This Day in World History
December 19, 1843
Dickens publishes 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.” So begins a staple of Christmas celebrations, Charles Dickens’s novella A Christmas Carol.
Dickens’s book, of course, relates the conversion of the crabbed miser Ebenezer Scrooge to a warm-hearted man who embraces Christmas after a night of visits from the ghost of his old partner, Jacob Marley, and three time-traveling spirits, those of Christmas Past, Christmas Present, and Christmas Yet to Come. Dickens’s work became an instant classic. All 6,000 copies of the first printing were sold by Christmas, and the 2,000 copy second printing that quickly followed was also quickly sold out. Its lasting charm is evidenced by countless plays, radio dramatizations, television specials, and movie adaptations that have followed, a new one, seemingly, each generation.
While A Christmas Carol is probably Dickens’s most beloved work, it did little to alleviate the financial trouble in which he labored in 1843. At the time, Martin Chuzzlewhit was being serialized, but sales were slow. With his wife expecting the couple’s fifth child, Dickens penned the Christmas story in the hopes of a financial boost. Despite the brisk sales, his income did not rise as desired. The cost of producing the book—all resulting from Dickens’s own decisions, as he supervised the printing and hired the illustrator—was so high that the author saw few profits. Dickens lamented that “I shall be ruined past all mortal hope of redemption”—ironic, given that A Christmas Carol demonstrates that redemption has nothing to do with one’s financial condition.