In the story A Christmas Carol, what business did Scrooge and Marley run?

In the story A Christmas Carol, Scrooge and Marley run a money lending business, referred to as a "counting-house" in the book. Scrooge loans people money and then collects debts with a profit, and he is known as being a merciless debt collector.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In the third paragraph of stave one, "Marley's Ghost," of Charles Dickens's novella A Christmas Carol, the reader learns that Ebenezer Scrooge "was an excellent man of business." The questions is, of course, what business?

Scrooge’s name was good upon ’Change, for anything he chose to put his hand to. (Stave I)

"'Change" refers to the Royal Exchange, which was the financial center of London during Dickens's time, where merchants, brokers, commodities dealers, and insurers met to make financial arrangements and agreements. Despite the fact that Scrooge was disliked as a person, he had a good financial reputation. This doesn't tell the reader what Scrooge did, only that he was good at it, whatever it was.

Scrooge never painted out Old Marley’s name. There it stood, years afterwards, above the warehouse door: Scrooge and Marley. The firm was known as Scrooge and Marley. (stave I)

Dickens mentions two different warehouses in A Christmas Carol. The first is the warehouse outside which the "Scrooge and Marley" sign hangs, and the second is the warehouse where Scrooge was apprenticed to Mr. Fezziwig, which Scrooge visits with the Ghost of Christmas Past in stave II, "The First of Three Spirits."

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, "warehouse" can mean a large building in which "wares" of different kinds are "housed," which is what Fezziwig's warehouse appears to be. Dickens describes Fezziwig's warehouse as large enough to accommodate a party for all of the warehouse workers and others in the neighborhood and their energetic dancing—"twenty couples at once" (stave II).

"Warehouse" can also mean a simple shop or storefront establishment, such as Scrooge's warehouse appears to be. Dickens describes Scrooge's warehouse as no more than two small rooms—Scrooge's office and "the Tank" in which a freezing Bob Cratchit labors, "copying letters"—although there might well be other rooms which Dickens doesn't mention.

Once upon a time—of all the good days in the year, on Christmas Eve—old Scrooge sat busy in his counting-house. (Stave I)

During Victorian times, a counting-house could be a bookkeeping or accounting office or department of a larger merchant business, possibly with its own rooms in a large building, or a storefront, such as Scrooge's seems to be. All of these references provide the environment in which Scrooge conducts his business, but none of them describes his actual business.

Scrooge is a miser, loner, and recluse, but he doesn't sequester himself in his counting-house unceasingly counting his money, which is the common perception of him. Scrooge regularly conducts business outside his office, which is revealed in stave IV.

Scrooge meets with merchants at the Royal Exchange, for example, where he has an "accustomed corner" where he can be found at a certain time of the day. Scrooge has also spent some time cultivating a financial relationship with two wealthy "men of business." It's possible that Scrooge manages the financial accounts of these merchants and businessmen, or perhaps he even has partnerships arrangements of some kind with them. In other words, Scrooge's business interests might be diversified.

The most specific reference to Scrooge's "business" is also found in stave IV. A man returns home to his wife, Caroline, and their children, with news that a person to whom they own money—presumably Ebenezer Scrooge, judging from the overall content of this Stave—has died. Caroline and her husband are happy to hear about Scrooge's death, and thankful to be rid of "so merciless a creditor."

In addition to whatever other business or businesses with which Scrooge is involved—the details about which he apparently shares with no one, not even Charles Dickens—he's a despised money-lender with a reputation for merciless foreclosures which ruin people's lives, and who wouldn't hesitate to invoke the Poor Laws and send debtors to debtors' prison, to the treadmills, or to the workhouses, the establishments which, as Scrooge says in stave I, "I help to support."

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Scrooge and Marley owned a money lending business, called a counting-house in the book, loaning people money and collecting debts with interest for profit. Their firm was known as Scrooge and Marley, and after Marley died, Scrooge never changed the name. His business has a public storefront, referred to as a "warehouse" in the book, and Scrooge employs a clerk to assist him with office tasks: Bob Cratchit. Scrooge intentionally leaves the door of his "counting-house" open so that he can keep an eye on Bob. Scrooge is known for being miserly and uncaring in his debt collections. In stave 4, Scrooge is even shown a vision of the future where people celebrate his death:

“To whom will our debt be transferred?”
“I don’t know. But before that time we shall be ready with the money; and even though we were not, it would be a bad fortune indeed to find so merciless a creditor in his successor. We may sleep to-night with light hearts, Caroline!”

Scrooge is known to those who are forced to borrow money from him as being "merciless" in his collections. His attempts to collect debt have been so cruel that his death causes great feelings of thankfulness among even the kindest souls; in this segment, Caroline is sorry for her reaction of thankfulness and immediately prays for forgiveness. Still, her joy at the news of Scrooge's death demonstrates his tightfisted business practices toward his clients.

Scrooge loses the one love of his life because he prioritizes money over love. When he visits the past, Scrooge is reminded of a conversation with Belle, his former fiancée. She contends that she has been replaced by a "golden" idol—money. She reminds him that they were both poor when they met, and they shared an equal love. However, as Scrooge has begun to amass wealth in his business, his noble qualities have disappeared, consumed by greed:

I have seen your nobler aspirations fall off one by one, until the master-passion, Gain, engrosses you. Have I not?

Scrooge's business of making profits through his debt collections has come to consume his life when the ghosts visit him.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Scrooge and Marley own a counting-house. Today, this is a business function that would be carried out by book-keepers and accountants. Yet there are also references in the story to warehouses, implying that Scrooge and Marley are involved in some kind of wholesale business. In Victorian England there were many businesses that took on the role of middlemen, so firms like Scrooge & Marley's often carried out a number of related functions that would nowadays be done by specialist firms.

The firm's money-lending role may be a formal one, or could it simply be a sideline to its main business. Scrooge and Marley are incredibly rich and successful men, operating a thriving business in a poor part of town. They would, then, have counted on a regular stream of customers beating a path to their door in order to borrow money. This would've enabled them, in turn, to lend money at extortionate rates of interest, making them incredibly rich while their clients remained poor.

Whatever the precise nature of Scrooge and Marley's business, there can be little doubt that it takes more out of the local community than it puts back. It doesn't really create anything; it simply makes money out of money. Such unproductive business, and the greed it generates, make it a prime symbol of the soullessness and rampant exploitation of unrestrained Victorian capitalism.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In A Christmas Carol, Ebenezer Scrooge and his now-deceased partner, Jacob Marley, were owners of a money lending business.  There are several ways in which we know this.  First, there are several references in Stave One that place Ebenezer in his "counting-house," which in Dickens' time referred to the office of a money lender.  Just before Marley's ghost appears, Ebenezer is described as reconciling his banker's book, another indication that he works with money and with individual accounts.  Finally, when the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come shows Ebenezer the impact of his future death, we see people rejoicing that, now that Scrooge has died, there will be no one to collect upon their debts and their debts will, in effect, be forgiven.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial