Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol without an inkling that it would become a staple of the holiday spirit for more than 150 years. The little book sold out its first printing of 6,000 copies the first week of its publication and has proven to be one of the most beloved and popular tales in recent Western literature. It has been made into more than 27 adaptations for the stage, opera, film and television. The iconic Ebenezer Scrooge has been portrayed by actors as diverse as Bill Murray (Scrooged), George C. Scott, Alistair Sims, Albert Finney and Patrick Stewart to name only a few. The tale has been animated by Disney, told by Muppets and updated in several versions for the Hallmark movie channel.
How did it begin?
In early 1843, Dickens visited the Cornish tin mines where he saw children working in appalling conditions. Taking action, he embarked on a series of fundraising speeches, eloquently describing the suffering he witnessed and urging the large crowds to join together to combat ignorance with education reform. Dickens planned in May 1843 to follow up these lectures by publishing an inexpensive political pamphlet tentatively titled, "An Appeal to the People of England, on behalf of the Poor Man's Child." Sometime in September of that same year, he changed his mind, deferring the pamphlet's production until the end of the year.
Instead, the pamphlet became A Christmas Carol and the rest is, as they say, history. Self-published by the author, bound in red cloth with gilt-edged pages, the book featured the now familiar illustrations of John Leech. The complicated printing job was completed only two days before the release date of December 19, 1843.
The influence of the book
According to social historians, the current observance of Christmas is largely the result of a mid-Victorian revival of the holiday spearheaded by A Christmas Carol. Creating a new Christmas ideal, Dickens found inspiration in a story by American writer, Washington Irving, along with a resurgence of published Christmas carol music, the establishment of the Victorian Christmas tree by Prince Albert and the first Christmas card exchange. The essence of the Dickensian Christmas is a secular festival of generosity, in contrast to the community-based and church-centered observations that came before. Dickens is credited with the contemporary importance placed on family gatherings, seasonal food and drink, dancing, games, and a festive generosity of spirit.
As for Mr. Dickens, he spent many years performing readings of A Christmas Carol around the world. At the end of his performance on March 15, 1870, he told his audience, “From these garish lights, I vanish now for evermore, with a heartfelt, grateful, respectful and affectionate farewell.” He died three months later at the age of 58.
- Maggie Mancinelli-Cahill
This timeless classic gets a merry retelling in a new adaptation by the creator of the two-time Tony Award® winning hit “The 39 Steps.”
Five actors portray over 20 characters, exploring new facets of this Dickens classic. Re-imagined with a fresh new physicality, this highly theatrical, sometimes comic, ultimately moving adaptation is sure to brighten up your holidays!