Search This Blog

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

More on Scrooge (a Dickens' Diagnosis)

Charles Dickens created some fascinating characters and his attention to detail was remarkable. This article examines Dickens' treatment of quirks and eccentricities in characthers--that might now be diagnosed as disease states.

For example: "In 'The Pickwick Papers,'Dickens writes about Joe, a young man known for his love of food, generous build and uncanny ability to fall asleep anywhere. In 1956, 120 years after 'The Pickwick Papers' began serialization, Dr. C. S. Burwell and his colleagues published a medical case report titled 'Extreme Obesity Associated With Alveolar Hypoventilation: A Pickwickian Syndrome.' ”

In my favorite Dickens' novel: "Another character, Mr. Krook, an eccentric shop owner in 'Bleak House,' is described in the following way: 'He’ll never read. He can make all the letters separately and he knows most of them separately when he sees them ... but he can’t put them together' to make words. This is thought to be the first recorded example of a case of dyslexia — a difficulty that wasn’t recognized as a neurological disorder until nearly 50 years later. "

The article, however, begins and ends with Scrooge. What pathological process could be responsible for his Christmas Eve experience? What form of dementia? There are some interesting possibilities.

The author concludes: "It’s clear that once again Dickens has identified a disease, in this case a full century and a half before medicine did. What then of Scrooge’s miraculous transformation from stingy, miserable wretch to the embodiment of giving and generosity? No disease can account for that. Perhaps that is the true miracle of the story and, maybe, the real meaning of Christmas."


  1. What a fascinating article. Thanks for pointing it out. I had missed it.


  2. Mary - It is an interesting concept, isn't it?