Rare version of A Christmas Carol through illustrations by Arthur C. Michael, brand-new York : Hodder and also Stoughton, 1911. Follow the attach to the digitized book!

A couple of years ago, my esteemed colleague Ellen Terrell wrote an excellent blog post at inside Adams, analyzing from a company perspective the for sure of Scrooge and Marley, the fictional organization at the center of Charles Dickens’s classic work that Christmas literature, A Christmas Carol. I thought I would watch what one ethnographic perspective might achieve. Ethnography requires close monitoring of a culture not one’s own. This is comparable to the kind of fist we need to give to literature collection in various other times and 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 perform this too when reading literary works from other times and also places. I’ll be looking a couple of such facets of A Christmas Carol in this post.

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

<…> It seems that a counting-house is a duty or department the exists within a larger establishment – basically the accounting or accounting department. Although this is not the situation with Scrooge & Marley, the seems most likely that the certain at the very least offered audit and accountancy services.

Before proceeding, I must say that i think it is reasonable to argue the the counting-house is undoubtedly a function in ~ Scrooge and also Marley, no its entire business. As a small firm v three recognized employees in its background (Bob Cratchit, the deceased Jacob Marley, and also Ebenezer Scrooge), Scrooge and also Marley would not have actually needed “departments,” however Scrooge absolutely does various other things as well as accounting. No the firm itself nor its headquarters is ever said to it is in a counting-house; rather, the is claimed to save on computer one.

In fact, one of the facets that stood out to my ethnographic ear once I review A Christmas Carol was a word for Scrooge’s ar of business: “warehouse.” This appears to average something various to Dickens than it does to me. The firm’s headquarters is in fact dubbed a “warehouse” when it is first mentioned, and also the Scrooge and Marley sign is described:

Scrooge never ever painted the end Old Marley’s name. Over there it stood, years afterwards, over the warehouse door: Scrooge and also Marley. The for sure was recognized as Scrooge and also Marley. Occasionally people new to the company called Scrooge Scrooge, and also sometimes Marley, yet he answered to both names. The was all the exact same to him.

To me, the course, a “warehouse” is a big building wherein items space stored because that sale or shipping. But, consulting the Oxford English Dictionary, I uncover that native the seventeenth to the beforehand twentieth centuries “warehouse” was a genteel synonym because that “shop” or “storefront.” therefore by calling the a “warehouse,” Dickens develops that Scrooge and Marley had a publicly storefront into which organization associates or customers could venture.

The same headquarters is later described as an “office,” once Bob Cratchit barisalcity.orgks it up for the job on Christmas Eve:

Scrooge to walk out through a growl. The office to be closed in a twinkling, and also the clerk, with the lengthy ends that his white comforter dangling listed below his belt (for that boasted no great-coat), went under a slide on Cornhill, in ~ the end of a roadway of boys, twenty times, in honour the its being Christmas Eve, and also then ran house to Camden town as hard as he can pelt, to play at blindman’s-buff.


Arthur C. Michael’s illustration mirrors Cratchit in the “Tank,” Scrooge’s open door, and Scrooge beyond in his “counting-house.” uncover the image 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 were at the very least two rooms, only one of which is described as the “counting-house.” The other is dubbed “the Tank.” The “counting-house,” whereby Scrooge sits, has actually its very own door, i m sorry Scrooge keeps open up so the he deserve to keep one eye on Cratchit, that sits in the “Tank.” The “counting-house” shows up to be an inside room; when Scrooge’s nephew Fred leaves the establishment, that takes leaving of Scrooge and then of Cratchit ~ above the way out:

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

All this creates that the business is laid out in the traditional way, through the clerk in a place nearer the outer door so that he have the right to act as a receptionist, and also Scrooge in an inside room with a different door, commonly called “Scrooge’s counting-house.”

