Rare execution of A Christmas Carol through illustrations by Arthur C. Michael, brand-new York : Hodder and Stoughton, 1911. Monitor the link to the digitized book!


A few years ago, my esteemed partner Ellen Terrell wrote an excellent blog post at inside Adams, evaluating from a business perspective the firm of Scrooge and also Marley, the fictional organization at the center of Charles Dickens’s standard work that Christmas literature, A Christmas Carol. I believed I would check out what an ethnographic perspective might achieve. Ethnography involves close observation of a society not one’s own. This is similar to the kind of fist we need to provide to literature set in various other times and also places. In performing ethnographic observation, it’s often great to take keep in mind of points that stand out or surprised you as unexpected or unusual. I execute this too as soon as reading literary works from various other times and also places. I’ll be looking a couple of such aspects of A Christmas Carol in this post.

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In Ellen’s post, she examines the company terminology used by the firm and also connects it to the business practices of the time. In particular, she identifies Scrooge and also Marley as a “counting-house,” and also concludes:

<…> It appears that a counting-house is a duty or department the exists in ~ a larger facility – usually the accountancy or accounting department. Although this is no the situation with Scrooge & Marley, it seems most likely that the firm at the very least offered bookkeeping and accountancy services.

Before proceeding, I need to say that ns think the is reasonable to argue the the counting-house is undoubtedly a function in ~ Scrooge and also Marley, no its entire business. Together a little firm v three known employees in its background (Bob Cratchit, the deceased Jacob Marley, and also Ebenezer Scrooge), Scrooge and also Marley would not have actually needed “departments,” yet Scrooge certainly does various other things as well as accounting. Neither the for sure itself nor its headquarters is ever before said to be a counting-house; rather, that is said to contain one.

In fact, one of the facets that stood out to my ethnographic ear when I read A Christmas Carol was a word because that Scrooge’s place of business: “warehouse.” This seems to typical something different to Dickens than it does come me. The firm’s headquarters is in fact referred to as a “warehouse” when it is very first mentioned, and the Scrooge and also Marley authorize is described:

Scrooge never ever painted the end Old Marley’s name. There it stood, year afterwards, above the warehouse door: Scrooge and Marley. The for sure was known as Scrooge and Marley. Periodically people brand-new to the service called Scrooge Scrooge, and also sometimes Marley, yet he answered come both names. It was all the very same to him.

To me, the course, a “warehouse” is a large building wherein items room stored because that sale or shipping. But, consulting the Oxford English Dictionary, I uncover that from the ten to the at an early stage twentieth centuries “warehouse” to be a genteel synonym for “shop” or “storefront.” for this reason by calling the a “warehouse,” Dickens creates that Scrooge and Marley had actually a public storefront right into which business associates or customers could venture.

The exact same headquarters is later defined as an “office,” once Bob Cratchit gaianation.netks that up because that the day on Christmas Eve:

Scrooge walked out through a growl. The office to be closed in a twinkling, and also the clerk, v the long ends the his white comforter dangling listed below his waist (for that boasted no great-coat), went down a on slide on Cornhill, in ~ the end of a lane of boys, twenty times, in honour of its being Christmas Eve, and then ran home to Camden town as difficult as he might pelt, to play in ~ blindman’s-buff.


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Arthur C. Michael’s illustration shows Cratchit in the “Tank,” Scrooge’s open door, and also Scrooge beyond in his “counting-house.” discover the photo in this book.


How execute we recognize that both “office” and “warehouse” aren’t just alternative names because that a “counting-house” in this instance? Dickens doesn’t provide us much detail, yet certainly within this warehouse or office to be at the very least two rooms, only among which is defined as the “counting-house.” The various other is dubbed “the Tank.” The “counting-house,” where Scrooge sits, has its very own door, which Scrooge keeps open so the he have the right to keep an eye ~ above Cratchit, that sits in the “Tank.” The “counting-house” appears to be an inner room; as soon as Scrooge’s nephew Fred pipeline the establishment, the takes leave of Scrooge and then that Cratchit top top the means out:

His nephew left the room there is no an angry word, notwithstanding. He quit at the external door to bestow the greetings the the season top top the clerk, who, cold together he was, to be warmer 보다 Scrooge; for he went back them cordially.

All this develops that the organization is laid the end in the typical way, through the salesperson in a position nearer the external door so that he have the right to act together a receptionist, and also Scrooge in an inside room with a different door, generally called “Scrooge’s counting-house.”

