Special Collections’ team librarian, Richard High, and collections assistant, Laura Hilton-Smith, reflect on Dickens’ festive tales.
‘A Christmas Carol’ is one of Charles Dickens’ most famous works and has been adapted for countless films. Its story of the miserly Scrooge changing his ways and embracing the spirit of Christmas is a staple of our modern Christmases. Less famously but no less festively, Dickens wrote four other Christmas stories and featured yuletide scenes in several other works. He is attributed with the popularisation of many of our Christmas traditions.
Special Collections is home to four first editions of A Christmas Carol. One of our copies is from the problematic first printing which contained green endpapers. Dickens felt these were unacceptable, and the publisher replaced them with yellow endpapers. These clashed with the title page, requiring a further redesign.
After the success of ‘A Christmas Carol’ Dickens continued with a series of Christmas books in the 1840s, maintaining what he called ‘the Carol philosophy’ to ‘strike a sledgehammer blow’ for the poor, uneducated, and repressed. Our collections contain copies of ‘The Chimes’, ‘The Cricket on the Hearth’, ‘The Battle of Life’ and ‘The Haunted Man and the Ghost’s Bargain’. In typical Dickens’ fashion he drove his message home with a mixture of humour and good cheer. Although the subsequent Christmas books sold well and were at the heart of Dickens’ public reading tours in the 1850s and 1860s, they have not enjoyed the staying power of ‘A Christmas Carol’.
Dickens discontinued his Christmas books after ‘The Haunted Man’ devoting his ‘spare’ time to the publication of the weekly magazines ‘Household Words’ (1850-1858) and ‘All the Year Round’ (1859-1867), These included his annual Christmas stories. Special Collections holds many copies of these magazines, along with several of the ‘Extra Christmas Numbers’.
Notable among these is the December 1866 edition ‘Mugby Junction’ which contains the ghost story ‘The Signal-Man’. Many of our most interesting works by Dickens are from our Novello Cowden Clarke Collection. Mary and Charles Cowden Clarke were friends of Dickens and our copy of ‘Mugby Junction’ is inscribed ‘M.C.C. from C.D.’
We also hold nearly 200 original letters written by Dickens, including one written to James Verry Staples in April 1844 in which he writes “ … it would have given me heartfelt satisfaction to have been in your place when you read my little Carol to the Poor.”
His Christmas books, together with, the later Christmas stories have forever linked Dickens with the celebration of Christmas.