Jacob Marley is the deceased partner of Ebenezer Scrooge and a supporting character in Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol.
In life, Jacob Marley was the business partner of Ebeneezer Scrooge. As teenagers, both men had been apprenticed in business and met as clerks in another business. The firm of Scrooge and Marley was a nineteenth-century financial institution, probably a counting house, as Marley refers to their offices as 'our money-changing hole'. They became successful bankers, with seats on the London Stock Exchange. He was named after Marley Tunnel in Devon, just outside Totnes because of Dickens' fond holiday memories of the town.
In A Christmas Carol, Jacob Marley is said to have died seven years earlier on Christmas Eve (as the setting is Christmas Eve 1843, this would have made the date of his passing December 24, 1836). It would be his ghost who would be Scrooge's first visitor (before the three other spirits to come).
Jacob Marley preys upon Scrooge's mind in many different ways, notably his face manifesting on the knocker on Ebenezer Scrooge's front door and causing the bells in his house to ring. The ghost maintains the same voice, hairstyle and sense of dress that he had in life, but is translucent. He wears a handkerchief tied about his jaws, and "captive, bound and double-ironed" with chains which are described as "long, and wound about him like a tail; it was made... of cash-boxes, keys, padlocks, ledgers, deeds, and heavy purses wrought in steel." He often, in moments of great despair or impatience at Scrooge's skepticism, flings these upon the ground before him and almost induces his former partner "into a swoon". He explains that it is the chain he unknowingly forged himself in life, as a result of his greed and selfishness. As he spent his life on this earth obsessing over money and mistreating the poor and wretched to fill his pocket, Marley is condemned as part of his "penance" to walk the earth for eternity never to find rest or peace, experiencing an "incessant torture of remorse."
When the specter asks, "Why do you doubt your senses?" Scrooge scoffs that "...a little thing affects them. A slight disorder of the stomach makes them cheat. You may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of an underdone potato. There's more of gravy than of grave about you, whatever you are!" Marley's only reply is a spine-chilling howl that brings Scrooge to his knees, begging for mercy.
Marley tells Scrooge that he will be visited by three spirits, and admonishes his former partner to listen to what they have to say, or Scrooge will suffer Marley's fate; he says that Scrooge's chain was as heavy as his seven years earlier, and remarks that "you have laboured on it since — it is a ponderous chain!"
Marley then departs into the night sky, surrounded by a countless horde of other spirits, some of whom were known to Scrooge when they were alive, all of them chained in a similar manner to Marley. Like Marley, they suffer endlessly as they struggle in vain to make up for their wasted lives by attempting to help a homeless mother and child.
- Whilst remorseful for his actions in life, the original novel operated off the Victorian idea of Hell in which once someone dies in their sins they are sentenced to eternal damnation, with Marley himself referring to his punishment as never-ending; thus most versions of Jacob Marley should do not go under the redeemed villains category.
A Christmas Carol