It’s not established for specific whether the service has any type of other rooms, yet it definitely might. Marley’s ghost refers to a “money-changing hole,” which can be the same room together the “counting-house,” but which seems an ext likely to have been a vault wherein actual money was retained (since counting-houses were because that doing accounts, not storing cash). It’s also possible that Scrooge and Marley had actually separate offices; us can’t be sure if “Scrooge’s counting-house” and also the room explained by Marley as “our counting-house” to be the same room or not.  In any type of case, it’s clear the one or much more “counting-houses” were only part of the office suite wherein Scrooge and also Marley go business.

It’s also true that, together a very small firm, Scrooge and Marley can do service when not in their headquarters. Because that example, we watch that Scrooge, having dinner as he always does at the very same tavern, “beguiled the rest of the evening v his banker’s-book” prior to going home. “Banker’s-book” was an additional unfamiliar expression that recorded my eye; according to the OED it way an account book, originally of a money-lender or money-changer, and (particularly in law), a book containing legal documents of transactions. This method that Scrooge bring his account book home with him and also works on the after dinner in the tavern. It may be far-ranging that it’s defined as “his banker’s-book,” not a client’s. We never apparently watch Scrooge functioning on anyone else’s accounts, yet we carry out see him functioning on his own. And also the “banker’s-book” was especially associated with money-lenders, which we’ll come earlier to later.

In addition to “warehouse,” and also “banker’s-book,” an additional word that struck mine ethnographic eye to be “’Change.” It begins with an apostrophe, saying it’s an abbreviation, and also is likewise capitalized. It appears in the book’s very an initial paragraph, for this reason it was the first detail to strike me together alien:

Marley was dead: to start with. There is no doubt whatever around that. The register of his interment was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner. Scrooge signed it: and Scrooge’s name was good upon ‘Change, because that anything he chose to placed his hand to. Old Marley was as dead together a door-nail.

What walk this weird expression, “Scrooge’s name was an excellent upon ‘Change,” mean? Here, The Annotated Christmas Carol listed the answer. “’Change,” is turns out, was a colloquial expression for the imperial Exchange, where business people went to negotiate deals on stocks, bonds, commodities, and also other points that are bought and also sold. Scrooge’s word being “good ~ above ‘Change for anything he determined to put his hand to” way that Scrooge’s signature was taken into consideration sufficient guarantee of legitimacy for any deal ~ above the Exchange. By extension, the narrator suggests that Scrooge signing the interment register is a guarantee that Marley is yes, really dead! however the phrase performs a separate role of developing something about Scrooge’s business: he does enough service on the royal Exchange the he’s renowned there.


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The royal Exchange. Despite in the very same spot where Scrooge would have met his fellow service men, this structure was under building when the publication was gift written. The old Exchange building had burned down a couple of years previously. Uncover out an ext about the print here.


We later see this more directly. In the agency of the Ghost of Christmas yet To Come, Scrooge visits the Exchange (again recognized as “’Change”). Over there he overhears 2 meetings, one amongst a “little node of business men” and also the other in between “two persons meeting.” the knows every one of these men, and does service with gaianation.netk regularly; in fact, although the doesn’t recognize this, both groups are talking about him. After ~ observing both meetings, Scrooge looks for himself:

He looked about in that an extremely place because that his own image; but one more man stood in his accustomed corner, and also though the cgaianation.netk pointed to his usual time that day because that being there, he observed no likeness of himself among the multitudes the poured in through the Porch. It gave him tiny surprise, however; because that he had been revolving in his mind a adjust of life, and thought and hoped he observed his new-born resolutions brought out in this.

We learn from this that Scrooge goes come the Exchange regularly, probably every day in ~ the very same time (or else he wouldn’t necessarily intend to uncover himself there), and also stations self at the very same place, to do business largely with the very same men. His “accustomed corner” is, in a way, a satellite office, and also explains why that doesn’t need much past a counting-house in ~ the company’s offices.

Another information stood out to me; again that was part language that showed up to have significance beyond the basic words the the passage:

All he might make the end was, that it was still very foggy and extremely cold, and also that there to be no noise of human being running to and fro, and also making a good stir, as there unquestionably would have been if night had actually beaten turn off bright day, and also taken possession of the world. This to be a good relief, because “three days after vision of this first of Exchange salary to Mr. Ebenezer Scrooge or his order,” and so forth, would certainly have end up being a mere joined States’ security if there to be no job to counting by.

