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Andy Whitman

Charles Dickens

99 posts in this topic

The bigger point? Scrooge has many faults, but gluttony was not among them.

Depends on how you define gluttony ... see the Screwtape quotation again. The point is that while Scrooge chooses to maintain what we might call a somewhat lowly standard of living, it isn't as lowly as the one to which he consigns his clerk, your inaccurate protestations to the contrary notwithstanding.

Sorry, but his wiry chin stands in great contrast... to Fezziwig!

Fezziwig, who in contrast to Scrooge had a large number of employees and the wherewithal to throw them a party. Scrooge has but one employee and feels that he can't even afford to give that employee a scrap of coal. Do you think Scrooge is really more successful and has contributed more to society/the economy than Fezziwig? It's after the Fezziwig episode, indeed, that Scrooge's conscience is first pricked regarding how he treats Bob.

In the Victorian era, fat was a status symbol. Fat men were presumed to be fat because they could afford to eat well. A wiry, muscular man might be physically fit, but it would usually be presumed that he was a manual laborer and therefore probably not very well off. Discussions about processed junk food may contribute to our understanding of poverty in 21st-century America, but they are, as you suspect, entirely irrelevant to any discussion of A Christmas Carol. Both you and Levin assume similarities between our society and Dickens' which simply do not exist.

"The cold within him froze his old features,... He carried his own low temperature always about with him; he iced his office in the dog days; and didn't thaw it one degree at Christmas. External heat and cold had little influence on Scrooge. No warmth could warm, no wintry weather can chill him." In other words, while he did have a bigger fire (good eagle eye there), it had zero influence on him.
I think you have gone so far down the bunny trail that you are now reading hyperbole as though it were holy writ. Since when are we concerned about the fire's influence instead of its size? Golly, if the fire didn't influence Scrooge, why did he have one at all? Damned wasteful of him.

Bzzzt!! Wrong answer. Stewart's version is notoriously bad, in the fact that it attempts to modernize Dickens' prose.

Even a bad rendition of a song can have an interesting note or two. Despite the problems with Stewart's version as a whole, the text does in fact support that particular reading of that particular line. He found something there that no other actor had noticed.

Well, you DO know something about splitting hairs, since you found the passage about the slightly larger fire in Scrooge's office.

Found? Found, you say? It happens to be printed in me memory, lad, just as sharp and clear as it's printed in any Scholastic pocket edition.

Edited by mrmando

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Fezziwig, who in contrast to Scrooge had a large number of employees and the wherewithal to throw them a party. Scrooge has but one employee and feels that he can't even afford to give that employee a scrap of coal. Do you think Scrooge is really more successful and has contributed more to society/the economy than Fezziwig?

Did I say such a thing? Nope. The introduction of the character of Fezziwig, not only helps prick Scrooge's conscience, but also is Dickens demonstrating that one can have a successful business while still being generous to his employees, and to the community. Which has been my point all along.

Tired. Going to sleep. Bicker amongst yourselves...

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Do you think Scrooge is really more successful and has contributed more to society/the economy than Fezziwig?

Did I say such a thing? Nope.

You did say the following of Scrooge:

I'll tell you what it does mean; it means that for every penny that he saves, it's a penny that goes back into his business, which allows him to lend more to people who are in need of a loan. Which keeps him in business. Which allows him to continue keeping Cratchit employed. Which allows him to continue supporting the government via taxes.

Following that line of reasoning strictly would lead to the conclusion that the money Fezziwig spends on his Christmas party is money that he really should have plowed back into his business, instead. Indeed, Levin makes a very similar point about Fezziwig.

In one of the film adaptations (the Sim one, if memory serves), Scrooge becomes a shareholder in some venture that forces Fezziwig into bankruptcy and carts off what's left of his business. Now there's a wrongheaded interpretation; I don't believe Dickens means for us to see Fezziwig as a failure of any kind.

And anyway, Scrooge clearly does not put all his reserves back into his business ... if he did, he couldn't afford to suddenly raise Cratchit's salary and drop a bundle on the portly gentleman who had tried to hit him up for a donation the day before. As you yourself said, the money was there all along. He was neither giving it away nor reinvesting it. He was sitting on it.

