By Jim Parks
Ebenezer Scrooge has gotten a bum rap.
Charles Dickens makes it clear that Mr. Scrooge was like a second father to Tiny Tim and "became as good a friend, as good a master (employer), and as good a man, as the good old city (London, England) knew or any other good old city, town or borough, in the good old world." But generations of readers, listeners and viewers in the 106 years
It is doubtful that Charles Dickens intended it that way.
Gerald Charles Dickens wonders what
his literary ancestor would think of Christmas commercialized far beyond his wildest imaginings. "I rather believe that, as he looks down at us, he’s of two minds, amusement and horror," Gerald Dickens said.
Gerald is Charles Dickens’s great great grandson. Very personable and engaging, the 36-year-old actor brought not only Scrooge and other characters to life but also established a feeling of having met and spoken with the author himself.
‘A Christmas Carol’ was the favorite among Charles Dickens’s many works. Although he wrote it for income, he later said that he laughed and cried over it as he did over no other story. That it has endured and is still being enjoyed by people of all ages would have pleased him, Gerald Dickens said. That the Christmases-yet-to-come he apparently foresaw have come to pass would not.
The contemporary Dickens presented a singular version of the holiday classic to about 300 adults and children in an animated one-man performance Nov. 26 at the Riverfront Art Center in Wilmington. He delighted the audience with his impersonations of all 26 of the story's characters -- ranging from the saucy urchin sent to fetch a turkey to a hysterically tearful Bob Cratchit -- and non-stop gyrations across the stage, through the aisles seats and, at one point, even leaving the auditorium.
To the extent Gerald Dickens is of the familial bloodline and bears a striking resemblance to his famed forebear, his performance could be deemed the most authentic of the hundreds of interpretations the story that will be staged between now and Christmas
Not necessarily so, he said during a conversation with Delaforum. It is up to each person to find what they will in the story.
Charles Dickens was a reporter, not a reformer. Although he dealt with the social ills of early Victorian England, he saw his function as informing the public of what was happening so people could make up their own minds. His works were part of the mass media of the time and he insisted that they be published in cheap editions so they would have wide circulation.
‘A Christmas Carol’ was published in 1843, the same year that Prince Albert introduced to England the German custom of a festooning a tree and the first Christmas card went on the market. Whether relative or not, it also was holiday following the author’s first visit to
America, where he found pretense and hypocrisy to be something of national traits.
"The holiday was beginning the process of change from a family day to what it has since become. That is what he was writing about," Gerald Dickens said. The story is entirely secular, with only a virtually incidental mention of the Cratchits having attended a church service.
'A Christmas Carol’ works even today because it is straightforward and the characters are universal, he added. "There’s a bit of Scrooge and a bit of Cratchit in all of us."
There may have been an actual Scrooge; whether or not he was a model for the fictional character will probably never be known. Gerald Dickens, however, has come upon an illustration depicting a scene in the London financial district, circa 1840, which includes a sign reading ‘Scrooge, Broker’. He also met a man named Marley, who claimed that his great grandfather knew Charles Dickens. Dickens’s Scrooge & Marley was a money-lending firm.
Source of inspiration aside, Charles Dickens created the characters – Gerald Dickens portrays all 26 of them in his performance – using dialogue to bring them alive. "He composed his dialogue facing a mirror. He would speak and gesture until he had it the way he wanted and then he’d sit down and write it," Gerald Dickens said.
The result was that Dickens’s novels and stories were a sort of precursors of radio scripts. That Lionel Barrymore’s annual production in that medium before the arrival of television established ‘A Christmas Carol’ as an American holiday tradition – Gerald Dickens agrees the story is more popular on this side of the Atlantic than on his – demonstrates that. Gerald Dickens has never heard Barrymore’s portrayal of Scrooge.
Although he, of course, knew of his literary ancestor, Gerald Dickens grew up without ascribing much significance to that accident of birth. "We read Dickens in school, but nobody really cared and I couldn’t be bothered about it." He was, however, "bitten by the acting bug" when eight years old and went on to a career as an actor, theatrical producer and arranger of corporate motivation and similar presentations.
In 1993, the sesquicentennial of its publication, he agreed to stage a version of ‘A Christmas Carol’ for a charitable organization in his home community in Kent, about 50 miles from London. "It went over well. It was successful far beyond any expectations," he said. One thing led to another and "we decided to take it on the road." In 1996, he made the first of what have become annual American tours.
Gerald Dickens, 36, said his visit to Delaware was a highlight of this year’s tour. Like his ancestor during an 1868 American tour, he was a guest at the Wren’s Nest, now Darley Manor Inn, in Claymont where his American illustrator, Felix Darley, hosted Charles Dickens during his second American tour. Innkeepers Ray and Judith Hester, the Felix Darley Society and the Claymont Historical Society were instrumental in arranging the stop and the Riverfront appearance.
"I’m getting a chance to relax a bit, like he did, in the same house and to walk in the same rooms that he did," Gerald Dickens said. "And from here I go on to perform in Tremont Temple in Boston, where he performed. This is my fourth tour, but the first time I’ve been in the same [venues] as Charles Dickens and it happens that they’re back-to-back stops."