Inventing Scrooge – Review

Carlo DeVito. Inventing Scrooge. Kennebunkport ME: Cider Mill Press, 2014. Print.

Inventing Scrooge is subtitled The Incredible True Story Behind Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. No, it is not nearly as detailed or expansive as The Road to Xanadu, but this modest book itself tells a moving story. If there is a thesis, it may simply be that Charles Dickens put more of himself into A Christmas Carol than even his allegedly biographical novels like David Copperfield and Great Expectations.

A good part of Inventing Scrooge shares how Dickens got his ideas. Once visiting Scotland, he saw a gravestone for one Ebenezer Scroggie. The epitaph for this corn factor said that he was a meal man. Dickens misread it as “a mean man.” This got him wondering about the legacy a person would leave so that even his tombstone would call him mean. He also was inspired by the life of John Elwes, an 18th Century member of Parliament known for his miserliness. And Scrooge’s pre-conversion philosophy, of course, is straight out of Malthus.

Still, many of the episodes of A Christmas Carol come from Dickens’ own life. Dickens had a happy childhood. His family was solid middle class and lived well. But when Dickens was twelve, his father’s indebtedness caught up with him and landed his father in debtor’s prison. This forced the family into squalor as they sold off virtually all their possessions and Charles began working in a factory that made shoe blacking.

Dickens was moved by penury and injustice. He never shared many of the details of his life except in conversation with friends and family, but nowhere did they emerge more effectively than in A Christmas Carol. DeVito convinces us that the post-conversion Scrooge is largely based on Dickens’ own father whose problems with his creditors may at least be partly blamed on his generosity.

Inventing Scrooge quotes many sources including Dickens’ family, friends and contemporaries, and a number of critics. Some of the most interesting observations were made by novelists Andre Maurois and George Orwell. Maurois’ were sensitive observations about humanity and the possibility of redemption. Orwell’s were surprisingly dismissive because Dickens did not take more of a political stance or look for political solutions. Ah, but politics changes all the time. But every new generation has to learn how to deal with the same human nature.

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