The Story Behind Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’

Marley was dead: to begin with.  There is no doubt whatever about that.  The register of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner.  Scrooge signed it: and Scrooge’s name was good upon ‘Change, for anything he chose to put his hand to.  Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail.

Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

All in all, 1843 was not a good year for Charles Dickens, especially late 1843.  American Notes, a narrative about Dickens’ travels to Canada & the United States, sold well the previous year.  In 1843, sales slumped.  Feeling that Dickens was poking fun at them, Americans steered away from the book.

In 1843, Dickens published Martin Chuzzlewitt.  Like other books, it was released through newspapers in chapter-by-chapter installments. English readers lost interest quickly.  Americans, already irritated, only became more annoyed.

Dickens’ reputation as a best-selling author took a hit.  So did his income. He had mouths to feed – 4 children with a 5th on the way – and writing was his primary source of revenue.  By late 1843, things were looking bleak.

Charles Dickens had been poor before.  In 1824, when he was twelve, his father was imprisoned.  John Dickens had run into debt.  Unable to pay his debtors, all his household goods – furniture included – were sold and John was incarcerated at Marshalsea Debtor’s Prison. Ultimately forced to give up their home, Charles’ mother and siblings moved into prison with his father.  To sustain himself, Charles pawned his own possessions, left school, and found alternate lodging.  He worked for meager wages in a boot-blacking factory, pasting labels onto pots of blacking.

The experience affected Dickens’ entire life.  Keenly aware of the social injustices and terrible working conditions facing the poor, especially children, Dickens advocated for change.  He toured the Cornish tin mines, wrote articles, and challenged parliamentarians to do something.

In the fall of 1843, Dickens travelled from London to Manchester to speak about child labour and the plight of the poor at a fundraiser.  On October 5 , 1843, he spoke to a capacity crowd at the Manchester Athenaeum.  The sight of healthy, well-fed people in the audience contrasted sharply with the poor, overburdened subjects of his lecture.  With Christmas not far off, the contrast cut even deeper.

With two books on the wane, with the plight of the poor so evident, and with the Christmas season drawing near, Dickens plotted a new novel during his three days in Manchester.  When he returned to London, he started writing.  Within six weeks, he had a complete manuscript.

Released on the 19th of December in 1843, A Christmas Carol was an immediate success on a number of fronts. The book breathed life into Dickens’ fading career and restored his reputation.  The cast of characters echoed the deep divisions of society and highlighted the appalling conditions facing the poor. The tale of retribution rang true and reinforced the spirit of Christmas giving.

All the elements of success fit except one.  The book did little to buffer Dickens’ sagging income. The first edition was too lavish, the price was too low, and Dickens’ profit was marginal.

The rest, as they say, is history. Dickens’ story of tight-fisted, mean-spirited Ebenezer Scrooge’s conversion to generosity and congeniality is a Christmas classic, told and retold now for almost 175 years.

Are there lessons to be learned from Dickens’ experience for those who write?  Probably there many, but for me, one stands out.  Dickens wrote about something that deeply mattered to him.  Passion drove his story, and that is evident on every page.  Find your passion – the subject you can’t wait to explore, the message you just have to deliver – and while you may not write in the style of Dickens, chances are that you will be able to write like the dickens.

For more about Charles Dickens check http://www.dickensfellowship.org

This post was adapted from another at Larry Verstraete’s The Story Behind blog.

For Larry Verstraete, an award-winning author of books for young people, writing is all about the journey and often the perfect writing storm occurs when high adventure, science and history converge. An advocate for literacy, Larry often visits schools and libraries to share his passion.

Autumn The Perfect Time For Writing

Autumn is the perfect season for writers because………..
waterfall-cornerbrook-driveNature is putting on an inspirational show that prompts us to color our writing with vibrant images

The chill in the air drives us inside to our writing desks

park-bench-juba-park-october-2012Trees are transforming. We can transform our writing habits from the lazy patterns of summer to the disciplined practice of fall

Autumn is the season of thanksgiving. We can be thankful for writing friends and mentors, writing successes, and writing lessons learned
Version 2Autumn is a time of harvest. We can take the storehouse of ideas we’ve harvested and begin turning them into stories and poems and memoirs

Leaves die and trees rest in autumn. Perhaps it is time to let a part of a manuscript we are working on die too, or put a particular project to rest and start another one

apple-orchardAutumn is a time to nourish ourselves with  hot cider, roasted potatoes, tangy apples and spice cookies. It can also be a time to nourish our writing selves with a podcast about outlining stories, a workshop about getting started on a novel, or a magazine article about editing a manuscript .

Autumn is a time for Halloween, a scary night. Can we conquer our fears and send a manuscript off to a publisher, share our writing with others and open ourselves to criticism and suggestion?

fall-newfoundlandWe can look at the how great writers have described autumn and be motivated by their way with words.
Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower – Albert Camus
Autumn…the year’s last, loveliest smile – William Bryant
Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking successive autumns- George Eliot

Yes autumn is the perfect season for writers.

Other posts……….

Writer or Palaeontologist

Beginnings

MaryLou Driedger is a free lance writer with a long career as a newspaper columnist, curriculum writer and contributor to lifestyle, education and religious publications.

Time for Self-Care

The Anita Factor has been meeting for about five years now. And a cohesive family of friends we have become. Connections extend far beyond our circle of chairs at McNally Robinson booksellers, where we meet. We not only discuss writing, but often know what’s happening in each other’s personal lives as well. We are all a support system for each other in all ways. I don’t know what I would do without the connections of my fine Anitas, and Larry – our Anito! 🙂

Spinning Inward cover

At our last meeting, I was really struggling with finding something original to bring to the group for our teachable. And I personally, am having a fairly rough start to 2016, so was also having a bit of trouble getting my head in the right place to share any articles of sound writerly advice.

I considered what  to do and realized I need to breathe. And then it struck me. At this meeting I wasn’t going to focus on writing. I would focus on self-care and we’d take some time to breathe.

I have a wonderful book of meditations that are written for children to adults — Spinning Inward by Maureen Murdock.

Everyone enjoyed the first one, “Waterfall of White Light,” so much that we actually did a second. I have used these meditations with children and adults alike. They are beautiful and I highly recommend checking out this book if you are in need of some self-care time. Get your circle of friends together and take turns reading to each other in an inspiring quiet space.

Suzanne’s first novel, Empty Cup, is an edgy contemporary young adult story about a seventeen year old girl who lives through life’s ultimate betrayal. Suzanne lives in Winnipeg, MB.
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