On this day in history : 19th December 1843 – The classic story ‘A Christmas Carol’ by Charles Dickens is published….

First edition cover – Photographer : Heritage Auctions, Dallas, Texas – Public domain

We are all familiar with the tale of how Ebenezer Scrooge, the miser, was visited by the ghost of Jacob Marley – chained and tormented, doomed to an eternity of wandering the earth as a punishment for his greed and selfishness when he was alive…. Then came the visits from the spirits of Christmas past, present and future….and how Scrooge was transformed into a better person….

A Christmas Carol in prose. - caption: 'Marley's Ghost. Ebenezer Scrooge visited by a ghost.'
Marley’s Ghost – original illustration by John Leech – Public domain

The story touched a chord with many Victorians, with its attitude towards poverty and the Christmas spirit…. Earlier in 1843 Dickens had read a government report on the abuse of child labourers in mines and factories – and it sickened him…. It was something that resonated with him – as at the age of 12 he had been sent to work in a factory after his father was thrown into debtors prison…. His memories and the report prompted Dickens to write ‘A Christmas Carol’ – something he did feverishly – it took him just six weeks….

The book was published by Chapman and Hall but funded by Dickens himself…. Dickens had already had many successful books published: ‘The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club’, ‘Oliver Twist’, ‘Nicholas Nickleby’, ‘David Copperfield’, ‘Great Expectations’, ‘A Tale of Two Cities’…. But the publishers began to lose faith in his work when ‘Martin Chuzzlewit’ failed to live up to expectations…. they wanted to publish ‘A Christmas Carol’ in a less expensive format – or even serialised as part of a magazine…. However, Dickens was adamant he wanted it to be published as a proper book – and so struck a deal with Chapman and Hall…. It was agreed he would pay all printing and publishing costs and they would also receive a fixed commission on every book sold…. 6,000 copies were initially produced – and had sold out by Christmas Eve…. By the end of 1844 thirteen editions had been released….

John Leech – Public domain

In early 1844 ‘A Christmas Carol’ was published illegally by another company…. Dickens sued them and although he won the case, the rogue publishers declared themselves bankrupt….leaving Dickens to pick up all of the legal costs…. What with that and the high publishing costs Dickens made little money from ‘A Christmas Carol’….a story that is just as popular today as it ever was….

“Oh! But he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge! A squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster” ~ A Christmas Carol….

Charles Dickens in 1842 – Francis Alexander – Public domain

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