The introduction of the character of Fezziwig, not only helps prick Scrooge's conscience, but also is Dickens demonstrating that one can have a successful business while still being generous to his employees, and to the community. Which has been my point all along.

No one is disagreeing with this major point (except, perhaps, you yourself, when you say things in support of Levin's argument that would seem to contradict your own point about generosity). The disagreements are over some other things you and Andy have said.

Edited by mrmando

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You all have inspired me. I'm off to sign up for whatever Brit lit course my university offers. Dickens, make me sharper, make me wittier, more caring and quicker in argument!

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For me, the most ridiculous thing Levin says is this:

But who, apart from Dickens, says that Scrooge is not enjoying himself? He spends all his time at his business, likes to count his money, and has no outside interests. ... So we conclude that, in his undemonstrative way, Scrooge is productive and satisfied with his lot, which is to say happy.

No, he's not happy, not by any measure that matters to the story itself. Money for Scrooge, pre-conversion, is a substitute for happiness, certainly not a means to it.

The careful reader will notice that Levin himself cannot make up his mind about whether Scrooge is satisfied or not.

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This all seems to have spun itself into a whole separate topic.... just saying.

I know we really do try to keep threads on topic here, but sometimes I think it's a true marvel that art should inspire conversations that reach into such far-flung, and far-ranging topics. What would Dickens think of a debate sprung up from A Christmas Carol that dug into American economics over a century after the book's publication? Whatever he might think, I believe it's a testament to his (in particular, and the artist's in general) relevance and influence.

For me, the most ridiculous thing Levin says is this:

But who, apart from Dickens, says that Scrooge is not enjoying himself? He spends all his time at his business, likes to count his money, and has no outside interests. ... So we conclude that, in his undemonstrative way, Scrooge is productive and satisfied with his lot, which is to say happy.

No, he's not happy, not by any measure that matters to the story itself. Money for Scrooge, pre-conversion, is a substitute for happiness, certainly not a means to it.

The careful reader will notice that Levin himself cannot make up his mind about whether Scrooge is satisfied or not.

Yes, I was going to level a similar complaint with Levin's essay. If this had not come from a professor of philosophy who received his doctorate from Columbia University, I would think it to be a pastiche essay from a student who had a fun idea he thought would make readers interpret the Dickens classic in a new light the next time they sat down with the book, discovered halfway through his writing that his thesis really wasn't supported by the text, but continued the paper anyway just so he had something to turn in.

You pointed out a bit of ridiculous logic that is sandwiched in between the two bits I find the most telling of the puerile nature of this essay. First:

Scrooge doesn't seem to get much satisfaction from the services he may inadvertently perform, and that seems to be part of Dickens's point. But who, apart from Dickens, says that Scrooge is not enjoying himself? He spends all his time at his business, likes to count his money, and has no outside interests.

Who, apart from Dickens, indeed? Scrooge is a construct in a work of fiction. He is exactly who the author says he is. There is no twist in his character, no revelation that his miserliness is a misconception of the other characters in the novel. Scrooge is not "enjoying himself." That's really not an argument the reader has a right to have about the character. If we begin asking questions about fictional characters in the way Levin does here we will wind up discussing absurdities or creating fan fic.

And then:

There can be no arguing with Dickens's wish to show the spiritual advantages of love. But there was no need to make the object of his lesson an entrepreneur whose ideas and practices benefit his employees, society at large, and himself. Must such a man expect no fairer a fate than to die scorned and alone? Bah, I say. Humbug.

Scrooge's ideas and practices benefit his employee only so far as they are shown to, a piece of coal for warmth in the winter and an annual wage of 39 pounds. They benefit society at large only so far as his loan contracts can be repaid and reallocated; in regard to his taxes going to government to support whatever forms of welfare that offers, his ideas and practices mean nothing - the taxes are an obligation he has no influence over. They benefit himself not at all - as I note above, and can plainly be seen by reading the text, Scrooge is rotting away in his core and the rot has begun to display external symptoms.

But I'll go back to my quote from Orwell to try and unpack the point where Levin has gone wrong at the base of his essay:

The truth is that Dickens's criticism of society is almost exclusively moral ... There is no clear sign that he wants the existing order to be overthrown, or that he believes it would make very much difference if it were overthrown. For in reality his target is not so much society as ‘human nature’.

