On the 2nd December 1867, famed English novelist Charles Dickens gave his first ever reading in New York. People waited in mile-long lines just to hear him read from his books. The stories included A Christmas Carol and some of his shorter festive tales.
These readings came during his second visit to America. His first trip to the United States had been some years earlier in 1842, when he spent a month, again in New York City, giving lectures and raising awareness of the poor quality of the international copyright laws, after many of his stories had been pirated across the country. During his visit, Dickens persuaded a group of twenty-five writers, including Washington Irving, to sign a petition for him to take to Congress, but the press was hostile towards his campaign, saying that he should be grateful for his popularity and that he was greedy to complain about his work being stolen.
The experiences and impression Dickens got from his first trip to the United States are described in his travelogue, American Notes for General Circulation, in which Dickens made a powerful attack on slavery, a matter he had touched on during the writing of The Pickwick Papers. Dickens also used his experiences in America during his writing of Martin Chuzzlewit (1843–44).
It wasn’t long after Charles had returned to England that he began work on the first and most well known of his Christmas stories, A Christmas Carol, (1843). A Christmas Carol was hugely popular across the English speaking Western world and did much to promote the joy of Christmas in Britain and America.
Charles Dickens performed 76 readings from his books between December 1867 and April 1868, travelling back and forth from Boston to New York to do so, before returning to England to return to writing again.
Dr Kathryn Bates is a graduate of archaeology and history. She has excavated across the world as an archaeologist, and tutored medieval history at Leicester University. She joined the administrative team at Oxford Open Learning twelve years ago. Alongside her distance learning work, Dr Bates is a bestselling novelist, and an itinerant creative writing tutor for primary school children.