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Dickens at 200: 1812–2012

An exhibition in Special Collections

curated by
Jaime Margalotti

Dickens, a Carol, and Christmas

In October 1843, Dickens visited Manchester to give a speech on behalf of the Athenaeum. Following this event, the restless Dickens took a lengthy walk when he was stuck with the idea for A Christmas Carol.  He wanted to produce a tale which would draw attention to the lives of the poor, but still entertain.  Citing disappointing sales for his last few books, Dickens’s publishers were resistant to his proposal.  Convinced that the work would be a success, Dickens chose to fund the project himself.

While Dickens had worked closely with his illustrators on all previous projects, he took on an unprecedented level of participation in the overall design and production of the book.  He hired John Leech to illustrate, pleased with his work at the satiric magazine Punch.  Dickens set the price of the book at a modest 5 shillings despite its lavish decorative details.  Even with these added responsibilities he managed to finish writing the novella in six weeks, with the initial print run of 6,000 copies appearing on December 19.  The book was an enormous hit, selling out immediately and garnering widespread critical acclaim.  Dickens’s publishing arrangement seriously diminished his profits, but the book’s success boosted his confidence and proved to be a major turning point in his career.

Dickens also had an impact on the development of Christmas celebratory customs.  After seventeenth and eighteenth century Puritans suppressed the tendency toward raucous merrymaking, nineteenth century social change further eroded traditions.  Christmas primarily persisted as a quiet religious holiday.  Dickens and others of the Victorian era took the revived interest in Christmas traditions and refashioned the holiday into a secular celebration promoting general goodwill and affirming the domestic ideals of home and family.    

John DePol

Charles Dickens Christmas Card from DePol family (Endgrain Press imprint), undated. John DePol papers.

Card quotes Doctor Marigold from “Doctor Marigold’s Prescriptions” in the Extra Christmas Number of Dickens’ literary magazine All the Year Round, (December 12, 1865).

“Goofy as Jacob Marley” and “Scrooge McDuck as Ebenezer Scrooge.” Hallmark Keepsake Ornaments, 2010–2011.

Recasting and reworking A Christmas Carol has been a popular activity since its 1843 debut and shows no signs of stopping. Some notable modern versions have involved the Disney characters, the Muppets, Mister Magoo, Bugs Bunny, and even an episode of “Doctor Who” in which Dickens himself appears as a character.

Christmas with Dickens. [Printed & Illustrated by Suzanne Granzow–Pruchnicki]. Manteno, Ill.: Bronte Press, 1987.

Charles Dickens.

A Christmas Carol: a Ghost Story of Christmas. Munich: Minibook, 1996.

Chalres Dickens.

A Christmas Carol: in Prose, Being a Ghost Story of Christmas. London; New York: Henry Frowde, 1906.

Chalres Dickens.

A Christmas Carol Alphabet Book from the Charles Dickens Classic. Manteno, Ill.: Bronte Press, [1994].

First Day Cover of A Christmas Carol holiday stamps issued by the Royal Mail, United Kingdom. Postmarked on November 9, 1993, at Portsmouth, the birthplace of Dickens. William A. Oliver, Jr. collection related to The Mystery of Edwin Drood.

A Christmas Carol: Old & New

Charles Dickens

A Christmas Carol. Illustrations by Arthur Rackham. London: W. Heinemann; Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott, 1915.

Arthur Rackham (1867–1939) was one of the leading illustrators of the Edwardian era, a prominent contributor to the “Golden Age of Illustration.” Rackham’s simultaneously dark and fanciful art was well–suited to the fairy tales he often illustrated and the supernatural menace of Scrooge’s ghostly visitors.

Charles Dickens.

A Christmas Carol: in Prose. Being a Ghost Story of Christmas. With illustrations by John Leech. London,: Chapman & Hall, 1843.

First edition of Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, open to John Leech’s iconic frontispiece of “Mr. Fezziwig’s Ball.”

Charles Dickens.

A Christmas Carol in Prose: Being a Ghost Story of Christmas. With an introduction by Paul Davis and with illustrations by Ida Applebroog. San Francisco: Arion Press, 1993.

Published during the 150th anniversary of Dickens’s original, Ida Applebroog’s modern drawings deliberately echo previous illustrations for the work, with Paul Davis giving further context to the history of A Christmas Carol’s illustrative development in his introduction.

Charles Dickens.

A Christmas Carol. New York: Pocket Books, 1940. Roland E. Bounds Paperback Science Fiction Book Collection.

Charles Dickens.

A Christmas Carol. Illustrated by Chris Burke. Oldham: Incline Press, [2005?].

The first illustrated book from Chris Burke, known for his work on murals, posters, and The Sunday Times. Printed with metal type and hand bound, the book includes eight tipped–in illustrations that tell the familiar story while satirizing modern culture.




Charles Dickens.

A Christmas Carol in Prose. Being a Ghost Story of Christmas. With illustrations by John Leech. London: Chapman & Hall, 1843.

“Scrooge’s Third Visitor” plate.



A. Edward (Alfred Edward) Newton.

A Leech Drawing. Daylesford, Pa.: Printed, not published, for the friends of A.E. Newton, 1923.

