradual and relational process. Despite the value of this new interpretation, the Victorian Scrooge still resonates with us. At Christmas we celebrate the remarkable spirit of birth as Dickens symbolized through the remarkable rebirth of Scrooge. The birth of Christic consciousness isn’t ambiguous. It is a shocking over-flowing of love and grace given to us in the humblest and most unexpected places. Maybe even through the moralizing of allegory. In 1843, Dickens’ concern over pirated cheaper versions of A Christmas Carol was financial. The concern with The Trial of Ebenezer Scrooge is whether it cheapens the lesson of Christic transformation that Scrooge’s conversion clearly points us toward. Beuno de Mesquita writes a clever tale, but I’ll still be settling in with Dickens this holiday season. Bruce Bueno de Mesquita. The Trial of Ebenezer Scrooge. Ohio State University Press, 2001. 139 pages.
From Watershed Online: http://www.watershedonline.ca