Levin seems to be trying to defend something - laissez-faire capitalism?, entrepreneurship? - that Dickens wasn't actually attacking. Hence, he is forced to make up additional characters or suggest characters are different from what they are in order to support his arguments. Indeed, there was no need to make the object of his lesson an archetype whose nature and story have no substance in the debate Levin wants to engage.

Edited by Darryl A. Armstrong

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I'm saying it's spelled out in the contract. I'm saying the document I signed states that I can be dismissed at any time, for any reason, at the whim of the employer.

...Everybody's heard of people who started work right out of school and who worked for the same company until retirement. That idea is now quite quaint and outdated. I know very, very few people in the IT world in the U.S. who have not been laid off (another quaint term that essentially means "we're done with you now; have a good life") multiple times in their careers. These layoffs have had nothing to do with job performance. They've been entirely economically motivated, usually as a way to achieve short-term profits.

Two things. Those people who worked at a company for twenty, thirty years? Had to sign the exact same type of contract. Those who have job security? Teachers with tenure, semi-successful self-employed, and anybody whos last name is "Kennedy."

Second thing: the goal is profit. Not short-term profits, but profit, period. No profit, loss of capital, out of business.

I, too, work in IT. It's a crazy line of work. It's better suited for temps, because it's largely project oriented, and then maintenance. Do you want consistency? Choose another line of work. (Sorry for my bluntness, but as someone in IT, I feel justified in saying it).

Nevertheless, there has been a significant shift in the way employees are treated in the U.S. People may have signed the same kinds of contracts in the past (I honestly don't know, not having seen an employment contract thirty years ago), but then they tended to stick around in the same place for a couple decades. The same profit motive has always been there. Companies wanted to make money in 1970 just as much as they want to make money in 2009. What has changed is the emphasis on short-term profitability. The shareholders and Wall Street demand it. And one easy way to to ensure short-term profitability is to hire temp geeks, keep them around for a few months until a particular job is complete, and then get rid of them, cutting salaries/expenses as a quick way to shore up the bottom line. You don't have to invest in training. You don't have to care about long-term career development. You don't even have to provide benefits, and God knows what a pain those health benefits are these days. Let the hired guns pay $2,000 per month out off their own pockets. The shareholders are happy. Wall Street is happy. It's perfect. The only people not happy are the unemployed, which happens to be just about everybody in the IT industry sooner or later, usually sooner, and with ever-increasing frequency.

Sometimes it works out okay. The geeks just move on and mosey on over to the next IT town that needs to be cleaned up. It's migrant work for techies. Except half the geeks and half the jobs are now in India and China and eastern Europe, where it's a little more difficult to mosey, and where the Bean Counters can pay the poor schleps a pittance for the same work. It's simply good business practice, just like not giving away any of your hard-earned cash to help some disabled kid named Tiny Tim. Meanwhile, the geeks are stranded in God's own U.S. of A., where life continues to cost far more than a pittance, and where there aren't any more jobs. If you're a geek in Silicon Valley, you're liable to end up in a homeless shelter.

It's all fine. It's what made America great. It just chews up human beings and spits them out, and destroys whatever semblance of community workers used to find in the workplace, and lines the coffers of the few at the expense of the many. Who needs health insurance anyway?

Corporate America is run by the kind of reptiles who wrote that article about A Christmas Carol, the Scrooge apologists who wonder what the hell is wrong with a lump of coal. Shouldn't that be sufficient? You'll have to pardon me if I respond less than enthusiastically.

Actually, if you read my posts carefully, you'll see that I'm not apologizing for Scrooge, especially in regards to how he treats fellow human beings. I'm making a distinction between his terrible attitude towards his fellow man, and how it applied to his most particular line of work (banking). His same attitude towards others would be a colossal flop if he were to be a McDonald's franchisee, or an inner-city high school teacher, or in technical support. And regardless of how confident you are in job security in your (our) line of work, the bottom line is that Dickens very capably demonstrated that Scrooge's fault was not that he was crooked, or head of a Ponzi scheme, but that he did not care for his fellow man. Dickens is making a plea that a person can sustain a long term business venture, while still being a great steward of the earned income one receives, both for his employees, and his community.

