Pink Fire Pointer A Dickens of a Year

A Dickens of a Year

Did you know that Charles Dickens wrote "A Christmas Carol" in six weeks, under pressure to get it finished before Christmas?  It was 1843 and Dickens was experiencing falling sales and diminished interest in his last two books.  He was filled with self-doubt, short of cash, and not too happy that his wife was expecting their fifth child after only seven years of marriage.  He had travelled to Manchester to give a speech on the lack of education for the poor and other problems plaguing the city.   Manchester reminded Dickens of many of the social ills that plagued England at the time. Everywhere he looked, there was poverty, hunger, filth and unemployment.  In 1843 fifty-seven percent of children born to working-class parents in Manchester died before they reached the age of five.  As many as 3.000 people per day lined up at soup kitchens and crowds of unemployed working men stood idle on the streets.  Dickens delivered his speech at the Manchester Athenaeum, an institution that provided education for the working poor.  He was encouraged by the audience's warm reception and left the Athenaeum filled with new hope about his writing future.

That night he walked the streets of Manchester thinking about his writing and realized that he needed to work on maintaining the strong qualities of storytelling and characterization in his novels which his readers had grown to love. Those qualities needed to exist side by side with the social messages which were so important to him.  He would need to get his points across without preaching to his readers, in an entertaining way, almost without his readers knowing what had happened.  As he walked the streets that night a book began to take shape in his imagination and as the story unfolded he recognized that this was his next writing project.  He was lost in thought, crying and laughing, as the characters began to fill his head -- two children named Ignorance and Want, Tiny Tim, Bob Cratchit and Ebeneezer Scrooge.  He had discovered that his next book would be a story about Christmas and he had six short weeks to get it done.  He would later find out that his publisher was losing confidence in him and would refuse to publish it.  So he needed not only to write the book quickly but also to publish it himself.  Back in London he continued to walk the streets at night until he had thought out the entire book.   It would become "A Christmas Carol," probably his best known work and certainly his most beloved.   At the turn of the twentieth-century it was said to be the second most widely-read book in the English language (the first was the Bible). 

The Man Who Invented Christmas by Les Standiford is filled with fascinating stories about Charles Dickens and the creation of "A Christmas Carol."


February 7, 2012 was the 200th anniversary of Charles Dickens' birth and the entire year has been filled with celebrations to commemorate the occasion.  On Dickens' actual birthday in February there were events staged in England and all over the world.  They including public readings, a ceremony at Westminster Abbey and many birthday celebrations.   Newspapers and magazines featured articles by writers, academics and scholars listing the most popular novels by Dickens and their own personal favorites.  "Bleak House" and "Great Expectations" were at the top of most lists.   Claire Tomalin's new biography of Dickens was published this year and a revival of the "Mystery of Edwin Drood" is currently playing on Broadway.  In New York there was an exhibition -- A Tale of Two Centuries: Charles Dickens Turns 200 -- at the Morgan Library which featured the largest collection of Dickens material outside England.

Painting of Charles Dickens from the Morgan exhibition
Image via here

Dickens' signature from the exhibition at the Morgan
Image via here


But it seems that the best was saved for last.  On December 10 the Charles Dickens Museum at 48 Doughty Street in London, his only surviving London home, reopened after a three year, $5-million  refurbishment and restoration.  It was the home of Charles Dickens from 1837 to 1839 and the site where he wrote "Nicholas Nickleby" and Oliver Twist."  He moved in as a young husband with his new wife, Catherine and their first child.  Two more children would be born while he lived there.  It was the house he lived in when he became famous under his own name, dropping the pseudonym of Boz which he had previously used.  The Dickens museum has been in operation since 1925, but its new facelift is so impressive that it has inspired many people to say that it has gone from "Bleak House" to "Great Expectations."  

The goal was to make it look less like a museum and more like a home, much as it would have looked in Dickens' own lifetime, as if he had just stepped out the door.  For example, in the drawing room, where Dickens regularly entertained his friends with performances from his works, visitors can sit on the sofa and hear the voice of the actor Simon Callow reading his words.  Visitors can see the blue-walled dining room where he entertained his friends; it features the original sideboard and a portrait of the the 25-year-old author.  The master bedroom displays many of his personal items that have never been seen before. The second bedroom where his sister-in-law Mary died at the age of 17 contains rare photographic prints showing the 1856 rail crash which Dickens was involved in.  It has been said that the tragic death of his sister-in-law Mary may have influenced many of the death scenes in Dickens' novels.  On the top floor, the former servants' quarters contains a set of bars from Marshalsea prison, where Dickens' father was imprisoned for his debts.  There is also an exhibition of costumes from Mike Newell's new film adaptation of "Great Expectations." 

The refurbished staircase at the Dickens' museum with a silhouette of Dickens

The dining room

The drawing room

Bars from Marshalsea Prison where Dickens' father was imprisoned

Throughout the month of December the rooms will be traditionally decorated for Christmas and will host many Christmas events.  Mulled wine will be served and live readings of "A Christmas Carol" will take place.  It will be the only London museum open on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.  How exciting that the restoration of The Charles Dickens museum was finished just in time for Christmas, the time of year memorialized in Dickens' beloved book "A Christmas Carol." 

If you want a treat, go here to hear Charles Dickens' great granddaughter Monica Dickens read "A Christmas Carol."  It will give you goosebumps since it is as close as we can get to hearing the actual author himself.  Monica Dickens first heard the reading from her grandfather, who heard it from Charles Dickens.  Her reading of the famous opening: "Marley was dead: to begin with..."  will give  you a thrill.  


Last five photos via here