Charles Dickens & ‘A Christmas Carol’

One of the most compelling tales ever written, A Christmas Carol is a phenomenon. It is profound, archetypal, and it touches desires deep within us all for second chances and the opportunity to redeem past mistakes.

Every Christmas the historic Morgan Library in New York, puts on display one of its greatest treasures – the original manuscript of A Christmas Carol which Dickens had bound in red morocco leather as a gift for his publisher. It was acquired by collector Pierpont Morgan in the 1890s. Each year the precious manuscript is opened at a different page so that viewers can delight in a new scene. You can buy the Morgan’s own facsimile edition from the museum shop, or read it online.

A Christmas Carol has a simple, linear plot, a fairly small cast of characters, and it is a tale designed not only to make us think and reflect, but to make us feel. The story provides the catharsis of great tragedy without the horror and gloom of a tragic ending. We see Scrooge’s ordeal, begin to identify with him (wouldn’t we all love to see the future consequences of our actions, or be able to rectify past mistakes?). Like Scrooge, we feel cleansed and purified by what happens, we come to see that there could be reprieves. The tale reassures us that change is possible.

“We have to go back to Shakespeare to find a writer who, through fiction, has so enriched the thought of the people. Admit all Dickens’s faults twice over, we still have one of the greatest writers of modern times.”
– Jerome K. Jerome

He was called ‘The Great Inimitable’, ‘Boz’, Mr Dickens and Charles – by whichever name you know him, he was one of the greatest writers of all time. He created the Dickensian world and peopled it with unforgettable characters. He entranced rich and poor, English and foreign, with his novels, and he brought about great social change through what he wrote.

But what about the Dickens the man? I am fascinated by his life and personality and love to read biographies of him. There are times I hate him – for example, in his unkind treatment of his poor wife.

At other times I love him. I admire the way he dragged himself up from a difficult childhood and used the experience to create children who suffer in his fiction. I hate the fact that he died before he turned sixty, leaving a novel that will forever be unfinished; but I rejoice that he lived as long as he did and made full use of his time in giving us such masterpieces as Bleak House, Great Expectations, David Copperfield and, of course, A Christmas Carol.

No other story captures the spirit of Christmas as powerfully as this one. Find out how Dickens came to write A Christmas Carol, what his sources of inspiration were, how it helped shape the way we celebrate Christmas, and the amazing impact of the novella about Scrooge and the three ghosts. I’ll discuss the themes, styles and characters in the book, and provide discussion questions with your book group.

My Reader’s Guide has all this and more about this evocative and memorable novel. How can you account for the extraordinary and enduring popularity of this book? I always love to hear what you think. Let me know your thoughts by leaving a comment below.


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