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Dickens’ A Christmas Carol remains one of everyone’s favorite holiday reads, even after the 165 years since it was published.  I wrote a previous post on the publication history here  – so I do repeat myself about my childhood memory of watching the 1951 Alastair Sim movie adaptation on a VERY small B&W television [I am dating myself here!] – I can still hear those dragging chains of Jacob Marley’s ghost haunting the mind of the miserly Scrooge.  It was a scary, yet heart-warming show for a small child to see – and I think it has shaped my life in unseen ways.  There were a number of other movie adaptations through the years [go to IMDB to peruse them all – under a Christmas Carol, Scrooge, etc!] – but it was this first encounter that stays with me.  Sort of like Miracle on 34th Street – no matter how many new movies are made, it is really only the Maureen O’Hara / John Payne / Natalie Wood version that shines.

[But I digress – this reminds me of my book group that try as we may to talk about the BOOK, we always end up talking about the MOVIE…]

A Christmas Carol was first published on December 19, 1843 – you can read all this in my previous post,  but today I just wanted to add that the Morgan Library & Museum has the manuscript on display [until January 10, 2010].  I was at the Morgan to see the current Jane Austen exhibit but also was anxious to see this special Dickens treat on display.   I confess my heart skipped several beats looking into the case that houses the manuscript – here was Dickens’s own handwriting, his corrections, elaborate cross-outs, a speedy re-working of his imagination, and the words “Tiny Tim will die…”  And again, I realize how much a part of our culture is this story…

[John Leech, Mr. Fezziwig’s Ball (detail), original watercolor illustration for Charles Dickens’s Christmas Carol, first edition, 1843. Purchased by J.P. Morgan Jr., 1934; PML 30615]

From the Morgan website:

Ebenezer Scrooge, Tiny Tim, Mr. Fezziwig, Bob Cratchit, the Ghost of Christmas Past—in the age of film and television these characters from Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol are universally familiar. The story has been told as a stage musical, a serious dramatic film, and a modern comedy. 

But, in the end, it all comes back to a magical book written by Dickens in a six-week flurry of activity in late 1843. Greeted with universal acclaim at the time of publication, A Christmas Carol might rightfully be called an “instant masterpiece.” William Makepeace Thackeray called it a “national benefit” and an American factory owner gave his workers an extra day’s holiday when he had finished reading it.

When the manuscript was returned after printing Dickens arranged for it to be finely bound in red morocco leather and presented it as a gift to his solicitor. It was purchased by Pierpont Morgan in the 1890s. Visitors to The Morgan Library & Museum can view the original manuscript by Dickens in a special presentation in the museum’s famed McKim Building.

The manuscript reveals the author’s method of composition: the pace of writing and revision, apparently contiguous, is rapid and boldly confident. Revisions are inserted for vividness and immediacy of effect. Deleted text is struck out with a cursive and continuous looping movement of the pen, and replaced with more active verbs and fewer words to achieve greater concision. Dickens’s manuscript shows vividly his efforts to create the highest-quality literary work in the shortest possible time.


Further reading:

and just addedMarley and Me by Morgan Meis at The Smart Set of Drexel University