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A Christmas Carol | Study Guide

Charles Dickens

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A Christmas Carol | 10 Things You Didn't Know


Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol has become almost synonymous with the Christmas season. Published in December 1843, the novella describes the moral realizations of the infamous Scrooge, visited by the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future in order to influence him to be a kinder and more empathetic man. Scrooge's transformation has inspired millions to view the Christmas season as a time for good works and compassion, a necessary respite from the stresses and trials of the working world.

A Christmas Carol also inspired numerous Christmas traditions and impacted the importance of the holiday in the 19th century. Today the novella has been adapted extensively and is one of the most beloved and well-known pieces of Christmas literature in the world.

1. Dickens took the character name "Scrooge" from a tombstone—or at least he thought it said, "Scrooge."

Ebenezer Lennox Scroggie was a merchant from Edinburgh whose gravestone Dickens glimpsed on a walk through the city. Dickens thought the tombstone described Scroggie as a "mean man," whereas it actually read "meal man," which meant a corn merchant. In life Scroggie was apparently kind and inoffensive, but his legacy lives on in literature as the ornery and irritable Scrooge.

2. A Christmas Carol's Tiny Tim was based on Dickens's nephew.

Dickens's sister, Fanny, had a son with disabilities who was named Henry Burnett, Jr. Though Dickens changed the name for his character, Tiny Tim's personality and traits—innocence, naiveté, and kindness despite illness—are based on his sister's son.

3. Thomas Edison produced a silent film adaptation of A Christmas Carol.

Edison Manufacturing Company produced the 1910 silent film adaptation of A Christmas Carol. Though only 11 minutes long, the film has been praised for its effects and attention to detail in costume and set design.

4. A visit to a tin mine inspired Dickens to write A Christmas Carol.

Before writing A Christmas Carol, Dickens visited a Cornish tin mine in 1843 that utilized child labor. He was so appalled by the conditions that he was inspired to write literature dedicated to inspiring sympathy in others for England's poverty-stricken children.

5. Dickens barely made any money off A Christmas Carol.

Because of Dickens's elaborate design for the book's presentation (including four woodcuts and gold lettering on the cover), the book's production costs were so high that his own profit was almost negligible. Since its publication, reprints and theatrical and screen productions generate much income every year, but very little of it directly benefited Dickens.

6. A Christmas Carol was read to soldiers in the trenches during World War I.

During the darkest days of the Great War, Captain Corbett-Smith read A Christmas Carol aloud to his men in the trenches. The reading was, no doubt, a welcome break for the soldiers, who had heard only exploding shells and machine gun fire as the Christmas season approached.

7. A Christmas Carol influenced a real-life Scrooge to close his factory on Christmas.

The factory owner, named Mr. Fairbanks, attended a reading of A Christmas Carol in 1867 and was so touched by the story he gave his workers the holiday off. He sent them each a turkey to eat with their families.

8. Many of the Christmas traditions in Dickens's A Christmas Carol weren't traditions at the time of its publication.

At the time Dickens wrote the story, Christmas trees, carolers, and stockings were not accepted traditions. A Christmas Carol contributed to the popularity of the Christmas turkey, as before the novella's publication, a turkey for dinner on Christmas was not commonplace.

9. Dickens gave more than 100 public readings of A Christmas Carol at Christmas.

Reading to a crowd of 2,000, Dickens gave his first performance of the story in Birmingham in 1853. Audiences were fascinated with his readings of A Christmas Carol, and he continued the performances until 1870. Listeners often felt as though he "possessed" the characters as he read.

10. A mime portrayed Scrooge in a BBC adaptation of A Christmas Carol.

The network presented Marcel Marceau's A Christmas Carol on the Omnibus program in 1973. Marceau, who played Scrooge, was a widely acclaimed French mime artist. Known as the "master of silence," Marceau also helped save children during the Nazi occupation of France during World War II.

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