A Christmas Carol

January 2011


An ordinary tombstone in Dorset, England, marks the remains of a man named Ebenezer Robbins who died on Christmas Day in 1842. Ten months after the manís death, author Charles Dickens began writing his extraordinary novella, A Christmas Carol. The tale was written in just 6 weeks and was published six days before Christmas in 1843. The book became an instant success, selling out its 6,000 copies within five days, and has never been out of print. The artistic success of the work did not translate to a financial success for Dickens however. He was dissatisfied with the amount his publisher had paid him for earlier works, so he decided to pay the publishing costs for Carol himself, with expectations of a healthy profit. The plan did not work as Dickens had hoped, and his profit was about one-quarter of what he had expected.


Adored by both the public and critics, A Christmas Carol was immediately adapted to the stage, and by February 1844, eight theater productions of the story were running in London. In the many years since its publication, the story has had countless stage, film, opera, dance, musical, and spoken word performances. Some of the most popular adaptations are the 1938 Reginald Owen film, the 1951 Alastair Sim film, the innovative 2009 Jim Carrey 3-D animated film, and the delightful 1992 Muppet Christmas Carol with Michael Caine.


Dickens was a strong proponent of humane treatment for the poor, noting that the condition was thrust upon them by the growing industrialization of cities. In A Christmas Carol, Dickens punctuates his strong beliefs at the turning point of Ebenezerís journey, when Ignorance and Want are personified as helpless children huddled under the skirts of the enormous Ghost of Christmas Present. To keep his message alive, Dickens began publishing Christmas stories each year with similar themes to A Christmas Carol, but he never felt that they were as strong. Dickens stopped his regular Christmas publications after 1848 and instead began giving spoken performances of a shortened version of A Christmas Carol. Dickens performed the readings 127 times up until the year of his death. Actor Lionel Barrymore revived Dickensí tradition by giving annual Christmas radio show performances of the story, performed seventeen times between 1934 and his death in November 1954.


Dickens expressed the following words of hope for his story in its introduction. Today, he would find that his modest work has fulfilled his dream to untold lengths. A Christmas Carol in prose being A Ghost Story of Christmas: 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.