We don’t want to alarm you, but some of your favorite creators are/were really shitty human beings. Worse, the shittiest are often the very same ones dedicated to making the most wholesome, life-affirming art. That brings us to Charles Dickens, who wrote a bunch of classics, including the tale every single one of you will watch at least partially over the holidays: A Christmas Carol.
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The story has been credited with both revitalizing Christmas as an important holiday (for a while it was closer in relevance to Arbor Day) and popularizing certain Christmas traditions, like carols and getting together with your family to eat so much food that the limits of the human body are tested. It delivers a timeless, touching message about the importance of family and goodwill toward your fellow human being … a message that Dickens completely failed to follow in his own life.
Dickens Was A Monster To His Wife … Who Always Refused To Stoop To His Level
For starters, Dickens’ attitude toward family was far closer to Scrooge’s, except instead of being fueled by greed, he was just a horny old bastard. His ability to market orphans as adorable made him the 19th century version of a rock star, and like a rock star, he dumped his aging wife for an 18-year-old and didn’t give a shit who knew it. Yeah, it’s one thing to end a marriage; it’s quite another to make your hatred of your spouse as public as humanly possible, which is exactly what Dickens did.
Back in 1836, a then-unknown Dickens married Catherine Hogarth. By all accounts, it was a pleasant enough marriage (hell, it resulted in ten goddamned children). Then Catherine got fat. This was apparently an unforgivable sin in the Dickens household, where the ability to push out ten kids must surely mean you can at least do a couple of push-ups right after. So he went and got himself a mistress, actress Ellen Ternan. Now, cheating on your wife because she got old and overweight is bad, but what happened next truly exposed Dickens as a douche on the level of any evil orphanage destroyer in his books.
Once his affair was made public in 1858, Dickens went on the warpath, slandering his estranged wife in newspaper after newspaper and letter after letter. According to him, Catherine was a “donkey,” an “unloving and unloved mother,” not his intellectual equal, and entirely to blame for saddling him with so many noisy-ass children. What, was he banging her under the influence of hypnosis? Note that his annoyance over so many kids didn’t stop him from claiming custody of nine of them, with only the oldest, Charles Jr., being financially independent enough to flip his father the finger and stay with his mom.
Creating that whole “White Christmas” thing helped keep Dickens in the public’s good graces, but so did Catherine’s outright refusal to rebut. She never reacted to Dickens’ abuse and never rebuffed his public letters, or even spoke to a journalist. Literally her only comeback came on her deathbed in 1879, when she handed over a collection of letters Dickens wrote to her, with the plain request: “Give these to the British Museum, that the world may know he loved me once.”
Ebenezer Scrooge Was Based On A Real Guy, Who Was Not A Penny-Pinching Grump
So A Christmas Carol is more of a “Do as I say, not as I do” morality tale. But hey, there’s no shortage of hypocritical creatives in the world. What takes Dickens to the next level is the fact that one of his most famous characters is inspired by some random nobody who in no way deserved to be immortalized as a miserly penny-pincher. In 1841, Dickens was due to give a talk in Edinburgh and needed to kill some time beforehand. So he decided to walk through a graveyard, because the Victorians never got around to inventing non-creepy ways to have fun (we’ll come back to that in a moment). While this may seem like the setup to his lesser-known work Attack Of The Zombie Scotsmen, that night’s stroll in fact led to the creation of Ebenezer Scrooge.
As Dickens walked through what we assume was a thick Scottish fog, he saw the gravestone for a guy named Ebenezer Lennox Scroggie. The grave identified him as a “meal man,” a reference to the fact that he sold cornmeal. But due to a combination of the gloom and Dickens’ own mild dyslexia, he mistook the words for “mean man.” Which, damn, talk about a rough way to be remembered.
Dickens was struck by a memorial that he thought would have “shriveled” Scroggie’s soul by having to take “such a terrible thing to eternity.” Two years later, he released his story about a man whose legacy of stinginess would haunt him from beyond the grave, and thanks to Dickens, it’s now about as popular to name your kids Ebenezer as it is to call them Adolf.
Ironically, the real Scroggie was a wild and promiscuous party animal who got in trouble with the Church of Scotland for both knocking up a servant out of wedlock (supposedly in a graveyard, because it seems that’s where Scottish people liked to hang out back then) and interrupting the General Assembly of the church by grabbing a countess’ ass. Had Dickens known Scroggie’s real-life story, it’s possible A Christmas Carol would be a whiskey-fueled porno about a man who visits the Christmases of his various illegitimate children and probably fails to learn a lesson about appropriate behavior.
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As it is, one of the most famous literary characters in history came about because one of the greatest writers in history couldn’t read a four-letter word. But that’s not even the creepiest way we can associate Dickens with the dead …
Dickens Had A Creepy Thing For Corpses
Dickens was really into visiting the Paris public morgue and looking at dead bodies for the sheer hell of it. He would just go and stare at them, contemplating all the little aspects that went into the vacant expression of a deceased person. He didn’t do this to ruminate about the existence of the human soul, or to lament the tragic passing of another victim of society’s injustices; he simply liked looking at dead folk, in the same way that other people like looking at trains or exotic dancers. We can’t even say he was researching some book, because he never really touched the subject in his fiction.
In reality, not even Dickens knew what this morbid obsession was about. “I am dragged by an invisible force into the Morgue,” he once wrote, possibly sporting a major boner. One time he forced his friend Maclise to come with him to the morgue, and then called him a pussy when the corpses made him upset (but with fancier words). Another time, he witnessed an execution by guillotine in Rome and stuck around to examine the body, describing the “apparent annihilation of the neck.” We’d have to check, but we’re reasonably sure that this sentence doesn’t appear anywhere in A Christmas Carol.
Speaking of which, his addiction to death was such that he even went to the morgue on Christmas day. Think about it, that’s how Charles Dickens spent his holidays: gawking at rotting corpses.
A Christmas Carol worked because it put a human face on the holiday and reminded people about the importance of enjoying life and loving one another. And that message was given to us by a man who abandoned his own family to go bone a teenager and was more interested in spending Christmas with the dead than the living. Life is complicated, kids.
The information in this article first appeared in 5 Beloved Celebrities Everyone Forgets Did Terrible Things, 6 Famous Authors Who Were Nothing Like You Expect, and 5 Random Coincidences That Invented Modern Pop Culture!
We’d like to stand by all our previous statements that Scrooge McDuck is the best Scrooge.
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