First published on 19th December 1843 (by Chapman and Hall), Charles Dickens’ classic festive story A Christmas Carol is the story of the reformation of the rich and avaricious Ebenezer Scrooge. After being visited by four different ghosts (Scrooge’s deceased business partner Jacob Marley, the Ghost of Christmas Past, the Ghost of Christmas Present, and the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come), the miser sees the error of his greedy ways, regrets his harsh treatment of the poor, and learns to embrace the values of Christmas.
The initial idea for A Christmas Carol came to Dickens after he’d visited Manchester. There, the appalling scenes of deprivation he witnessed at the Field Lane Ragged School caused Dickens to resolve to “strike a sledge hammer blow” for the poor. As the idea for the story took shape and the writing began in earnest, Dickens became engrossed in the book, and teaching the miser who caused the poor so much misery- in this case Scrooge- a lesson.
Victorian Britain was a time and place where nostalgia for traditional Christmas values began to combine with new and popular trends, such as Christmas cards, trees and crackers. By making Christmas time the backdrop to his tale, using its fun and joy as a stark contrast to the images of darkness, despair, coldness, sadness and death that Scrooge himself experienced as a child, and is fearful of expecting in his future, Dickens expertly used his writing to push forward his argument that more needed to be done for the poorest in society.
To this day A Christmas Carol remains popular. The book has never gone out of print and has been turned into many plays, films, and even an opera.
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.