The Man Who Invented Christmas:
Charles Dickens & A Christmas Carol

Introduction | Part One | Part Two

Part One

Charles Dickens, 1812-1870. “A Christmas Dinner,"sketches by boz from Sketches by Boz, illustrative of every-day life and every-day people.
Two volumes. London: John Macrone, 1836.

Dickens’s first writing on the Christmas theme, this essay originally appeared signed “Tibbs,” under the title “Christmas Festivities,” in Bell’s Life in London and Sporting Chronicle, Dec. 27, 1835, before its publication here in book form.  Dickens concludes by asserting that family Christmas family dinners do more to arouse human sympathy and perpetuate good feeling “Than all the homilies that have ever been written, by all the Divines that have ever lived.”

Charles Dickens. “A Good-humouredpickwick club part 10 Christmas Chapter,” from The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club. Part X. London : Chapman and Hall, 1836.

happy, happy christmasBecause Dickens usually published his novels in serial form, he took the opportunity of introducing appropriate seasonal incidents, rather as in a modern long-running television series. Displayed here are two of the original blue-wrappered number parts, one open to show Dickens’s paean to “Happy, happy Christmas, that can win us back to the delusions of our childish days.”

“A Christmas Tree,” Household Words, I: 39 (December 21, 1850), 288-295.

The Christmas Tree only became fashionable in England inn the 1840s, following Queen Victoria’s marriage to her German Prince Consort, Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. Dickens opened the first Christmas issue of his new (and widely successful) new weekly magazine with an article on the new “pretty German toy,” but even within this first page he has slipped into reminiscence of his childhood Christmases, well before Prince Albert’s arrival.


“That pretty German toy, a Christmas tree.”  Engraving in the Illustrated London News, Christmas Nchristmas treeumber, 1848.

While crowns and thrones topple throughout Europe in the Year of Revolutions,  Prince Albert, Queen Victoria,  and the first installments of their extensive family, gather delightedly round the palace Christmas tree.

Charles Dickens, The Christmas Carol . . . A facsimile reproduction of the author’s original manuscript. With an introduction by F. G. Kitton. London: Elliot Stock, 1890.

The idea for Dickens’s most famous Christmas book camethe christmas carol to him during a brief visit to Manchester, early in October 1843. Although he was committed to writing monthly parts for his serial-in-progress Martin Chuzzlewit, his financial needs were pressing, and he had the new book ready for his printers by the second week in November. The original of the autograph manuscript, only 68 pages long, is now in the Pierpont Morgan Library, New York, Shown here . from the published facsimile are Dickens’s revisions to the discussion of Marley’s death, together with a transcription of the same passage.

Charles Dickens, A Chchristmas carol in prose being a ghost story for christmasristmas Carol in prose being a ghost story for Christmas. With illustrations by John Leech. London: Chapman and Hall, 1843.

The small format, decorative gilt binding, and coloured illustrations indicate the book’s aim at the Christmas giftbook market. Dickens indeed had visions of earning a quick 1000 pounds with it, and it was an immediate success with both critics and the public. W. M. Thackeray, not himself yet known as a novelist, commented in Fraser’s Magazine, “Who can listen to objections regarding such a book as this? It seems to me a national benefit, and to every man or woman who reads it a personal kindness.. . . What a feeling is this for a writer to be able to  inspire, and what a reward to reap!”   Linked here are images of the binding and of Leech’s illustration of Marley’s ghost appearing to the dyspeptic Scrooge.

John Leech, Fezziwig’s Ball
fezziwig's ball
A beautiful reproduction of Leech’s famous frontispiece for A Christmas Carol, from the luxurious Nonesuch Press edition of Dickens’s works, published in the 1930s. 

Publishing Details on A Christmas Carol
The book was officially published on December 19, 1843, and by Christmas Eve, five days later, it had already sold six thousand copies, at three shillings and sixpence each. As Robert Patten has shown inDickens and his publishers, the production costs for the book’s decorative presentation were much greater, and Dickens’s share of the books profit was much smaller, than he had initially hoped.  According to Patten's figures, of the total production costs of L855, only L74 were for printing, and L89 for paper, while L194 went for illustrations (L120 for the hand-coloring) L180 on binding, and L314 on publisher's commission and advertising.  Total receipts were L992, leaving a balance for Dickens himself of L137 after expenses.  But he published the book on commission, retaining copyright, and its long-term popularity more than made up for the (relative) short-term disappointment.

Introduction | Part One | Part Two

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