What perform we make of “three days after sight of this first of Exchange salary to Mr. Ebenezer Scrooge or his order,” and also of “a mere joined States’ security?”

Again, The Annotated Christmas Carol gives a valuable explanation. The quotation about three days is the officially language the a bill of exchange, the path in which Scrooge and other males of service bought and also sold commodities or financial tools without carrying about cash; it’s an covenant to salary or a promissory note. The comparison to a “United states security” is a caustic referral to the fact that American states, which in those job issued their very own bonds different from commonwealth bonds, typically defaulted, so their promissory notes weren’t worth much. The rather obscure suggest here is the Scrooge is relieved that the world has no been plunged into permanent night, since according come the legal language of bills of exchange, without days and also nights to count by, the debts human being owe him will never come due!

As v the early on quotation “his word was great upon ‘Change,” this passage amounts to the insertion the business and also financial language right into places where it would certainly not generally be used: the affirmation the someone has actually died, and the relief he feels in learning that time is pass normally. As such unusual usage of jae won language, this passages are humorously incongruous, and also establish that business and also finance is the primary structure through which Scrooge look at the world. However they also establish at least the likelihood that he is not just an accountant because that other business people, however a human who self buys and sells top top the exchange, and an ext importantly, a human being to whom numerous debts space owed.

This last suggest is make even much more vividly in an additional scene entailing the Ghost of Christmas however to Come.  when Scrooge has already seen a dead body extended in a shroud, but prior to he to know it is his own body, he requirements that the ghost show him “any human in the town, who feels emotion led to by this man’s death.”  The adhering to passage ensues:

The Phantom spread its dark robe before him because that a moment, prefer a wing; and also withdrawing it, revealed a room by daylight, wherein a mother and her youngsters were. She was expecting some one, and also with anxious eagerness; because that she go up and also down the room; began at every sound; looked the end from the window; glanced in ~ the cgaianation.netk; tried, but in vain, to job-related with her needle; and also could hardly be affected by each other the voices that the youngsters in their play.


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This illustration the Caroline’s family is by Charles Green. The is native a 1912 edition, and also is in the general public Domain.


At length the long-expected knock to be heard. She hurried come the door, and also met her husband; a male whose challenge was careworn and depressed, despite he was young. There was a impressive expression in the now; a kind of serious pleasure of which that felt ashamed, and also which the struggled come repress.

He sat down to the dinner that had actually been hoarding for him through the fire; and also when she asked the faintly what news (which to be not till after a lengthy silence), he appeared embarrassed just how to answer.

“Is it good?” she said, “or bad?”—to assist him.

“Bad,” the answered.

“We are fairly ruined?”

“No. There is hope yet, Caroline.”

“If he relents,” she said, amazed, “there is! nothing is past hope, if together a miracle has happened.”

“He is past relenting,” claimed her husband. “He is dead.”

She was a mild and patient creature if her confront spoke truth; however she was thankful in her heart to listen it, and she said so, v clasped hands. She prayed forgiveness the next moment, and also was sorry; but the an initial was the feel of her heart.

“What the half-drunken mrs whom i told girlfriend of critical night, said to me, as soon as I tried to see him and also obtain a week’s delay; and what I believed was a mere forgive to prevent me; transforms out to have been rather true. That was not only very ill, but dying, then.”

“To whom will certainly our debt be transferred?”

“I don’t know. But prior to that time us shall be all set with the money; and also even though we were not, it would be a negative fortune indeed to uncover so merciless a creditor in his successor. We might sleep to-night through light hearts, Caroline!”

Yes. Soften it as they would, their hearts to be lighter. The children’s faces, hushed and also clustered ring to hear what gaianation.netk so tiny understood, to be brighter; and it was a happier house for this man’s death! The just emotion that the Ghost might show him, resulted in by the event, was among pleasure.

What we learn right here is the Caroline’s family owed the dead male (that is, Scrooge) enough money that if he foreclosed ~ above them, they would be ruined. It appears most most likely this blame took the kind of a mortgage, although this is not stated. Everything the case, this creates that Scrooge is a creditor who holds huge debts from individuals. It additionally establishes that he has actually a reputation for foreclosing and also ruining households like Caroline’s. Remember likewise that the “bankers’ book” initially meant, follow to the OED, “an account publication belonging come a moneylender or money changer.” It appears likely, then, that Scrooge is, at the very least in part, a moneylender.