It’s not created for specific whether the business has any other rooms, yet it certainly might. Marley’s ghost refers to a “money-changing hole,” which could be the very same room together the “counting-house,” but which seems an ext likely to have actually been a vault where actual money was preserved (since counting-houses were because that doing accounts, no storing cash). It’s also possible that Scrooge and Marley had separate offices; us can’t be sure if “Scrooge’s counting-house” and the room defined by Marley together “our counting-house” to be the same room or not.  In any type of case, it’s clear the one or more “counting-houses” were only part of the office suite where Scrooge and also Marley did business.

It’s likewise true that, as a very tiny firm, Scrooge and also Marley can do organization when no in their headquarters. For example, we see that Scrooge, having actually dinner as he constantly does in ~ the same tavern, “beguiled the remainder of the evening v his banker’s-book” prior to going home. “Banker’s-book” was one more unfamiliar expression that caught my eye; follow to the OED it means an account book, initially of a money-lender or money-changer, and (particularly in law), a publication containing legal records of transactions. This means that Scrooge brings his account book home through him and also works on the after dinner in the tavern. It might be significant that it’s defined as “his banker’s-book,” no a client’s. We never apparently view Scrooge functioning on anyone else’s accounts, however we carry out see him working on his own. And the “banker’s-book” to be especially connected with money-lenders, i m sorry we’ll come back to later.

In enhancement to “warehouse,” and “banker’s-book,” an additional word that struck my ethnographic eye to be “’Change.” It begins with an apostrophe, arguing it’s one abbreviation, and also is additionally capitalized. It shows up in the book’s very an initial paragraph, so it was the an initial detail come strike me as alien:

Marley to be dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever around that. The register of his interment was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and also the chief mourner. Scrooge signed it: and also Scrooge’s surname was great upon ‘Change, because that anything he determined to put his hand to. Old Marley was together dead as a door-nail.

What walk this strange expression, “Scrooge’s surname was great upon ‘Change,” mean? Here, The Annotated Christmas Carol detailed the answer. “’Change,” is turns out, to be a colloquial expression for the royal Exchange, where service people visited negotiate deals on stocks, bonds, commodities, and also other things that space bought and also sold. Scrooge’s word gift “good top top ‘Change for anything he decided to placed his hand to” method that Scrooge’s signature was taken into consideration sufficient guarantee of legitimacy for any deal top top the Exchange. Through extension, the narrator argues that Scrooge signing the interment register is a guarantee that Marley is yes, really dead! but the expression performs a separate duty of developing something about Scrooge’s business: that does enough organization on the royal Exchange the he’s renowned there.


The royal Exchange. Despite in the very same spot whereby Scrooge would have met his fellow service men, this structure was under building and construction when the publication was gift written. The old Exchange building had melted down a few years previously. Uncover out an ext about the publish here.

We later on see this much more directly. In the company of the Ghost that Christmas however To Come, Scrooge visits the Exchange (again well-known as “’Change”). Over there he overhears 2 meetings, one amongst a “little node of organization men” and also the other between “two people meeting.” he knows all of these men, and also does business with them regularly; in fact, although he doesn’t know this, both teams are talking about him. After ~ observing both meetings, Scrooge looks because that himself:

He looked around in that an extremely place because that his own image; but one more man was standing in his accustomed corner, and also though the cbarisalcity.orgk pointed to his usual time of day for being there, he experienced no likeness that himself among the multitudes that poured in with the Porch. It offered him tiny surprise, however; because that he had been revolving in his mind a change of life, and also thought and also hoped he witnessed his new-born resolutions lugged out in this.

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

Another detail stood out to me; again it was some language that showed up to have actually significance past the simple words the the passage:

All he might make the end was, that it was still an extremely foggy and extremely cold, and that there to be no noise of world running to and also fro, and making a great stir, as there unquestionably would have actually been if night had actually beaten off bright day, and also taken possession of the world. This was a good relief, due to the fact that “three job after vision of this very first of Exchange pay to Mr. Ebenezer Scrooge or his order,” and also so forth, would have become a mere unified States’ security if there were no work to count by.

