A Christmas Carol (Linney) - November 21 - November 23, 2019

Wellington C Mepham High School

 The Man Who Invented Christmas  

How Did A Christmas Carol Come to Be?

From Dickens and Christmas by Lucinda Hawksley, December 2017, BBC.com

 

In May 1843, Charles Dickens was invited to a fundraising dinner in aid of the Charterhouse Square infirmary, which cared for elderly, impoverished men. Ironically, most of the diners were very wealthy men, who made fortunes in the City of London. Dickens wrote a contemptuous letter to his friend Douglas Jerrold describing them as "sleek, slobbering, bow-paunched, overfed, apoplectic, snorting cattle."

 

The author was burning with desire to bring about genuine changes to society. He was "stricken down" by reading the 1843 parliamentary report on Britain’s child laborers, written by pioneering doctor Thomas Southwood Smith and intended to write a pamphlet titled An Appeal to the People of England, on Behalf of the Poor Man’s Child, "with my name attached, of course." The more he thought about it, however, the less impact he felt it would have. Instead, he wanted to write something that would grab people’s attention, something to strike "a sledgehammer blow" on behalf of poor children and have "twenty thousand times the force" of a government pamphlet.

 

In October 1843, Dickens traveled to Manchester to give a speech in support of the Athenaeum, an educational charity for working men and women. His older sister, Fanny, lived in Manchester with her husband, Henry Burnett, and their two sons, Harry and Charles. When Dickens visited them, he was confronted by the difficulties facing his disabled nephew Harry. It made him think about the realities of what life was like for impoverished disabled children, whose lives were even harder than those of their able-bodied siblings. Harry was the inspiration for Tiny Tim. (Sadly, unlike his fictional counterpart, Harry Burnett did not survivedespite his uncle's best efforts to pay doctors to save him.)

 

While walking around Manchester, Dickens was horrified by the sight of families starving on the streets. The breadth of poverty in post-Industrial Revolution Manchester was chilling. This was the "Hungry Forties." Britain was experiencing an economic depression, unemployment was growing exponentially, two consecutive harvests had failed, and the price of everyday foods was beyond the reach of many.

 

Dickens's speech at the Athenaeum on 5 October was passionate in its call for reform. Fired by what he had seen, his words burned with fury and feelings of powerlessness. He railed at how the upper class of wealthy privileged men seemed determined never to share their riches with those who needed help: "How often have we heard from a large class of men...that 'a little learning is a dangerous thing?' Why, a little hanging was considered a very dangerous thing, according to the same authorities, with this difference, that, because a little hanging was dangerous, we had a great deal of it; and, because a little learning was dangerous, we were to have none at all...." His speech was reported in newspapers all over the country.

 

By the time Dickens traveled back to London, he knew he needed to write something monumentally important. The first known mention of A Christmas Carol is in a letter to Scottish academic Macvey Napier, on 24 October: "I plunged headlong into a little scheme...[and] set an artist at work upon it." The artist was Dickens's great friend John Leech, who would become famous as one of the leading cartoonists for Punch. [Leech's illustrations appear throughout this playbill.]

 

Dickens spent six weeks writing. He finished the novella on 2 December, but instead of being relieved, he was stressed and panicking about finances. His bank account was overdrawn and his publishers, Chapman and Hall, were unsupportive of what they considered a strange idea. His current novel, Martin Chuzzlewit, had lost readers during its serialization, and the publishers were losing confidence in their star author. As a result they refused to pay the full costs for publishing A Christmas Carol, so Dickens paid the rest himself. Now the book was finished, Dickens was furious at how little effort Chapman and Hall were making to publicise it. They came to regret their lack of confidence: A Christmas Carol was an instant and overwhelming success, and in 1844, Charles Dickens moved to rival publishing house Bradbury and Evans.

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