Charles Dickens was having a wobble when he published A Christmas Carol on 19 December, 1843, says Melvyn Bragg in Radio 4’s In Our Time. Martin Chuzzlewit had flopped in serial form, so he put out his Christmas novella as “a little whole”. It was a hit, selling 6,000 copies in its first week. But the lavishness of the first edition, with its gold-embossed cover text and pricy illustrations, meant Dickens initially made only £137 – a worry for the 31-year-old father of four (and soon to be five). By February 1844 there were already eight stage adaptations. The author enjoyed some of those, but sued when the tale was stolen and altered for serialisation in various publications.
A Christmas Carol has never been out of print since. The tale of Ebenezer Scrooge’s redemption has become “a secular gospel”. Its rich style is a rebuke to Scrooge’s cold, mean vision of the world: at one point Dickens writes of onions “shining in the fatness of their growth like Spanish friars”, an example of his fondness for describing “people as things and things as people”. And the book changed our idea of Christmas itself. Scrooge’s first act of charity is to order a giant turkey for the Cratchit family – which is partly why the bird supplanted goose as our traditional Christmas dish.
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