As others have pointed out, I don't think Dickens is doing any such thing. I think Dickens is pointing out the perils of a miserable old man who cares about no one but himself, and who is transformed once he begins to understand his connection to the rest of humanity. It's not very sound business practice, but, unlike Mr. Levin, I don't think Dickens was attempting to write a treatise on business practice. Scrooge became monetarily poorer and infinitely richer in every other area of his life. What a concept. There's no spreadsheet for it, and shareholders wouldn't know what to do with it.

Edited by Andy Whitman

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Andy, I've known about the state of the IT industry for years now. I worked at GE Capital in the beginning part of this decade, when they were the first to bring in per diem jobs from India, where the salary difference and work ethic was most substantial, even with the factors of international transportation and setting up residences for these workers. It was interesting to read about this in "The World Is Flat", too.

What can I say? The IT industry is my industry too, and I am well aware that there may come a point where my services may not be needed. If the entire IT industry bottoms out in favor of the international workforce, and forgive me for sounding calloused, but I'm not going to be the one saying that the telegraph industry can still thrive after the dawn of the telephone. I'm not going to be the one keeping the beeper industry alive and well in a society when cell phones have improved upon the final product. And the international workforce consists of people JUST LIKE US, except they're in an economy where the dollar is much, much stronger (for now). So whenever an employer has to make a choice between two workers, one worker is going to be turned away, regardless. They're not any kinder to their fellow man for hiring you over them, as both you and them are equal in God's eyes.

It may mean that those in the US IT industry may have to change professions. Learn new skills. Go to where the jobs are. Sorry for giving such banal platitudes, but since the job market is so varied and different, as varied and different as the millions of individual proprietorships in the world, it's like asking for a step-by-step process for finding the love of your life. It's going to be different for everybody.

None of this means that the employers are being Scrooge like. Remember, Cratchit was treated cruelly by Scrooge, but today's employees have tons of benefits available to them in their HR dept. Health insurance, dental insurance, 401(k) investments, transportation compensation, bonuses, even a company trip. Heck, I've yet to hear of a company where the heat is the equivalent of a single coal.

And all these perqs? Costs the employer money. The employer cannot overspend on their employees, otherwise it will cut into their profits. No profits, no business. Simple as that. And it's not that they mind paying it, they know that this is good business. Which is something they learned from Dickens.

But you seem to equate the turbulent IT industry with the poor conditions of Bob Cratchit. This is a faulty analogy, and is reading into the text. We agree that Scrooge was cruel to Cratchit, but you cannot equate modern day employers to that of Scrooge, on the basis that the IT industry (which we are both employed in) is quite turbulent.

Edited by Nick Alexander

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It may mean that those in the US IT industry may have to change professions. Learn new skills. Go to where the jobs are. Sorry for giving such banal platitudes, but since the job market is so varied and different, as varied and different as the millions of individual proprietorships in the world, it's like asking for a step-by-step process for finding the love of your life. It's going to be different for everybody.

I know. Retrain. Education is the answer to everything. So if or when I go back to school, it will be for college degree #5. I'm 54 years old. What do you think I should study that will make it better/easier this time in the Land of Opportunity? I ask the same questions for my kids. One of then just graduated from college (Round #1), and the other is on the brink of graduation. What jobs will be there for them that will not involve saying "Welcome to Wal-Mart" and "Would you like whipped cream with your frappucino?". I wish I knew.

The only thing I can figure out is that it's good to be a Bean Counter. On some level, at least. Employment prospects are good. Somebody has to make the layoff decisions, and it might as well be my kids. But then I would have these niggling worries about their souls. Maybe Wal-Mart greeter is the preferable way to go.

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I wish I knew.
I'll pray for you and your children. In the meantime, I suspect you can use the same problem-solving skills inherent in the IT profession, to discover new possibilities for use of your talents.

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What can I say? The IT industry is my industry too

Hey, I thought your industry was stand-up comedy. Seriously! I thought you did that full-time. You've recorded comedy albums, right? Is that part of your past or present?

