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The most well-known Scrooge is avaricious

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    A COLD-hearted miser bullied by ghosts into gaining a conscience has triumphed over a festering, jilted bride and an alcoholic, nihilistic barrister - not to mention the odd pickpocket and escaped convict - to be named the most popular Charles Dickens character.

    Ebenezer Scrooge, from Dickens's A Christmas Carol, saw off many of the writer's best known creations, including Miss Havisham, Sydney Carton, the Artful Dodger, Fagin, Nancy, and Magwitch in a Penguin Books poll commissioned to mark the 200th anniversary of Dickens' birth today.

    Sir Alec Guinness plays Marley's Ghost in the 1976 film <i>Scrooge</i>.

    Sir Alec Guinness plays Marley's Ghost in the 1976 film Scrooge.

    The top 10 is light on unadulterated goodness, with only Pip and Joe Gargery from Great Expectations and Betsey Trotwood from David Copperfield representing the kinder faces among the Dickensian ranks.

    Although the list is heavily slanted towards Great Expectations and Oliver Twist, Oliver himself was left wanting more votes at No. 11.

    Claire Tomalin, whose acclaimed biography of Dickens was published last year, said Scrooge's popularity was surprising, given that his 21st-century equivalent might be a banker.

    ''But Dickens excelled in creating villains, and always gave them more energy and brio than his good characters, so that we never forget them,'' she said. ''Scrooge is a monster, a wicked employer and a heartless miser, but he is allowed to repent and see the error of his ways.''

    Some of Britain's best-selling authors also picked their favourite Dickens characters.

    Tim Lott and Josephine Cox opted for Pip and Oliver respectively; Freya North chose Uriah Heep, describing him as a ''loathsome character who seeps from the pages like a noxious gas''; and Daisy Goodwin went for ''the anti-heroine of Bleak House'', Lady Dedlock.

    Tomalin also lamented young readers' inability to get to grips with Dickens. ''Today's children have very short attention spans because they are being reared on dreadful TV programs which are flickering away in the corner,'' she said.

    ''Children are not being educated to have prolonged attention spans and you have to be prepared to read steadily for a Dickens novel.''



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