A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens (1843)

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First published on Dec. 17 1843 which was the early Victorian era: Prince Albert (who had quite recently married Queen Victoria in 1841) brought the custom of Christmas trees to UK, and thus it was fashionable to have one for those who could afford one. This story is a mix of several traditions old and new and it’s been argued that Dickens actually is the one who started the whole Christmas craze in popular culture. (Obviously, not the religious part as that had been well established for ages before – just the new traditions – Christmas tree etc.)

The first Christmas card is believed to have been sent in 1843, and carol singing also became more popular. This is reflected in the novella’s structure as it is divided into “staves” as opposed to chapters (“staves” being also a verse or stanza or a poem or song thus the link with Christmas music). This volume was instrumental in bringing the secular celebratory aspects of Christmas to the fore for Victorians: the plentiful rich food, family gatherings, and the other festive bits of the season.

Dickens_blackingThe novella came out of Dickens’ concern for the working poor children linked with his own experience of having to leave school at age of 12 and working in a blacking (boot polish) factory where he obviously didn’t fit in, class-wise, and where the other workers called him the “young gentleman”. He was strongly concerned with child poverty for the remainder of his life.
Several sources argue that the dichotomy of Scrooge could be linked to be the polarized feelings that Dickens felt for his father – he both loved him and hated him. (Bit of a psychological stretch for me, but you know lit crit.) The cycle of Scrooge developing from mean and hateful to a sweet and loving man could also reflect the changing of the seasons throughout the year, and how nature grows and changes. (Again, this might be a bit of ridiculous stretch in some ways.) And then I suppose one could argue that the redemptive aspect of the story could reflect the over-arching theme of the Nativity story in Christianity.

Christmas Carol took six weeks to write and due to the poor sales of Dickens’ previous book, he decided to take a percentage of profits from the publisher instead of one lump sum hoping to earn more money. However, this was a risk that did not pan out for him financially, as it ended up being a best seller and a critical success in both the UK and the US. (This was actually in wide circulation by the end of the American Civil War. It’s been argued that the sense of regeneration for Scrooge reflected the hope for regeneration for the US after the battles it had just been fighting.)

Although it wasn’t a tremendous money-making success, the book did sell loads of copies, so it was a popular story. Thought to have an influence on both Capra’s movie “It’s a Wonderful Life” and Seuss’ “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” – but haven’t there always been stories of regeneration and redemption? Point to ponder, methinks.

Its narrative plot was also used as a template for the later Dickens’ Christmas books (which I haven’t read). I did see a strong push by a US manufacturer to convince unsuspecting US shoppers that having a cricket on the heart was a long-standing English holiday tradition. (Not that I know of. At least it wasn’t in our house, and I had not heard of it until a few years ago in the stores.)

dickens_cricketBy 1849, Dickens was busy with other projects and decided that the best way to maintain public interest in the story (and its message) was through public readings, and according to Wiki, he completed more than 120 readings before his death. Portions of this book were part of his funeral address apparently.

Of course, there are the numerous stage and media productions of this, the most painful of which to experience would surely have to be the BBC production of the story in mime.

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