By Anne Holly
I have written before about what I like so much about holiday romance, though I never did intend on devoting so much of my writing career to this little faux subgenre. They just seem so magical to me – especially the autumn and winter ones, with their natural beauties. To write a holiday romance is to instantly connect with a well of emotions, memories and shared myths, and that’s a wonderful thing.
In myblog post for Daily Dose of Decadent last year, I explored Christmas romance in celebration of my own holiday story, Unwrapping Scrooge. I mentioned A Christmas Carol and how it gathers up so much of what’s special about the holidays. I wrote:
Christmas is the time when we have in our collective subconscious the two extremes –the optimistic Christmas lover, Tiny Tim, and the misanthropic cold hearted Scrooge, who wasn’t really a bad guy deep down. Really, he was just hurt by life. Now, most well-adjusted people fall some place in between, but those two extremes represent the spectrum of romance: Someone full of love, and someone who has had the love beaten out of them. Those are the characters to which I am naturally drawn – and the redemption that is achieved when the one overcomes the other, and the romance that pools in their bond when it all works out right in the end. This is likely the main reason I write so much about the holidays. It is a time of salvaging the human from the ravages of plans gone wrong, of love unrequited and of tragedy spilt over a life time.
I wrote that, and I still believe it. I am an optimist at heart, but it doesn’t come easy. Anyone who retains optimism into adulthood knows that it’s a decision one makes – not to forget or ignore all the setbacks and knocks, but to push through them and not let them get you down. This is where I’m at. Refusing to let life make a Scrooge out of me.
Now, Scrooge might appear to be an unlikely romantic icon, yet he is a character I wrestle with quite often. He and Mr. Darcy, to me, are the major templates for romantic characters. I can already hear people cursing at me, so let me repeat – Ebenezer Scrooge and Mr. Darcy are both romantic figures for me, but let me explain.
Part of what I write – why I even write in the first place – is my love of redemption. Since this is so rare and difficult in real life, I revel in my ability to create fictional accounts of characters turning their hearts around.
In the case of Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice, we have a gentleman who always believed himself to be moral, upright, and always correct. He was practically perfect, and he knew it, and carried on in smugness. It wasn’t that he was a bad guy, but a life of stability, comfort and everything coming too easily had worn down his natural instincts towards kindness. In the end, Elizabeth proved to be something he couldn’t have, for all his wealth and handsomeness, and it was in this challenge – the need to work for what he wanted – that he found a reason to wake up from his stupor of indulgence and become a real man. In so doing, he discovered that the price of being practically perfect was the need to be tolerant of those not as perfect, and he was all the more perfect for it.
For me, Pride and Prejudice is about as ideal a romance as they come – memorable, remarkable, yet completely lifelike and relatable, even after all these years. A Christmas Carol is just the same; one of those stories that has become our version of Hercules myths. Scrooge belongs to all of us, and we use him to understand the world. He is a modern legend, like Mr. Darcy.
But, Scrooge represents a different sort of romantic figure. He certainly is not perfect. He is neither handsome nor moral. He makes no pretense to charitable acts, and refuses even the bare minimum of social graces. In a sense, though despicable, Scrooge was a rebel, a bad boy, an anti-hero. Sadly, an old, ornery and unattractive one, I grant you, but he was definitely witty and sharp, and kind of cool in his edgy outsider-to-polite-society way. Scrooge was ahead of his times; he kept a washer woman, but not a cook, and made his own meals. He treated the gentry as poorly as he did the lower classes. He refused to opt into consumerism. All these things, though shown as rude, are not all that bad.
Now, Scrooge was, of course, a nasty fellow. I do admit that. His opinions on workhouses (which were horrendous institutions, where not just debtors but also their innocent children were incarcerated for the crime of being poor), and his inflammatory statement about the surplus population needing to die off… Well, while this opinion still floats around the edges of some less savory political debates, I really don’t think I have to explain why I disagree.
