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Why Did Dickens Write A Christmas Carol?
A Christmas Carol is a timeless classic that many people love around the world. The novel has had a number of stage, television, and film versions and spin-offs. Just weeks after its initial publication, C. Z. Barnett produced a theatre stage-play of A Christmas Carol.
As a piece of literature, the book is beautiful and true to Charles Dickens's style. The novel has numerous memorable quotes, such as Ebenezer Scrooge’s “bah humbug” and Tiny Tim’s “God Bless us, everyone.” A Christmas Carol has truly become part of the general Christmas tradition. Due to its popularity, this immensely popular story's origins might surprise some readers today.
Charles Dickens was actually inspired to write the book in 1843 because he was appalled by the abuse of women and child laborers going on in London's factories at that time.
Plot Summary of A Christmas Carol
For those of us who have been living in caves, A Christmas Carol’s plot goes like this.
Ebenezer Scrooge is a rich miser that is consumed by his only goal: achieving wealth. He is cruel and unfeeling to the people around him, including his employee Bob Cratchit. On Christmas Eve he is visited by the ghost of his deceased business partner Jacob Marley.
Marley's ghost warns Scrooge that if he does not change his ways, he will be doomed to share the same fate as himself, trapped with his spirit that is doomed to walk the earth and remain in chains for eternity. He informs Scrooge that he will be visited by three spirits: the ghost of Christmas past, the ghost of Christmas present, and the ghost of Christmas future.
The ghost of Christmas past shows Ebenezer’s past Christmases of his childhood and youth. The ghost of Christmas present shows Scrooge the Christmas celebrations of the present, including that of his nephew’s and his employee’s Bob Cratchit. Scrooge asks the spirit about Tiny Tim, Chratchit’s son who is in poor health and needs a crutch to walk. The spirit warns that if the shadows of the future remain unaltered the child will die.
The most terrifying spectre, the ghost of Christmas future shows Scrooge the circumstances of his own death and presents him with his grave. Scrooge Vows he will cherish Christmas in his heart. Ebenezer Scrooge awakens on Christmas morning a changed man.
Charles Dickens's Inspiration
Charles Dickens was involved in charities and social issues throughout his entire life. In early 1843, he read a government report describing the conditions of women and children employed in mines and factories. It described the abuse of the laborers.
He was stricken with empathy for these victims. Dickens vowed he would strike a “sledge hammer blow,” on behalf of the “poor man’s child.” The idea for A Christmas Carol came to him in October 1843, while doing a talk. He thought the best way to bring attention to the horror that was happening would be to write a story instead of an article.
He was determined to publish the novel by the Christmas of that year. He composed it in frenzy, even as he walked the black streets of London. It only took him six weeks to write the manuscript.
Dickens later wrote in a letter that he “saw” his characters. Much like the way that Dickens wrote the Cratchits, they were “ever tugging at his coat sleeve, as if impatient for him to get back to his desk and continue the story of their lives.”
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Dickens Was Concerned With Impoverished Children
Charles Dickens was concerned with impoverished children who turned to crime and delinquency in order to survive. The poverty in London was very great at that time – it was known as the “hungry forties.” There was a fear in London in that period that there would be a revolution as there had been in France. Charles Dickens touches on this, with the metaphor of the children “Ignorance and Want.”
In the novel, the ghost of Christmas present reveals two children, a girl and a boy named “Ignorance and Want’,’ who are hidden in his robes. He warns to beware of them, “for on his brow I see that written which is doom, unless the writing be erased.”
Illustrations for A Christmas Carol
The publishers spared no expense. The illustrations were hand-sketched and -painted by John Leech, on steel and woodcuts. Some of the pictures were beautifully colored. The novel was expensive to buy, at the price of five shillings.
The illustration of the children was depicted in a terrifying manner. In it, the spirit shows Scrooge the children, Ignorance and Want, saying “Beware them both.’’ Leech drew the terrible children with claw-like feet. Drawn in the background are factories, a definite symbol for the abuse of children who labored, since factory houses were not stationed in Manchester.
Quotes from A Christmas Carol
- “Every idiot who goes about with ‘Merry Christmas’ on his lips, should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart.” –Ebenezer Scrooge
- “It is required of every man, that the spirit within him should walk abroad among his fellow-men, and travel far and wide; and if that spirit goes not forth in life, it is condemned to do so after death.” – Jacob Marley
- “Another idol has displaced me; and if it can cheer and comfort you in time to come, as I would have tried to do, I have no just cause to grieve.” – Bell
- “They are Man’s, and they cling to me, appealing from their fathers. This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is doom, unless the writing be erased. Deny it! Slander those who tell it ye! Admit it for your factious purposes, and make it worse. And bide the end!” – The spirit of Christmas present
Interesting Fact About Ebenezer Scrooge
- Charles Dickens's character of scrooge was named after the words screw and gouge. He is a perfect metaphor for the poor’s terrible misfortune and abuse caused by wealthy men. Scrooge’s greed is beautifully woven into the novel.
Public Reception of A Christmas Carol
The novel was well-liked by the public. It was published the December of 1843 and sold 6,000 copies in only five days. It was the most successful book of the 1843 Christmas holiday season.
In 1867, Dickens read A Christmas Carol in Chicago at a public reading. One of the audience members, Mr. Fairbanks, who was a scale manufacturer, was deeply moved by the quote, “Break the custom we have hitherto observed of opening the works on Christmas day.” Fairbanks closed the factory on Christmas day and gave Christmas turkeys to all his employees.
The Popularity of the Novel
The preface of the novel reads as such:
I have endeavored in this Ghostly little book, to raise the Ghost of an Idea, which shall not put my readers out of humour with themselves, with each other, with the season, or with me. May it haunt their houses pleasantly, and no one wish to lay it.
Their faithful Friend and Servant,
It is so! The book has pleasantly haunted us. One hundred and seventy-four years after its publication, it is still as popular now as it was then. Charles Dickens's supernatural plot was original in its Christmas theme. The story of three spirits, a man experiencing a change of heart, and Tiny Tim has touched the heart of millions. Scrooge’s “bah humbug” has become synonymous with not having the Christmas spirit. A Christmas Carol has remained part of the tradition of Christmas in a magical way!
Sources and Further Reading
- Charles Dickens Info | The Life and Work of Charles Dickens
Charles Dickens was born in 1812 and died in 1870. He wrote classic novels like Great Expectations, David Copperfield, Oliver Twist and A Christmas Carol.
- The Origins of A Christmas Carol | British Library
Professor John Sutherland considers how Dickens’s A Christmas Carol engages with Victorian attitudes towards poverty, labour and the Christmas spirit.
- A Christmas Carol | Charles Dickens
The Project Gutenberg full-text ebook of Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol.
Questions & Answers
Question: What issues or themes does the book "A Christmas Carol" bring out?
Answer: Issues of greed and the effects of rich men's power over the poor. The main theme of the book is the importance of kindness and generosity.
Question: What did Dickens want the people of London to do differently as a result of reading his story A Christmas Carol?
Answer: The moral of the novel is to be more generous and cherish Christmas.