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Deconstructing Scrooge
by Lorna Derksen

The Trial of Ebenezer ScroogeLESS 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.

Ebenezer ScroogeThe 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 pullout quotemake 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.

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