A Brief History of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol

175 years after it was published, A Christmas Carol will be coming to the Victoria Theatre in a hilarious, heartwarming new adaptation by W!LD RICE. Learn more about this classic Christmas story here!
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The front cover of the first edition of Dickens’ classic novella, first published in 1843 – 175 years ago!

7 February 1812

Charles Dickens – one of the most celebrated writers of English literature – is born in Hampshire, England.

Spending most of his formative childhood years in the Kent countryside, Dickens begins to develop a bit of a fascination with the supernatural. Miss Mercy, his marvellously named nanny, regales him with tales of ghosts and the otherworldly. (It’s a passion that lingers well into adulthood – Dickens becomes one of the founding members of The Ghost Club, a paranormal investigation group, in 1962.)

1824

Dickens’ relatively idyllic childhood comes to an end, when his spendthrift father is forced into debtors’ prison by his creditors. Just 12 years old, Dickens leaves school and starts working ten-hour days at a boot-polish factory.

These experiences will come to inform his writing in the future, from The Pickwick Papers and Oliver Twist to David Copperfield and Great Expectations – all of which contain extremely realistic depictions of poverty, squalor and the working class.

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A portrait of the author

1836 – 1841

Dickens’ star as an author begins to rise. He writes his first books, The Pickwick Papers and Oliver Twist, which are published in serial format. With chapters appearing in weekly or monthly magazines, Dickens proves to be a master of crafting clever cliffhangers, which keep readers hooked as the story unfolds over time.

This is also approximately when Christmas trees begin to gain popularity as part of the British holiday tradition. A long-established hallmark of Christmas festivities in Germany (since the 1600s), Prince Albert – Queen Victoria’s German husband – has a Christmas tree set up in Windsor Castle in 1841.

19 December 1843

A Christmas Carol is published in London. It proves to be so popular that the first edition is completely sold out by Christmas Eve – less than a week later!

The story has since become familiar to generations of readers all over the world. Ebenezer Scrooge, a miserly rich man, is visited by the ghost of Jacob Marley, his former business partner, as well as the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future. The experience shakes Scrooge up and teaches him the true meaning of Christmas.

As you can see, A Christmas Carol combines Dickens’ incisive social commentary with his interest in the supernatural – while also incorporating the Christmas traditions that were gaining popularity at the time.

February 1844

Barely two months after publication, A Christmas Carol proves to be something of a cultural phenomenon. By February 1844, three theatrical adaptations of the story have opened. Dickens sanctions one of the productions, by Edward Stirling, which goes on to run for well over a month. By the end of February, eight rival A Christmas Carol theatrical productions are playing in London.

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Dickens’ own abbreviation of A Christmas Carol for his readings

27 December 1852

Dickens has been fascinated by the theatre all of his life. He had even lined up acting auditions for himself before his career as a writer took off. In 1852, he brings together his passion for the theatre with his own skill with the written word. He begins offering readings to the public of his own writing, first for charity and then for profit.

On 27 December 1852, Dickens gives his first public reading of A Christmas Carol in Birmingham, which is a huge success. He goes on to abbreviate the tale himself for future readings, and brings A Christmas Carol with him on tours all over the UK, as well as to Australia and America.

15 March 1870

Dickens gives his final public reading of his work, which includes excerpts from A Christmas Carol.

Just three months later, he suffers a stroke, and passes away at the age of 58 on 9 June 1870.

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175 Years On: A Christmas Carol’s Legacy

Since Dickens’ death, A Christmas Carol has never gone out of print. Indeed, this most iconic of Christmas stories has been translated into several languages and adapted myriad times for the cinema, theatre, opera, television and other media.

The role of Scrooge has been played by actors such as Alastair Sim (A Christmas Carol, 1951), Michael Caine (The Muppet Christmas Carol, 1992), Jim Carrey (A Christmas Carol, 2009) and, of course, Scrooge McDuck (Mickey’s Christmas Carol, 1983), a cartoon character literally named after Ebenezer Scrooge.

Characters and terms invented by Dickens for the novella have also entered the English lexicon. ‘Scrooge’ is now common parlance and used to describe someone who is a miser and/or dislikes participating in Christmas festivities. The word was even added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 1982.

Scrooge’s grouchy retort of ‘Bah! Humbug!’ has also become a widely-used response to anything overly sentimental or festive.

If you need further proof that Dickens’ classic tale is still relevant today, look no further than W!LD RICE’s A $ingapore Carol! Directed by Hossan Leong and adapted by playwright Jonathan Lim, this hilarious, heartwarming holiday musical opens at the Victoria Theatre in November 2018. Find out more here.

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