A history of ‘A Christmas Carol’

(Photo courtesy CNN)

In a gilded frame three little photographs of the grizzled old literary lion. This is Dickens as we remember him, looking older than his years.

Simply worn out and probably conscious of it — he died at just 58.

The Dickens Museum in London is in a Georgian terrace in Bloomsbury, with the requisite blue plaque.

This is 48 Doughty Street, the house he rented as a young married man. Here, on display, are some of his writing tools, his quill and ink well, his magnifying glass, his cigar box — and something that went with him every time he moved home.

It’s naturally showing its age, but this is Charles Dickens’ actual writing desk, it’s is where he wrote Nicholas Nickleby, Oliver Twist, Great Expectations. And this rather handsome little volume, this is the proof copy of “A Christmas Carol,” published on December 19, 1843.

6,000 copies — they sold out on Christmas eve.

It’s a beautiful object, finely bound, gold lettering on the front and spine. The first story that Dickens first published directly as a book rather than in serial form in a periodical.

The illustrations by John Leech–a young caricaturist with punch magazine–foreign color.

The museum is currently sharing Leech’s initial pencil sketches, the first faint apparition, that wonderfully named miser Ebenezer Scrooge.

Being Dickens the story is naturally a tale of two cities.

New York is celebrating in this Christmas too, with a special exhibition at the Morgan Library.

Declan D.Kiely, Exhibition Curator, Morgan Library: “So this is the original manuscript of ‘A Christmas Carol,’ and you see these very cluttered pages where, they’re heavily revised. He’s changing his mind, he’s going back. But it’s all pouring out of him. The level of artistic energy there I think is almost bouncing off the page when you look at it.”

 

It’s somehow thrilling to see the names in Dickens’ own, almost illegible hand, Ebenezer Scrooge, Bob Cratchit, and of course Tiny Tim.

Now, would you have recognized Dickens from this?

The earliest known photograph, the daguerreotype from 1850, he was then 38.

In his 40s and 50s “A Christmas Carol” became one of his favorite readings in his celebrated tours.

Simon Callow, Actor: “They were like rock concerts his readings. People were just so thrilled to be in his actual physical presence. The fact that he was also a brilliant actor was such a huge bonus. People would scarcely believe their luck.”

 

Dickens’ farewell american tour in the late 1860s earned him the modern equivalent of $1.5 million dollars.

Poignantly, a ticket stub for a reading in London on February 1 1870, is to be among his last.

A mere four months later, the great writer, the great performer of his own works was dead, leaving an empty chair by his writing desk.