He lived in chambers which had once belonged to his partner. They were a gloomy suite of rooms, in a lowering pile of building up a yard, where it had so little business to be ….
Any idea what a “lowering pile of building” might be? How about the appearance of a “locomotive hearse” ascending a broad staircase? You needn’t understand these archaic terms in order to apprehend the ominous aspects of a house inhabited by someone we are to view as possessing these same repulsive qualities. A home, after all, is the reflection of the owner’s soul and in this case the sole inhabitant of this disquieting structure is Ebenezer Scrooge. It is a house, as we all well know, where haunted dreams do take place in the dead of night.
I am a fan of Charles Dickens and indulge in an annual reading of his most popular seasonal story, A Christmas Carol. This practice, in turn, has afforded me an easy means for writing out my own thoughts under Dickens’ tutelage, so to speak. I enjoy his over the top descriptions of inanimate objects to tell us about the less visible features of the characters they mimic. Consider his poetic defilement of the entrance to Scrooge’s home as a supplement to the gloom of the “suite of rooms”he will ultimately enter for his encounter with his spectral visitors. The fog and frost so hung about the black old gateway of the house, that it seemed as if the Genius of Weather sat in mournful meditation on the threshold.
All these features provide us with ominous tidings bereft of comfort and joy. Even the doorknocker has a part to play in portending what lies ahead for Scrooge as it momentarily transforms into the face of his deceased partner and former resident of this same dreary mansion, Jacob Marley.Bare of any other ornamentation the house can be said to be careworn, which isan odd way of saying that it is indeed worn out from being inhabited for too many years by men, who lacked aesthetic tastes, leaving it without any care for its condition. The setting, therefore, perfectly reflects Scrooge’s treatment of people. They are used, but not cared for, their subsequent economic poverty as obvious to any of us as their emotional straits are dire.
One of the things we might miss in the reading – or the viewing if you are limited to watching one of the many adaptations of this novella – is the way the house reflects the school of Scrooge’s youth. When the Ghost of Christmas Past takes him back to the scenes of his childhood his initial awareness of his surroundings is one of glee as he sees all of his youthful classmates exuberant over their holiday reprieve. But that all changes as they come into view of the house, which served as a school for boys.
It was a large house,but one of broken fortunes; for the spacious offices were little used, their walls were damp and mossy, their windows broken, and their gates decayed. Fowls clucked and strutted in the stables; and the coach houses and sheds were overrun with grass. Nor was it more retentive of its ancient state, within; for entering the dreary hall, and glancing through the open doors of many rooms,they found them poorly furnished, cold and vast. There was an earthy savor in the air, a chilly bareness in the place, which associated itself somehow with too much getting up by candlelight, and not too much to eat.
Scrooge, of course, is once again the lone inhabitant of a dismal structure, having been denied the joy of going home for Christmas due to the harsh neglect afforded him by his father. While the remembrance of things past prompts him to regret his own treatment of a boy singing – appropriately –a Christmas carol outside the door of his counting house, the scene slowly changes as Scrooge’s former self grew larger at the words, and the room became a little darker and more dirty. The panels shrank, the windows cracked; fragments of plaster fell out of the ceiling, and the naked laths were shown instead ….
Plaster crumbles. Hearts do too.
Scrooge’s wealth did not lead to the opulence we might expect of a prosperous man. Instead of making a better or more comfortable life for himself, he used his money to replicate the misery of his childhood. What we get is the suggestion that we all tend to recreate what we know. Scrooge’s dismal surroundings as a child are salvaged from his brief respite as an apprentice under the pleasant and generous spirit of Mr. Fezziwig, reflecting our tendency to replicate the past rather than replace it. . Only the new setting is constructed on a grander scale, which is to say with a meaner scope and more resolute exile from humanity than that which was forced upon him by a heartless father.
By these words and images Dickens bids us enter into an otherwise very private and solitary domain, reflecting the soul of a man who administers universal misery. Scrooge endures a harsh redemption, as he must. The rigidity of his gloomy confinement in heart as well as in home requires a traumatic transition in order to attain normalcy. Death is part of it; a death enlivened – ironically – by the callow treatment of the deceased’s legacy by those,who only see personal gain from what should be regarded as a tragedy. They are Scrooge in miniature and this final revelation disheartens the old miser to the extreme. Only in his case, losing one’s heart is a good thing as it finds a replacement embedded with a more compassionate spirit.