After nearly two centuries, we may finally know where humbugs come from.
Scrooge is a name that's become synonymous with being a curmudgeon. He's greedy, stingy, surly and, in the case of "A Muppet Christmas Carol," looks an awful lot like Michael Caine. But it turns out there may be a big reason Scrooge is such a miser.
The theory: Scrooge is so stingy because he lived through the Napoleonic Wars and knows what economic hardship is really like.
Whaaaaat? Is Napoleon indirectly responsible for possibly the biggest tightwad ever?
Redditor themightyheptagon explains that because the Charles Dickens story was published in 1843, and the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come shows Scrooge his death one year later, "presumably" of old age, you can probably assume Scrooge is around 60 years old when the story happens.
If that's the case, Scrooge would be about 20 years old when Britain declared war on France in 1803, and the Napoleonic Wars got underway. The wars lasted more than a decade. In 1806, Napoleon issued the Berlin Decree as a trade embargo to weaken Britain. The next year, Thomas Jefferson also issued the Embargo Act of 1807 against Britain, causing the country to face more economic hardship.
As the Redditor says:
When you consider that Scrooge was in his early 20s when all this was going on, and likely just striking out on his own and trying to make money, you can understand why he might have grown up into a surly old miser with a chip on his shoulder.
So according to the theory, Scrooge may have had a good reason for being stingy after all. He knows what economic hardship is like, and that shaped the person he became.
Could this really be the reason Scrooge holds on to his money? Is this why he gets especially irritated when people blow their savings on Christmas? Could this even be why his relationship with Belle fell apart? He feared raising children in poverty?
The Huffington Post reached out to experts to get their take, and, though there are varying opinions, they offered some more evidence.
Claire Jarvis, an author and assistant professor in the Stanford English department, told us "there are a lot of reasons Scrooge is the way he is."
"The Napoleonic Wars thing is interesting because the early part of the 19th century is a period not just of trade embargoes but religious rioting," she added. "You have the Gordon Riots, which were the anti-Catholic riots, and then you have, a little bit later in the century, the Chartist movement. You have things leading up to that, so you have people who are also frustrated with the changes in England's internal structure."
Jarvis also had more evidence from the book to support the theory. "In the section with the Ghost of Christmas Present, he’s going through the list of all of the food that he sees in the shop windows, and one of the things that he sees is French Plums," she said. "And that’s really interesting, right? Because it makes it clear that the present is once free trade starts happening. That’s after the embargoes that were happening earlier in the 19th century."
Jarvis said England was going through a series of "booms and crashes" at the time, and the story shows Scrooge was very familiar with economic hardship.
"Scrooge’s vision of his childhood is a vision of deprivation," she explained. "The house that he lives in is a red brick house, but it’s empty. The windows are broken. It’s in disrepair. When he has the next vision of his sister, it seems like that deprivation is gone. It seems like his father has had a turn in his fortune. He’s at school. He’s being brought home by his sister from school, so it seems like there’s a kind of cycle. So it may also be that his love for money comes from an experience of those boom and bust periods."
Still, Jarvis wasn't down with everything about the theory. For one, she thinks Scrooge may be even older.
"When you see Marley’s face in the door knocker, Scrooge worried that he’s going to see Marley’s pigtail coming out of the backside, and men didn't wear pigtails in the early 19th century. They only wear them up until the beginning of the 19th century, so that definitely puts them as young men maybe in the 1790s," she said. According to the prof, Scrooge is likely in his 60s or 70s, and might've been born as early as the 1770s.
Jarvis also said you can't forget the love plot has a lot to do with "Scrooge's failure."
Jarvis brought up a moment when Belle calls Scrooge out. "She says, 'When we got engaged when we were young, we both had nothing and we wanted to work toward better times, but now if you got engaged with someone, I know you’d get engaged with someone for money,' and he doesn’t really correct her," Jarvis said. "It's pretty harsh."
Other themes Dickens is interested in, and possible causes for Scrooge's behavior, include the shift from the city to the country and the impact work has on your life. Jarvis explained: "This is a period of deep anxiety in England for a lot of different reasons. It’s not just the Napoleonic Wars. It’s also the rise of industrialism. One of the big things that Dickens is really digging in on in this book, one he picks up in many other texts, is that you need to protect parts of your life from work."
HuffPost also reached out to Judith Flanders, a historian and author of The Victorian City: Everyday Life in Dickens' London. Flanders expanded on the economic hardships of the time, saying the British government passed a series of laws from 1815 onward that kept the price of flour and wheat artificially high, and the 1840s saw crop failures across Europe. Though it's possible Dickens used historical events to influence Scrooge, Flanders said she wouldn't jump to that conclusion.
"Dickens was writing at the time of those historical facts; he might or might not have used the economic situation as a ‘reason’ for his character’s personality, but I’ve never checked to see if we know this -- if he mentioned it in letters, for example," she said. "Otherwise, I don’t think we can ascribe the formation of a fictional character to real historical events."
Were the Napoleonic Wars and harsh economic conditions part of the reason Scrooge is a Scrooge? Or is this just a big bah humbug?
Whatever side of the argument you're on, as Scrooge says ...
Also on HuffPost:
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