Facsimile of original John Leech drawing of the Ghost of Christmas Present with red robe. In this pamphlet Newton describes the differences between the original drawing and final illustration to comment on the close working relationship Dickens maintained with his illustrators. .

Charles Dickens.

A Christmas Carol in Prose: Being a Ghost Story of Christmas. With pen drawings by Charles Dunn. Washington: Judd and Detweiler, 1933.

Charles Dunn (1894–1978) was an American artist and caricaturist who also illustrated covers for publications including The Saturday Evening Post and Life.

Other Christmas Stories

Mark Lemon.

The Chimes, or, Some Bells that Rang an Old Year Out & a New Year In: a Goblin Drama, in 4 Quarters. Adapted from Charles Dickens’ story by Mark Lemon and G. A. A’Beckett ; introduction by Joel H. Kaplan; wood engravings by Colin Paynton. Mission, B.C.: Barbarian Press, 1985.

Dickens’s second Christmas novella also employs supernatural intervention to redeem its protagonist. After hearing about a series of recently committed crimes, Trotty Veck concludes that the poor lack proper morality. The spirits which reside in the local church bells and their goblin caretakers decide to teach him a lesson. Veck learns that one must not dwell on an idealized past, but must instead offer help and sympathy to the unfortunate. While it has not remained particularly well–known, The Chimes was a major success when first published. This modern edition features an early theatrical adaptation of the story, five of which sprung up soon after the novella’s release.

Charles Dickens

The Cricket on the Hearth. A Fairy Tale of Home. [Christmas books]. London: Chapman & Hall, 1843–1848.

Dickens’s The Cricket on the Hearth was, at one time, more popular than A Christmas Carol. The subtitle, “A Fairy Tale of Home,” is significant as the story centers on a sentimental portrayal of domestic life, reaffirming family bonds and bringing a pair of lovers together. It features the work of five illustrators, including Dickens’s friend Daniel Maclise and his A Christmas Carol collaborator, John Leech.

Charles Dickens.

The Haunted Man and the Ghost’s Bargain: a Fancy for Christmas–Time. New York: Harper, [1849].

Dickens’s published his last Christmas novella in 1848, in a manner similar to the other books in the series. This 1849 American imprint is an inexpensive paperbound edition lacking the work’s illustrations. The story features Professor Redlaw who bargains with a ghost to forget his past troubles. He comes to the realization that one must remember these sorrows such that he can forgive their perpetrators and attain peace.

Charles Dickens.

Boots at the “Holly Tree Inn.” From original designs by J. C. Beard. New York, Cassell, 1882.

Although Dickens stopped releasing Christmas novellas, he continued to publish Christmas stories in his magazines. In 1855, Dickens subtitled the extra Christmas edition of his Household Words journal, “The Holly Tree Inn.” Each of the submissions related to activities at the fictional establishment. Dickens’s entry, “The Boots,” concerns two young children who attempt to run away from home to be married. This colorful imprint is typical of late–nineteenth century gift books and the inscription indeed shows it to be a Christmas present.

Christmas in Miniature

Charles Dickens.

The Haunted Man and the Ghost’s Bargain: a Fancy for Christmas Time. London; New York: Henry Frowde, 1906.

Charles Dickens.

The Chimes: a Goblin Story of Some Bells that Rang an Old Year Out and a New Year In. London; New York: Henry Frowde, 1906.

Charles Dickens.

The Battle of Life: a Love Story. London; New York: Henry Frowde, 1906.

Charles Dickens.

The Cricket on the Hearth: a Fairy Tale of Home. London; New York: H. Frowde, 1904.

Charles Dickens.

A Christmas Drive. Bexhill–on–Sea, Sussex: Silver Thimble Books, 1984.

Modern miniature books feature festive excerpts from The Pickwick Papers.

Charles Dickens.

Winkle on Ice. Bexhill–on–Sea, Sussex: Silver Thimble Books, 1984.

Modern miniature books feature festive excerpts from The Pickwick Papers.

Charles Dickens.

A Christmas Tree. Bexhill–on–Sea, Sussex: Silver Thimble Books, 1982.

This essay first appeared in the Christmas 1850 issue of Dickens’s Household Words magazine. The Christmas tree was by no means a holiday standard by this time. A German tradition, it was first introduced to England by Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert, in 1840.

“Dover Coach” statuette from Department 56’s Dickens Village Collection, circa 1987–1990. William A. Oliver, Jr. collection related to The Mystery of Edwin Drood.

The decorative Christmas village (also called a “putz”) began as a tradition of the Pennsylvania Dutch in the late 19th century. Steadily gaining in popularity throughout the 20th century, the cardboard houses were supplanted by sturdier and more detailed ceramic pieces. Department 56 began producing the popular Dickens Village in 1984, basing all of the structures on those found in Dickens’s stories. While Dickens was occasionally accused of sentimentality, he did not shy away from the harsh realities of Victorian London. The Dickens Village romanticizes Dickens’s London to an astounding degree, even offering a festive “London Gin Distillery” with happy village residents enjoying “A Fine Batch of Gin.”




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02/06/12

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