This Day In Writing History
On December 17th, 1843, A Christmas Carol, the classic novella by the legendary English writer Charles Dickens, was published in London. (Sometimes the publication date is mistakenly listed as December 19th.)
Dickens began writing the book in October of 1843 and completed it in six weeks, with the final pages written during the first week of December.
After feuding with his publisher over the small amount of money he'd earned for his novel Martin Chuzzlewit, Dickens declined a lump-sum payment for A Christmas Carol and chose to take royalties instead.
The novella's first edition run of 6,000 copies sold out by Christmas Eve, but because of high production costs, Dickens only earned £230 and not the £1,000 he expected - and needed badly, as his wife had become pregnant again.
Although it didn't earn him as much as he'd hoped, A Christmas Carol proved to be a huge critical success, something Dickens also needed badly, after the failure of Martin Chuzzlewit.
A scathing satire ahead of its time, Martin Chuzzlewit was controversial for its assault on American hypocrisy and barbarity. Dickens, a ferocious abolitionist, had no use for America, having visited the country and witnessed firsthand the atrocities of slavery.
A Christmas Carol continued to sell well, and soon, the author saw more of a profit. In January of 1844, less than a month after its first edition release, it appeared in a pirated edition.
Dickens sued Farley's Illuminated Library, the publishers of the pirate edition, and won. Unfortunately, the company declared bankruptcy to avoid paying him damages, leaving him no compensation and owing £700 in legal expenses.
To fight future piracy, Dickens periodically tweaked his manuscript for A Christmas Carol and republished it in revised editions, something many writers did back when copyright laws were inadequate or nonexistent.
The piracy of A Christmas Carol was still a bitter disappointment for Dickens, as he felt a special affection for the novella's lessons in love and generosity that he wanted to teach the world.
Dickens based A Christmas Carol on both his own experiences and American writer Washington Irving's tales of the traditional old English Christmas and its customs.
In 1824, when Dickens was twelve years old, his prosperous, middle class father's financial mismanagement ruined the family. Unable to pay his creditors, he was arrested for debt. The Dickens family was sent to debtor's prison.
One family member avoided imprisonment - the precocious, intellectual Charles, who was forced to leave school, pawn his collection of books, and go to work in a factory to pay off his father's debts.
In early 1843, Dickens toured the Cornish tin mines and saw children working in appalling conditions. He also visited one of several London schools that had been set up to educate the city's large population of half-starved, illiterate street children.
Remembering his own horrific experiences as a child laborer, Dickens researched the effect of the Industrial Revolution on poor children. He gave a speech at the Manchester Athenaeum urging employers and workers to work together to fight illiteracy.
Dickens wrote and planned to publish a low-cost political pamphlet, An Appeal to the People of England, on Behalf of the Poor Man's Child, but changed his mind and put off the publication.
Instead, he tried to inspire compassion for the poor through his beloved novella, A Christmas Carol. Its main character, Ebenezer Scrooge, had been partly based on Dickens as a child before his family's financial ruin.
As a young boy, he'd had a strong sense of intellectual and class superiority. When he was forced to work alongside other poor children (and adults), his initial humiliation and anger were transformed into a deep, lifelong compassion for the poor.
A Christmas Carol opens on Christmas Eve, seven years after the death of Ebenezer Scrooge's business partner, Jacob Marley. Scrooge is a greedy and heartless moneylender and landlord who overworks and grossly underpays his loyal, hardworking clerk, Bob Cratchit.
Scrooge hates Christmas, and famously dismisses the holiday as humbug. After grudgingly allowing Cratchit to take Christmas Day off, Scrooge leaves for home, where he is haunted by the ghost of Jacob Marley.
Tormented and wrapped in heavy chains built link by link by his sins, Marley warns Scrooge that he will suffer the same fate if he doesn't change his ways. He tells Scrooge that three more spirits will haunt him.
The Ghost of Christmas Past brings Scrooge back to his past, a time when he cared about people and loved Christmas - before tragedy broke his heart and greed warped his soul. The Ghost of Christmas Present exposes Scrooge to the plight of the poor.
The ghost takes Scrooge to observe Bob Cratchit and his family, who are struggling to survive on the slave wages that Scrooge pays him. He also shows Scrooge how his nephew Fred - the son of his beloved sister who died in childbirth - still loves him despite the fact that Scrooge disowned him.
The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come proves to be the scariest spirit, tormenting Scrooge with a vision of the death of Tiny Tim - Bob Cratchit's crippled and sick little son - which could have been prevented.
He also shows Scrooge a vision of his own death, where nobody mourns him. Scrooge repents, awakening on Christmas morning with joy in his heart, vowing to be kind and keep the spirit of the holiday with him always.
Needless to say, A Christmas Carol became hugely popular, a classic reread every year at Christmastime. Dickens' readers begged him to write another holiday story, so from 1844-48, he published some Christmas-themed short stories.
They sold well, but the critics trashed them. By 1849, Dickens decided that he was done writing Christmas stories, but he wanted to reach out to people with his "Carol philosophy." So, he began performing public readings of A Christmas Carol during the holiday season.
Dickens' first public reading of A Christmas Carol took place in 1853. It was an unabridged reading; for later performances, Dickens prepared an abridged text to read. He would perform 127 public readings of his holiday novella.
His last performance was in 1870 - the year of his death. In 1867, while on his first and only public reading tour of America, Dickens performed a reading in Boston on Christmas Eve.
One of the spectators, a factory owner named Fairbanks, was so moved by the story that he experienced a Scrooge-like transformation and sent every one of his employees a turkey.
A Christmas Carol would be adapted numerous times for the stage, screen, radio, and television. The first stage play adaptation opened on February 5th, 1844 - less than two months after the novella was published - and became a hit.
The novella would be adapted for the screen numerous times. The best known and best loved film version is the 1951 British production starring Alistair Sim as Scrooge.
In 2009, Disney released a 3D animated adaptation starring the voice of Jim Carrey as Scrooge, whose name would enter the English lexicon as a synonym for the word miser.
A Christmas Carol remains one of the all-time greatest works of English literature and a treasured holiday classic.
Quote Of The Day
"It is a fair, even-handed, noble adjustment of things, that while there is infection and disease in sorrow, there is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good-humour." - Charles Dickens
Today's video features a complete reading of Charles Dickens' classic novella, A Christmas Carol. Enjoy!