The Reading Room

The Spirit of Christmas, Scrooge, and Dante

What could possibly connect the spirit of Christmas, A Christmas Carol’s Ebenezer Scrooge, and Dante’s Inferno? Though they are differing representations at the literal level, each work portrays a similar underlying religious ideology, in particular one which values charity and despises avarice. 
The Christmas spirit is based either on the charitable actions of Santa or Jesus, depending to what one extent one is American or Christian. To be avaricious, or greedy, therefore is antithetical to “the Christmas Spirit.” Here is the initial description of Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol
Oh! But he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge! a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster. The cold within him froze his old features, nipped his pointed nose, shrivelled his cheek, stiffened his gait; made his eyes red, his thin lips blue; and spoke out shrewdly in his grating voice. A frosty rime was on his head, and on his eyebrows, and his wiry chin. He carried his own low temperature always about with him; he iced his office in the dog-days; and didn’t thaw it one degree at Christmas. (A Christmas Carol, Stave 1; my emphases)
Scrooge, therefore, who even begrudges granting Bob Cratchit a single day off (Christmas); “A poor excuse for picking a man’s pocket every twenty-fifth of December,” is avaricious to the core. He is miserly and cruel and will not even give charity to the poor on Christmas Eve and even frowns at the use of the word “liberality” in his presence. But by the end of visitations from both his former partner, Marley, and three temporally titled spirits, he insists on sending “the prize turkey,” on his bill, to the nephew of his beloved and sadly deceased sister.
 Though Scrooge is clearly a covetous old miser, where does Dante ever mention avarice, and what is his connection to the spirit of Christmas, anyway? Though there has been some speculation that A Christmas Carol owes some tribute to Dante’s work, the material relationship is unproven. The analogical relationship between Dickens's and Dante’s representations of avarice is very much present, however. Dante includes avaricious souls in the fourth circle of his Inferno, alongside those who spent too liberally, the prodigals. They are guarded themselves by a babbling Plutus, and the notion underlying their punishment is that though they knew the price of everything, they knew the true value of nothing, like Oscar Wilde’s description of a miser. Dante completes this thought by having Virgil give a speech on the fortuitous and capricious nature of worldly wealth and its relationship to Lady Fortune:
And he to me: “O unenlightened creatures,how deep—the ignorance that hampers you!
I want you to digest my word on this.

Who made the heavens and who gave them guides
was He whose wisdom transcends everything;
that every part may shine unto the other,
He had the light apportioned equally;
similarly, for wordly splendors, He
ordained a general minister and guide

to shift, from time to time, those empty goods
from nation unto nation, clan to clan,
in ways that human reason can’t prevent;

just so, one people rules, one languishes,
obeying the decision she has given,
which, like a serpent in the grass, is hidden.

Your knowledge cannot stand against her force;
for she foresees and judges and maintains
her kingdom as the other gods do theirs. (Inf.7.73-87)
Dante has Virgil suggest that due to the capriciousness of fortune the value of “worldly splendors” is null, particularly because reason can do nothing to prevent the inevitable passing away of material prosperity. This would suggest that goods of more eternal, less-evanescent value, would be of actual, rather than apparent, value for Dante. Such a good, far from tangible, however, would be something like the intangible virtue of charity, which governs the generous Christian season. And is a virtue that Scrooge—prior to his visit from his usurious former partner and three ghosts—was in short supply of, like the clergymen who occupy Dante’s fourth circle of hell (Inf.7.46-48)!