A Christmas Carol: How It Ends.
With the rise of Tea Bagging and the madness of the Right, Dickens’s story, it seems to me, has taken on a new relevance.
His great theme, and the story he keeps coming back to in so many novels, is that of children being forced to pay the price of the older generation’s sins, its greed, its rapacity, its lack of human fellowship. In A Christmas Carol he set out to write a potboiler which grew beyond his wildest expectations into the story we know, that has become so encrusted with kitsch it’s hard to see past the bad wigs and terrible accents into the intensely imagined parable of greed and redemption he imagined. I adapted it as a chamber piece for five actors – no children – and brought into focus its sober underpinnings.
But as it’s for Christmas, there must be a happy ending, no matter how unlikely.
So this is how it ends.
I’ve simplified the text but we’ve just had the scene of Scrooge, like a king bearing gifts, kneeling to Tiny Tim, vowing that he won’t die, that somehow he will be saved. The rather stilted formality of the diction is intentional, by the way. It gives the feeling of a stolid decency; a man unaccustomed to being the centre of attention outside his family and business. Tim steps forward to bring us out of the immediate world of the play and back into the theatre where we are thinking about a cab, or supper, or the babysitter, surreptitiously checking our watch and wondering how much more there is.
He ties up the loose ends:
TIM: I didn’t die. Not that day or any of the days that followed. All the many days that Mr. Scrooge was our friend. Later he said you can’t stop grief, you can’t stop unhappiness, it’s always there beside you, but if you make one time of the year, set it aside to remind yourself what’s past, what’s now, and what’s to come, you can look at your life with a steadier eye. He made my father partner, though he was never really one for business. Mr. Scrooge changed his practice, taking a more generous position and, strange to say, his business prospered. When I joined the firm it grew again till I’m proud to say it became famous on ‘Change as a force for good, as much as anything could be in a city that sometimes seemed overwhelmed by greed and avarice. Surrounded as we were by so much poverty and disease. But as Mr Scrooge liked to say…
SCROOGE: We all have our own small corner of the world. All we can do is try to make that right.
TIM: His greatest grief was Fred. When his wife died in childbirth he never could recover. Perhaps if the baby had lived—it was a boy: they were going to name him Ebenezer—he might have done better. As it was he couldn’t stand being where he’d lost his chance at happiness and took himself abroad. He had some money and his uncle did whatever he could to make life bearable but Fred was unreachable and soon disappeared from our lives. So I became both nephew and son to Mr. Scrooge and indeed I loved him like a second father. He never told the story of that night till his last Christmas when he told me alone of the Spirits, of Marley, the phantoms, and how he reckoned it was his sister brought it all about.
SCROOGE: It was Fan who saved me.
TIM: Was how he explained the whole thing. Which I suppose makes as much sense as anything else in life. He knew he was close to the end and asked for one favor. Of course I’d have done anything for him but what he wanted was Fred, to see him one last time. He’d managed to track him down to where he was living in Italy where, it seems, he’d taken his honeymoon.
How I left the city for the Channel packet to Dieppe and how I hurried south to find Fred is the subject for another story at another time. All I will say is when they were all gathered at table—mother had to have the doors taken down between the drawing room and dining room to make room for everybody—Martha and Belinda were both married with children of their own and there was my wife and our boys and Mr. Scrooge so loved to have us all gathered round. ‘The one day,’ he used to say…
SCROOGE: The one day in the year we’re all together.
TIM: I’d telegraphed ahead and they’d set a place for me in case and the one for Fred as it always was—Mr. Scrooge had never given up hope one day he’d return—and how it was when we walked through the door together and Mr. Scrooge so frail and when he saw Fred—he was in a bad way, it took him a good while to start to get better but my wife insisted he come live with us till he could face the world again—but when Mr Scrooge saw him I thought he’d die of happiness right then. We took our places, Fred and I, and raised our glasses to Mr. Scrooge—after all, as my father liked to say, he was the founder of the feast. He didn’t last much beyond—knowing Fred was home he felt his work was done and he could go with a clear conscience, and so he did.
He’d seen much and learned much and through it all he remembered that Christmas in the past and as he liked to say when he looked round the table at all us gathered there together…
SCROOGE: God bless us.
TIM: God bless us every one!