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What can I say? The IT industry is my industry too

Hey, I thought your industry was stand-up comedy. Seriously! I thought you did that full-time. You've recorded comedy albums, right? Is that part of your past or present?

Two words... Weekend. Warrior.

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Andy Whitman wrote:

: In an ideal world (heh), an employee who is doing a good job (as deemed by the employee review process) for an employer who is not under financial constraints to rid themselves of employees, ought to have some assurance of ongoing work.

Well there you go. "Financial constraints." That's the out. Do you, a mere employee, know what the employer's "financial constraints" are? Do you know what sort of market forces the employer has to deal with? I'm guessing probably not, or at least not fully. And why should you or anyone else be a better judge of what those "financial constraints" are than the employer who has to deal with them?

But even if we grant that everybody agrees on the definition of "financial constraints" in each and every instance... I still don't see where this "obligation" to keep paying employees indefinitely comes from.

mrmando wrote:

: One possible reason for Cratchit's large family is that when the kids get old enough, they can start putting something in the kitty.

Yes. When I took a course on demographics and population control at university, one of the points that kept coming up was that poor people tend to have lots more kids because, in the absence of monetary wealth, children THEMSELVES are the wealth: the free labour on the farm, the work they do when they move to the big city so that they can send money back home, etc., etc. Ironically, if you want to slow population growth, and if your reasons for wanting to slow population growth have something to do with, say, concern for the environment, then the easiest solution (short of draconian laws such as China's one-child policy) is to make people wealthier... but making them wealthier usually means increased consumption, which is problematic for the environment.

And of course, when birth rates plummet, populations get older and there is increased pressure on the next generation to support the older one... pressure that doesn't get any easier as the older generation passes laws guaranteeing all sorts of new benefits for itself. So, just as individuals who fail to get vaccinations are doing potential harm to their neighbours by compromising the "herd immunity", so too people who don't have sustainable numbers of children are arguably compromising their neighbours' standard of living, if not now then down the road.

But that's a whole other subject... My point here is that, if I had to side between Cratchit and Levin on this point, I'd be with Cratchit.

Edited by Peter T Chattaway

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Andy Whitman wrote:

: In an ideal world (heh), an employee who is doing a good job (as deemed by the employee review process) for an employer who is not under financial constraints to rid themselves of employees, ought to have some assurance of ongoing work.

Well there you go. "Financial constraints." That's the out. Do you, a mere employee, know what the employer's "financial constraints" are? Do you know what sort of market forces the employer has to deal with? I'm guessing probably not, or at least not fully. And why should you or anyone else be a better judge of what those "financial constraints" are than the employer who has to deal with them?

But even if we grant that everybody agrees on the definition of "financial constraints" in each and every instance... I still don't see where this "obligation" to keep paying employees indefinitely comes from.

Employers have always had financial constraints. There is nothing new here. If companies don't make more money than they spend, they go out of business, and their employees are out on the street. And that's been true since time immemorial.

What is new is the number and frequency of layoffs among companies that are quite financially solvent. And yes, this information is readily available to the general public. Companies legally have to issue annual reports in which their income and expenses are divulged to anyone who cares to look. And when a company reports record-setting profits, and yet still lays off 20% of its workforce (it's happened dozens of times in the past ten years), then I think it's worth asking what's going on. In the past, these companies would have rewarded their employees with raises. At the very least, they would have continued to employ those who performed well. Now a stellar job performance record is a guarantee of precisely nothing. It doesn't matter.

But here's what happened. A small percentage of the company's executives have received staggering financial rewards. A much larger percentage of non-executive employees have lost their jobs. Welcome to business with a laissez faire twist. The rich get richer. The middle class gets poorer. And the poor never have been on the radar screen. Let them eat Cheetos for dinner and buy lottery tickets and murder one another in their ghettos.

To try to get this at least minimally on topic, Dickens seems to find value in an employer (Scrooge) who actually cares about his employees (Bob Cratchit). This is the transformation that takes place: Scrooge, formerly a selfish, miserly, bottom-line-driven business owner, discovers that his life is actually more meaningful when he is generous, not only with his money, but with his emotional capital, to borrow a loathsome phrase currently in vogue in corporate America. He finds that caring about people is its own reward. Life takes on new depth and beauty. I suppose I'll leave the moral application to Dr. Levin's article, and to the broader economic wasteland in America, to you, gentle reader(s). For what it's worth, I like Dickens. I suspect he's on to something.