Yet, as I said last year, Scrooge is a tragic figure, despite his cruelty. I give Scrooge more compassion than he gave to others, because his life up to that point had convinced him his self-worth was nothing more than a bankroll, which is a horrible thing for anyone to believe. Left discarded by a father who despised him, and without a mother’s love, Scrooge was raised by an institution not much less mentally cruel than the workhouses – his school years were spent in the cold embrace of the Victorian boarding school, designed to raise exacting little men for the Empire. Without a loving home life to balance this, his spirit was crushed early. Only his sister showered warmth on him, and her company was denied to him by their father.
Though talented and not unfriendless, and able to secure an apprenticeship, Scrooge spent his young manhood struggling with the lessons he’d learned at school – the absolute requirement of a stable, sizable income for making a man worthy of a wife. In pursuit of this, for the sake of a future with his fiancé, he forgot the more pressing requirement: Love. She turned away when she saw how twisted he was becoming, and he didn’t know how to ask her to stay. He was on his road to filling the cashbox that had replaced his heart.
Shunned by society, except when they needed him as a financier, Scrooge continued to do what he did best – he made and traded money. Even with his business partner, there was no warmth. Only business. In this, Scrooge gives us his most valuable and enduring lesson, I think.
We all know the story from there. Scrooge’s partner, Marley, who he does describe as a friend when he begs for warmth from the spirit (an irony that bites compared to how little compassion and warmth he had shown to others), has come back to warn Scrooge. Why, we don’t really know. Perhaps Marley (who was dead to begin with, as the magnificent opening line informs us) was so remorseful of his life he had truly become compassionate and recalled Scrooge, who had been one of the closest near-friends during his life. In any event, Marley warns Scrooge, who then goes on a night journey with the ghost guides towards learning empathy and reviving his spirit. They are both gentle and harsh with him, exhibiting the same ups and downs as life – sometimes life is sweet and sometimes it is bitter, but it is always educational.
And then we have Scrooge’s grand awakening, and the thrill of his redemption, which never ceases to touch me, no matter how many versions of this story I have seen, read, consumed.
Scrooge, for me, is both a cautionary tale and a reminder that even the worst people can change. Though he is not dashing or pretty, he is a loveable character, simply because the people who least deserve love are often the ones most in need of it. There can be no doubt that his redemption is sincere, and that he turned from unheroic to heroic, at least for Tiny Tim. He had been frozen by life and loneliness, but he was saved by love – just like so many f the very best romance characters.
Romance, in essence, is a genre filled with the travails of life and tragic figures. People who learned awful lessons and took them too much to heart. But, like Tiny Tim, it is also an eternally optimistic genre. Good can win out. Love can, and must, prevail. Scrooge can become a hero, as long as someone takes an interest in his spirit and helps undo the ravages of life.
So, happy Christmas, and all the best for the New Year.
**And, in honour of the holidays, it’s my pleasure to offer a few special gifts to Decadent fans!
I will mail one winner a copy of the book A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. If you already own the book, have no fear – I am also offering, as a second prize, a copy of one of my favourite versions, the 1951 classic starring Alastair Sims, on DVD (may be Region 1 only). And, adding to all that, I have a SECRET, electronic prize up my sleeve, so the contest is open to international readers! Winners will be drawn and announced on January 2!
To enter, just comment, and tell me what you think of Scrooge, and which version you like best! (And, yes, the awesome Bill Murray version totally counts!)**
Anne Holly is a Canadian writer of romance and erotic-romance, as well as a mother and teacher. She has been published by Wild Horse Press, Decadent Publishing and Rebel Ink Press. Anne has found a special niche in holiday romance, and her work is characterized by its unusual heroes, sweet/spicy balance, witty dialogue, responsible citizenship, and its positive, optimistic nature. You can visit Anne at her blog (http://anneholly.blogspot.com/) or find her on Twitter @anneholly2010.