Bah! Humbug! How ‘A Christmas Carol’ turned Dickens into Scrooge

World

Bah! Humbug! How ‘A Christmas Carol’ turned Dickens into Scrooge

His tale practically invented the holiday as we know it, but in reality the cheer had long since curdled in the writer

Lucy Davies

“Mr Dickens stirs the gravy,” reported a rapt member of the audience at a reading of A Christmas Carol by the author in December 1867. The auditorium was packed, the queue for tickets half a kilometre long. “[He] mashes the potatoes with something of Master Peter’s ‘incredible vigour’, dusts the hot plates as Martha did, and makes a face of infinite wonderment and exultation when shouting, in the piping tones of the two youngest Cratchits: ‘There’s such a goose, Martha!’”

A Christmas Carol, concerning the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge and his conversion to Yuletide generosity, was 24 years old by the time this particular performance took place, and a firm fixture on the British Christmas circuit. The novel, with its beautiful illustrations by John Leech, had flown from booksellers’ shelves when it first came out on December 19 1843, its entire print run of 6,000 copies gone by Christmas Eve.

Later holiday editions sold at the same remarkable rate. It was, said one contemporary commentator, “a national benefit”. Another called it a “an institution” and indeed, the Carol, as it’s known by its devotees, has haunted us ever since. It remains the most filmed and television-adapted of all Charles Dickens’s works. There’s yet another version coming to the BBC this Christmas, starring Guy Pearce and produced by Tom Hardy – though it’s hard to imagine it knocking The Muppet Christmas Carol off its perch...

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