The two aspects of Scrooge’s business I have outlined—buying and selling top top the exchange and holding personal debt—were frequently connected, then together now. In fact, among the points you could buy on the exchange was discounted debt. Then, together now, debts in risk of default or currently defaulted top top were marketed at a discount so the original creditor could cut his losses if the brand-new creditor might collect only part of the initial debt and also still do a profit. Together Carlo DeVito points out in the recent publication Inventing Scrooge, men haunted the exchange v lists that debtors who debt could be purchase by other businessmen. It’s likely these are the transactions Scrooge renders every job “upon ‘Change.”

Of course, it’s possible that Scrooge’s condition as a significant creditor and as a buyer and also seller ~ above the Exchange room unrelated. And also it’s feasible that both space ancillary to an additional business in which the offered accounting services. But the easiest solution is that Scrooge and Marley is a financial institution choose a mortgage bank, i m sorry either solely or in component obtains fan on the Exchange, and which climate collects those debts, sometimes destroying lives prefer Caroline’s in the process.

This revelation is far-reaching to the message in number of ways. In specific it makes much more poignant Scrooge’s conversation v two “portly gentlemen” previously in the text:


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Illustration the Scrooge and also the “portly gentlemen” by Sol Eytinge, Jr. This was released in 1868, and also is in the public Domain.


“At this festive season the the year, Mr. Scrooge,” said the gentleman, acquisition up a pen, “it is an ext than usually desirable that we need to make some slight provision for the Poor and also destitute, who suffer significantly at the present time. Plenty of thousands space in want of usual necessaries; hundreds of thousands room in desire of usual comforts, sir.”

“Are there no prisons?” request Scrooge.

“Plenty that prisons,” said the gentleman, laying down the pen again.

“And the Union workhouses?” request Scrooge. “Are they quiet in operation?”

“They are. Still,” reverted the gentleman, “I great I could say they to be not.”

“The Treadmill and the bad Law space in full vigour, then?” said Scrooge.

“Both really busy, sir.”

“Oh! ns was afraid, indigenous what you said at first, the something had developed to stop them in their valuable course,” claimed Scrooge. “I’m very glad to hear it.”

“Under the impression the they scarcely furnish Christian cheer of mental or body to the multitude,” went back the gentleman, “a couple of of us space endeavouring to raise a fund to buy the bad some meat and drink, and means of warmth. We select this time, due to the fact that it is a time, of every others, when Want is keenly felt, and also Abundance rejoices. What chandelier I put you down for?”

“Nothing!” Scrooge replied.

“You wish to it is in anonymous?”

“I wish to be left alone,” claimed Scrooge. “Since girlfriend ask me what ns wish, gentlemen, that is my answer. I don’t make merry myself in ~ Christmas and I can’t afford to do idle world merry. I aid to support the facilities I have mentioned—they cost enough; and those who are badly off have to go there.”

“Many can’t walk there; and many would quite die.”

“If castle would fairly die,” claimed Scrooge, “they had better do it, and also decrease the surplus population. Besides—excuse me—I don’t understand that.”

“But you might know it,” it was observed the gentleman.

“It’s no my business,” Scrooge returned. “It’s enough for a man to recognize his very own business, and also not to interfere with various other people’s. Mine occupies me constantly. Great afternoon, gentlemen!”

The later on scene through Caroline reveals that his “business” is much an ext closely connected to poverty, the workhouses, and the treadmill 보다 he admits as soon as the publication opens. Since he is a creditor v a call for precise forcing civilization to go to debtor’s prisons or workhouses, it’s a little bit disingenuous because that him to say the the resides of civilization in such institutions are “not my business.”

Of course, the most stirring lines around business in A Christmas Carol are yielded by Marley’s ghost:

“Business!” cried the Ghost, wringing its hand again. “Mankind to be my business. The typical welfare to be my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, mine business. The dealings that my trade were but a drop of water in the an extensive ocean of mine business!”

These words of regret over conducting company as Scrooge and also Marley did indicate a possible future for Scrooge himself. Given Scrooge’s adjust of heart at the finish of the book, we deserve to assume the the company of Scrooge and Marley changed accordingly after the events of the story. Yet whether Scrooge became a much more merciful creditor, or entered a whole new line that business, we may never know.

Let’s think about it an additional Christmas an enig from Dickens’s prolific pen.

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