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To try to get this at least minimally on topic, Dickens seems to find value in an employer (Scrooge) who actually cares about his employees (Bob Cratchit). This is the transformation that takes place: Scrooge, formerly a selfish, miserly, bottom-line-driven business owner, discovers that his life is actually more meaningful when he is generous, not only with his money, but with his emotional capital, to borrow a loathsome phrase currently in vogue in corporate America. He finds that caring about people is its own reward. Life takes on new depth and beauty.

And those who would have advised Bob to seek employment elsewhere should at least admit that Bob's loyalty pays off handsomely for him in the end. If Scrooge's conscience is aroused by the Fezziwig episode, how much more so when he discovers that Bob cannot be induced, even by his devoted but somewhat shrewish wife, to utter an unkind word against his employer, and even raises a toast to him on Christmas Day?

We note that there are plenty of ghosts in the same predicament as Marley (many of whom were Scrooge's former acquaintances), and the glimpses we get of Scrooge's associates who are still above the ground suggest that they're not any more charitably inclined than he is, and that they hold him in somewhat lower regard than his clerk does. All of which suggests that scroogery in Dickens' London is nothing out of the ordinary. Those who practice it just call it "being a good man of business."

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But here's what happened. A small percentage of the company's executives have received staggering financial rewards. A much larger percentage of non-executive employees have lost their jobs. Welcome to business with a laissez faire twist. The rich get richer. The middle class gets poorer. And the poor never have been on the radar screen. Let them eat Cheetos for dinner and buy lottery tickets and murder one another in their ghettos.

Yep.

Of course, the market purists would argue that if top execs get ginormous bonuses, they must be worth it, because companies would not offer exorbitant packages to retain top execs if they could get similar talent for less, because the market would punish companies that did so and reward companies that made better decisions.

Problem is, guess what, sometimes boards of directors don't always do what is in the long-term best interests of their companies, market forces or no. Sometimes board members and top execs are all part of the same club, or e.g. top execs for one bank are board members for another bank, and approving exorbitant rewards for other members can be quite the fashionable thing to do, especially when other members are in a position to approve similar exorbitant rewards for oneself, and everyone in the club agrees that everyone else is definitely worth it.

Sure, in the long term market forces may see to it that corporations that suffer such (entirely legal) plundering are punished for it. But when we all make out so well in the short term, and when we all exit our crashing and burning corporations with our 24-carat gold parachutes, or when our corporations are too big to fail anyway and the taxpayers foot the bill and we still get to keep our millions, who the hell cares?

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I'm going to be technical to a fault, but here goes...

Everything that you just wrote, Andy, is a terrible situation today, esp in light of the executive bonus structure, esp in light of nobody knows where the 1-trillion dollar stimulous package has went, esp in light of good, quality workers being let go for no reason whatsoever. I am in total agreement. These CEOs who have made these decisions, are crooks, liars and thieves, and they have corrupted our politicians.

But to Scrooge's credit--Scrooge was none of these things.

Scrooge was a mean bastard who mistreated Cratchit, who pursued profit at all costs, and who didn't care for the unique infinite value of individuals. But... and this is what I got out of the article--he paid his taxes, he allowed extensions, and his business performed a service that helped people during times of extreme crisis.

Mr. Potter is a better example of what our current CEO's are like. Here is a man just as dastardly as Scrooge, but with one important difference--when Uncle Billy misplaces $4000 dollars accidentally upon his lap, Potter mischievously keeps it and declines to share it. We don't know if Scrooge would do the same or not, because Dickens did not allow for the possibility to occur in the realm of this story.

And, it still demands to be said: the excessive bonus system for boys-club executives, in light of company-wide layoffs, is cruel and heartless--but it doesn't ignore the fact that there really are markets that are being stretched to the limit. It's a double-edged sword.

