As University of Glasgow staff will have seen in the latest, festive, edition of Campus News this year, the Communications team have been busy finding out about our first edition of Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol (Sp Coll 918), published London, by Chapman & Hall, 1843. Last month Kat from Communications came to the Special Collections Department to interview, and film, Dr Matthew Creasy, lecturer in English Literature, as he described the history of the work and its wonderful illustrations.
In the middle of writing his sixth novel, Martin Chuzzlewit, and in a period of financial difficulty, Dickens would write the story that is unquestionably his most beloved work. Published on December 17, 1843, this fable of spiritual renewal received rapturous reviews and became an instant success, with the first 6,000 copies of its initial print-run being sold out by Christmas. Eight stage adaptations were in production within two months of the book’s publication.
Dickens financed the publishing of the book himself, ordering lavish binding, gilt edging, and hand-coloured illustrations by John Leech. He set the price at 5 shillings to make it more affordable but the high production costs resulted in disappointingly low profits despite high sales.
A Christmas Carol is the story of Ebenezer Scrooge, a heartless old miser who undergoes a miraculous rebirth precisely at Christmas, the only time “in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open up their hearts freely.” Scrooge is visited by a series of ghosts, starting with his old business partner, Jacob Marley. The three spirits which follow, the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Christmas Present and Christmas Yet to Come, show Scrooge how his mean behaviour has affected those around him and also what he has lost through his actions. At the conclusion of the story he is realises that there is still time for him to change his life and he transforms into a benevolent and generous human being. Dickens was involved with charitable causes all through his life and, at this time, he was particularly interested in the plight of impoverished children.
The themes of wealth and injustice in the book are clear comments on the inequalities of wealth distribution in Victorian England. Dickens created a new literary genre in the Christmas story, and he went on to write four similar seasonal publications for the Christmas market. Of these, The Chimes most closely resembles the Carol formula in being set on New Year’s Eve and having a crucial supernatural element. The other three (The Cricket on the Hearth, The Battle of Life, and The Haunted Man) all share the Carol’s emphasis on family love and the delights of the home. A Christmas Carol continues to retain its popularity, has never been out of print, and is the most filmed, and TV-adapted of his works.
Charles Dickens, through the voice of Scrooge, continues to urge us to “honour Christmas in our hearts and try to keep it all the year”.
You can also find out what life was like at the University of Glasgow in Dickens’ time in another article in the festive campus news, researched by our trainee Marisol!
Stay tuned on Twitter and Instagram @UofGlasgowASC from today onwards as we count down to Christmas with the #12DaysofDickens. We will be releasing an illustration each day from the First Edition of A Christmas Carol as well as a couple of bonus illustrations from other festive Dickens’ works.
“And it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed that knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us!”
Categories: Archives and Special Collections