What the Dickens!

Charles Dickens’ seasonal novella ‘A Christmas Carol’ is a perennial Christmas favourite which has not been out of print since it was first published on 19th December 1843 by Chapman and Hall of London with four illustrations by John Leech (1817-1843). The first issue of 6,000 sold out by Christmas Eve and there were two more issues before the New Year.

Dickens was aware of the poverty that existed in Victorian London and he was especially concerned about the suffering of children. He had experienced hard times in his own childhood when his father was imprisoned for debt. At first Dickens was going to publish a pamphlet entitled ‘An Appeal to the People of England on behalf of the Poor Man’s Child’ but changed his mind and wrote ‘A Christmas Carol’ within six weeks. He felt that he could reach more people with a deeply felt Christmas narrative than with a polemical pamphlet. The treatment of the poor and the ability of a selfish man, Ebenezer Scrooge, to redeem himself by transforming into a more sympathetic character are the key themes of the book. The Ghost of Christmas Present has two emaciated children hidden in his robes named ‘Ignorance’ and ‘Want’.

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‘Ignorance’ and ‘Want’ from Quentin Blake’s ‘A Christmas Carol’.

‘A Christmas Carol’ was written during the mid- Victorian period when the British were exploring and re-evaluating past Christmas traditions including carols and including newer customs such as Christmas trees. One of the writers who influenced Dickens was the American author Washington Irving whose 1819-20 work ‘The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent’ included four essays on old English Christmas traditions. Family gatherings, seasonal food and drink, dancing, games and a festive generosity of spirit were all popularised by ‘A Christmas Carol’.

By the end of 1948 there were eight rival theatrical productions of ‘A Christmas Carol’ running in London.  Dickens began public readings of the novella in 1849 and gave a further 127 performances until his death in 1870. The first film version was a black and white silent version released in 1901. Since then there have been numerous film and television adaptations and even an opera and a ballet. Who can forget the 1992 musical film ‘A Muppet Christmas Carol’ with an admirably straight-faced Michael Caine as Scrooge? The story’s popularity has not waned with at least six theatrical adaptations countrywide this year.

In the Library’s Curriculum Resources Collection you can choose from several versions of ‘A Christmas Carol’. Apart from “standard” copies of the text, there is a 1995 edition which has been lavishly illustrated by Quentin Blake. In contrast to Blake’s generally cheery pictures, the tone of the 2008 ‘A Christmas Carol. The Graphic Novel’ is much darker.

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The Ghost of Christmas Present from ‘A Christmas Carol. The Graphic Novel.

Michael Foreman also illustrated ‘A Christmas Carol’ in 1989. For younger readers there is a 2003 edition abridged by Vivian French with illustrations by Patrick Benson.

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Michael Foreman’s version of ‘The Ghost of Christmas Present.’

Mike Gould’s ‘A Christmas Carol. Student Guide’ (2017) and Sue Bennet and Dave Stockwin’s ‘A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. Study and Revise for GCSE’ (2016) are examples of the help available for those studying the book at school.

The 2017 children’s novel by Michael Rosen ‘Bah! Humbug! A magical retelling of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol’ illustrates the enduring influence of the story.

 

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