Nick

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Thinking about all this some more ... this is something of a dead horse in that I've more or less made these points in a scattered kind of a way. But anyhow:

Frugality itself is not Scrooge's problem. After all, if he hadn't been frugal he wouldn't have the money to buy the turkey, give Cratchit the raise, and donate to the charity fund. I think it's more that until his conversion, Scrooge's frugality has served no useful purpose. Contrary to what Levin says, it hasn't benefited Scrooge himself all that much, and it benefits those around him even less. We're told that Scrooge and Marley were partners for "I don't know how many years" until Marley's death, upon which occasion we may presume that Scrooge hired Cratchit to help him handle the workload. Scrooge's counting-house, which Marley calls "our money-changing hole," doesn't sound all that prepossessing; there's just enough room in it for Scrooge and Cratchit. So Scrooge's business has been in existence from its founding until Marley's death, plus seven years, and yet somehow it's never grown beyond what two people can manage, as far as we know. Yet we're told that Scrooge is indeed wealthy, and has a seat on the Exchange as well as a reputation for being a shrewd businessman. Evidence suggests that, again contrary to Levin, Scrooge is not reinvesting as much capital as he could be. He maintains enough accounts to occupy himself (and Cratchit) "constantly," but not enough to justify hiring anyone else. Scrooge is socking away whatever profits there are; he's horrified by the expenses and taxes that he is paying, and believes that he is "not an hour richer" at the end of the year, no matter what his account book actually says. (Yes, he's addressing Fred when he says this, but since he prefers to have as little acquaintance of Fred as possible, it's hardly likely that he's familiar with the details of Fred's account book. Clearly Scrooge is talking about the only account book that interests him: his own.) So mixed in with his shrewdness, there is an irrational fear that makes him want to hold on to as much as he can, thereby robbing his frugality of whatever immediate benefit it might otherwise have. (While he deprives himself of certain material comforts, he is substituting for them the comfort of having a hefty bank account.) One could say that he still benefits society indirectly by providing his bankers with more capital to lend to other businesses, but most of the credit for that benefit belongs to the bankers, not to Scrooge.

If indeed Scrooge hired Cratchit when Marley died, the reasons for his resentment of Cratchit become clear: while competent enough, Cratchit is no Marley when it comes to business matters, and furthermore he has outside interests (a family and a day off at Christmas) that Marley didn't have and that Scrooge distrusts.

Since Dickens spends only a few paragraphs on character development before diving into his story, we might gain additional insight by looking more closely at the other, less famous, miserly Ebenezer of literature: Mr. Balfour of Shaws, in Stevenson's Kidnapped. (One can hardly avoid concluding that Stevenson, writing forty years after Dickens, had Scrooge somewhere in his mind when creating his own Ebenezer.) In Balfour the irrational fear is more pronounced: having wrested Shaws away from his elder brother through skulduggery, he's not working the estate at all, but letting it literally fall down around his ears. Working it would cost money, and he's afraid to spend any, no matter how much profit he might get out of it in the end. Balfour is further gone than Scrooge, but they share a common illness.

Edited by mrmando

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Andy Whitman wrote:

: In the past, these companies would have rewarded their employees with raises. At the very least, they would have continued to employ those who performed well. Now a stellar job performance record is a guarantee of precisely nothing. It doesn't matter.

Well, if the contract doesn't guarantee anything in exchange for a stellar performance, what can you do?

Presumably these companies still need employees of SOME sort. Perhaps they are finding they can get cheaper labour overseas, or something. Businesses have many more options now than they did in Scrooge's day, or even in my grandfather's day. Of course, I myself am one of those foreigners who has taken jobs away from Americans (or so the border guards told me when they threatened to prevent me from getting on one of my flights a couple years back), so I guess it's no surprise that I'm kind of okay with the globalized economy, at least to some degree.

(Of course, as you may have heard, journalism isn't a particularly more-secure line of work than any other profession at the moment, and I myself found out two weeks ago that a part-time job I've had for over ten years would come to an end this week. But that's neither here nor there, as far as the current argument goes.)

: To try to get this at least minimally on topic, Dickens seems to find value in an employer (Scrooge) who actually cares about his employees (Bob Cratchit).

