On this day in 1843, Charles Dickens’ classic story A Christmas Carol was published.
As a child, the story frightened me – all those ghosts, but I was troubled most by the ghost of Jacob Marley.
In life, Marley was the business partner of Ebenezer Scrooge. As teenagers, both had been apprenticed in business and met as clerks in another business. The firm of Scrooge and Marley was a nineteenth century financial institution, probably a counting house, as Marley refers to their offices as ‘our money-changing hole’. They have become successful bankers, with seats on the London Stock Exchange.
In A Christmas Carol, Marley is said to have died seven years earlier on Christmas Eve (as the setting is Christmas Eve 1843, this would have made the date of his passing December 24, 1836). It would be his ghost who would be Scrooge’s first visitor (before the three other spirits to come).
Marley’s ghost despairs at his inability ever to find happiness in the mortal world or the next. As he spent his life on this earth obsessing over money and mistreating the poor and wretched to fill his pocket, Marley is condemned as part of his “penance” to walk the earth for eternity never to find rest or peace, experiencing an “incessant torture of remorse.”
It’s Marley despair that frightened me when I was young. I grieved for him. His plight, his despair, his eternity – they all deeply troubled me. Marley was my introduction to suffering, deep, deep suffering. Marley was my first duel with hopelessness. To this day, I pity him.