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

Again, The Annotated Christmas Carol offers a helpful explanation. The quotation about three days is the official language of a invoice of exchange, the path in which Scrooge and other guys of business bought and also sold assets or financial instruments without carrying approximately cash; it’s an covenant to salary or a promissory note. The comparison to a “United claims security” is a caustic referral to the truth that American states, which in those days issued their very own bonds separate from commonwealth bonds, frequently defaulted, so your promissory notes weren’t worth much. The rather obscure allude here is that Scrooge is relieved that the human being has no been plunged into permanent night, because according to the legit language of receipt of exchange, there is no days and nights to counting by, the debts world owe the will never come due!

As v the beforehand quotation “his indigenous was good upon ‘Change,” this passage quantities to the insertion of business and also financial language into places where it would not normally be used: the affirmation that someone has actually died, and also the relief that feels in learning that time is passing normally. Therefore unusual use of gaue won language, these passages space humorously incongruous, and also establish that business and also finance is the primary framework through i beg your pardon Scrooge watch the world. Yet they additionally establish at the very least the likelihood that he is not just an accountant for other company people, however a human being who self buys and sells on the exchange, and much more importantly, a human being to whom many debts room owed.

This last suggest is do even more vividly in an additional scene involving the Ghost the Christmas yet to Come.  once Scrooge has already seen a dead body spanned in a shroud, but before he knows it is his own body, he requirements that the ghost display him “any person in the town, who feels emotion caused by this man’s death.”  The adhering to passage ensues:

The Phantom spread out its dark robe before him because that a moment, prefer a wing; and also withdrawing it, revealed a room by daylight, where a mother and also her youngsters were. She to be expecting part one, and also with concerned eagerness; because that she to walk up and also down the room; started at every sound; looked the end from the window; glanced at the cbarisalcity.orgk; tried, but in vain, to work with she needle; and could hardly bear the voices the the children in your play.


This illustration that Caroline’s family is by Charles Green. That is indigenous a 1912 edition, and also is in the public Domain.

At length the long-expected knock was heard. She hurried come the door, and met she husband; a guy whose challenge was careworn and also depressed, though he was young. There to be a exceptional expression in the now; a sort of serious pleasure of which he felt ashamed, and which he struggled to repress.

He sat down to the dinner that had been hoarding because that him by the fire; and also when she asked him faintly what news (which was not until after a lengthy silence), he appeared embarrassed exactly how to answer.

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

“Bad,” that answered.

“We are fairly ruined?”

“No. Over there is hope yet, Caroline.”

“If the relents,” she said, amazed, “there is! naught is past hope, if such a miracle has happened.”

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

She was a mild and also patient creature if her confront spoke truth; however she to be thankful in her heart to hear it, and also she stated so, with clasped hands. She prayed forgiveness the following moment, and was sorry; but the first was the feeling of she heart.

“What the half-drunken woman whom ns told girlfriend of last night, stated to me, as soon as I tried to view him and also obtain a week’s delay; and what I assumed was a mere excuse to prevent me; transforms out to have been rather true. The was no only an extremely ill, but dying, then.”

“To whom will our debt be transferred?”

“I don’t know. But prior to that time us shall be ready with the money; and also even though we were not, it would be a poor fortune without doubt to find so merciless a creditor in his successor. We may sleep to-night with light hearts, Caroline!”

Yes. Soften it as they would, your hearts were lighter. The children’s faces, hushed and also clustered round to listen what castle so little understood, were brighter; and it was a happier house for this man’s death! The only emotion the the Ghost might show him, led to by the event, was one of pleasure.

What us learn here is that Caroline’s family owed the dead guy (that is, Scrooge) sufficient money the if that foreclosed on them, they would certainly be ruined. It seems most most likely this blame took the type of a mortgage, back this is not stated. Whatever the case, this creates that Scrooge is a creditor who holds large debts native individuals. It likewise establishes the he has a call for foreclosing and also ruining households like Caroline’s. Remember likewise that the “bankers’ book” initially meant, according to the OED, “an account book belonging to a moneylender or money changer.” It appears likely, then, the Scrooge is, at least in part, a moneylender.