Not just his employees, but people in general. Nick made this point brilliantly a few posts back when he reminded us that Scrooge's first sin was not refusing to GIVE generously to charity, but refusing to RECEIVE generosity from his own kin.

mrmando wrote:

: If indeed Scrooge hired Cratchit when Marley died, the reasons for his resentment of Cratchit become clear: while competent enough, Cratchit is no Marley when it comes to business matters, and furthermore he has outside interests (a family and a day off at Christmas) that Marley didn't have and that Scrooge distrusts.

Very interesting point.

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Lively comment-thread going on there as well.

I'm led to understand that Dickens made additional revisions in later editions. I thought the 1843 edition still included the reference to Hamlet at the beginning (one of the online texts includes it) ... or perhaps the NYT author means to say that passage was cut down, not entirely removed?

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Lively comment-thread going on there as well.

I'm led to understand that Dickens made additional revisions in later editions. I thought the 1843 edition still included the reference to Hamlet at the beginning (one of the online texts includes it) ... or perhaps the NYT author means to say that passage was cut down, not entirely removed?

I've been enjoying that manuscript all day! :) Mrmando, yes, I think you're right that the author meant to say the passage was cut down.

In other Dickensian news, I have a (very spoilerish) piece up about the 150th anniversaries of Tale of Two Cities and Origin of Species.

http://thepoint.brea...-two-worldviews

Edited by Gina

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For those who are interested in the topic of Dickens's religious views, my mini-review of Dickens, Christianity and The Life of Our Lord is now up.

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Speaking of Dickens, I've got a new blog that's all about him. You all are welcome to come check it out. Comments and suggestions welcome!

And Gina has just posted Happy 200th Birthday, Charles Dickens!, in which she has a nice collection of Dickens commentary that makes for a nice read and makes you want to reevaluate and remedy your past Dickens reading.

I've read and would personally rank:

1 - A Tale of Two Cities (1859)

2 - Bleak House (1853)

3 - Our Mutual Friend (1865)

4 - Dombey and Son (1848)

5 - The Pickwick Papers (1837)

6 - Oliver Twist (1839)

7 - A Christmas Carol (1843)

8 - The Mystery of Edwin Drood (1870)

9 - Sketches by Boz (1836)

10 - Hard Times (1854)

11 - Great Expectations (1851)

I still need to read five more:

The Old Curiosity Shop (1841), Barnaby Rudge (1841), Martin Chuzzlewit (1844), David Copperfield (1850), Little Dorrit (1857)

By the way, nice old thread, everyone.

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My own reading in Dickens is lamentably small--and lamentably distant, though lately I've been feeling a yen to revisit Edwin Drood. If I were, at this point, to rank the ones I've read, it would go something like this:

1-Bleak House(1853)--The fog--Lady Dedlock--spontaneous combustion! It's just such a dense, dark, moving novel. Even with Esther Summerson.

2-The Mystery of Edwin Drood(1870)--Mystery isn't the word for it; if the novel's unfinished status leaves one in the dark about who killed Edwin Drood--yes, he's dead dead dead, then I would submit that one isn't reading closely enough. But the atmosphere is so dank--particularly the first chapter (which may be one of my favorite opening chapters of all time--one which David Peace cribbed for the first chapter of Red Riding: 1977). As a closely observed portrait of obsession and addiction, I think this novel is first-rate.

3-Great Expectations(1851)--Complex and moving.

4-Dombey and Son(1848)--The first "Dickensian" Dickens novel I read. Captain Cuttle and Major Bagstock are still favorite characters of mine.

5-A Tale of Two Cities (1859)--Chesterton said that the people who love this novel the most are the people who don't like Dickens. I disagree--it's not Dombey and Son or Great Expectations--it doesn't have the breadth of either--but it's a fantastic novel in its own right, and its final scenes are justly famous.

6-Martin Chuzzlewit (1844)--Even the American sections.

7-Oliver Twist (1839)--Preposterous? Yes. Sentimental? Absolutely. The depiction of Fagin in his cell is a masterpiece, though, and looks forward to John Jasper--both of them a "horrible wonder apart."

8-A Christmas Carol(1843)--I try to read this every year--missed last year--time may whither and custom stale its variety a bit, but this book is still a pretty sharp little number.

Edited by NBooth

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