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: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.
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.
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.
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, 25 November 2009 - 04:10 AM.