The two facets of Scrooge’s organization I have actually outlined—buying and selling on the exchange and also holding exclusive debt—were frequently connected, then as now. In fact, among the points you could buy on the exchange was discounted debt. Then, together now, fan in hazard of default or currently defaulted top top were sold at a discount so the initial creditor could cut his losses when the brand-new creditor could collect only part of the original debt and also still do a profit. As Carlo DeVito points out in the recent publication Inventing Scrooge, males haunted the exchange with lists of debtors who debt can be bought by other businessmen. It’s likely these space the transactions Scrooge provides every day “upon ‘Change.”

Of course, it’s feasible that Scrooge’s condition as a major creditor and also as a buyer and also seller top top the Exchange space unrelated. And it’s possible that both space ancillary to an additional business in which that offered accountancy services. But the most basic solution is that Scrooge and Marley is a gaue won institution like a mortgage bank, i m sorry either solely or in component obtains debts on the Exchange, and also which climate collects those debts, sometimes damaging lives choose Caroline’s in the process.

This revelation is significant to the message in several ways. In details it makes more poignant Scrooge’s conversation through two “portly gentlemen” previously in the text:


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

“At this festive season that the year, Mr. Scrooge,” said the gentleman, taking up a pen, “it is an ext than usually preferable that we have to make some slight provision because that the Poor and also destitute, that suffer greatly at the existing time. Many thousands space in desire of common necessaries; hundreds of thousands are in want of typical comforts, sir.”

“Are there no prisons?” asked Scrooge.

“Plenty the prisons,” stated the gentleman, laying under the pen again.

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

“They are. Still,” returned the gentleman, “I wish I can say they were not.”

“The Treadmill and also the poor Law are in full vigour, then?” said Scrooge.

“Both an extremely busy, sir.”

“Oh! ns was afraid, native what you claimed at first, that something had occurred to stop them in their valuable course,” claimed Scrooge. “I’m really glad come hear it.”

“Under the impression the they scarcely furnish Christian cheer of mind or human body to the multitude,” reverted the gentleman, “a couple of of us space endeavouring come raise a money to buy the negative some meat and drink, and means of warmth. We pick this time, due to the fact that it is a time, of all others, when Want is keenly felt, and Abundance rejoices. What chandelier I put you under for?”

“Nothing!” Scrooge replied.

“You great to it is in anonymous?”

“I great to it is in left alone,” claimed Scrooge. “Since girlfriend ask me what i wish, gentlemen, the is my answer. I don’t make merry myself at Christmas and I can’t purchased to do idle human being merry. I aid to support the establishments I have mentioned—they cost enough; and also those who space badly off should go there.”

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

“If castle would quite die,” stated Scrooge, “they had far better do it, and decrease the surplus population. Besides—excuse me—I don’t know that.”

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

“It’s not my business,” Scrooge returned. “It’s enough for a man to understand his own business, and not come interfere with other people’s. Mine rectal me constantly. An excellent afternoon, gentlemen!”

The later scene through Caroline reveals that his “business” is much more closely connected to poverty, the workhouses, and also the treadmill than he admits once the publication opens. Since he is a creditor through a call for precise forcing people to walk to debtor’s prisons or workhouses, it’s a little disingenuous for him to say the the stays of civilization in such institutions are “not my business.”

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

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

These native of remorse over conducting organization as Scrooge and Marley did suggest a possible future because that Scrooge himself. Given Scrooge’s change of heart at the end of the book, we can assume the the service of Scrooge and Marley changed appropriately after the occasions of the story. But whether Scrooge came to be a much more merciful creditor, or got in a whole new line the business, we might never know.

Let’s consider it one more Christmas mystery from Dickens’s prolific pen.

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