Today in 1843, Charles Dickens published "A Christmas Carol" in England.
The story is about sour and stingy Ebenezer Scrooge's ideological, ethical, and emotional transformation after the supernatural visitations of Jacob Marley and the Ghosts of Christmases Past, Present, and Future. The novella met with instant success and critical acclaim.
The book was written and published in early Victorian-era Britain when the country was experiencing a nostalgic interest in its forgotten Christmas traditions and at a time when new customs such as Christmas trees and greeting cards were being introduced.
Dickens was not the first author to celebrate the Christmas season in literature, but it was he who superimposed his secular vision of the holiday upon the public. The forces that impelled Dickens to create a powerful, impressive and enduring tale were the profoundly humiliating experiences of his childhood, the plight of the poor and their children during the boom decades of the 1830s and 1840s, and Washington Irving's stories of the traditional English Christmas.
The tale has been viewed as an indictment of nineteenth century industrial capitalism and was adapted several times to the stage. It also has been credited with restoring the holiday to one of merriment and festivity in Britain and America after a period of sobriety and somberness. "A Christmas Carol" has always remained popular, has never been out of print, and has been adapted to film, opera and other media.
Although the phrase "Merry Christmas" was popularized following the appearance of the story, and the name "Scrooge" and exclamation "Bah! Humbug!" entered the English language, Ruth Glancy, [Who is she?] argues the book's singular achievement is the powerful influence it has exerted upon its readers.
In the spring of 1844, "The Gentleman's Magazine" attributed a sudden burst of charitable giving in Britain to Dickens's novella. In 1874, Robert Louis Stevenson waxed enthusiastic after reading Dickens's Christmas books and vowed to give generously. And Thomas Carlyle expressed generous hospitality by staging two Christmas dinners after reading the book. In America, a Mr. Fairbanks attended a reading of the book on Christmas Eve in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1867, and was so moved he closed his factory on Christmas Day and sent every employee a turkey.
The tale begins on Christmas Eve seven years after the death of Ebenezer Scrooge's business partner Jacob Marley. Scrooge is established within the first stanza as a greedy and stingy businessman who has no place in his life for kindness, compassion, charity or benevolence. After being warned by Marley's ghost to change his ways, Scrooge is visited by three additional ghosts who accompany him to various scenes with the hope of achieving his transformation.
The first of the spirits, the Ghost of Christmas Past, takes Scrooge to the scenes of his boyhood and youth which stir the old miser's gentle and tender side by reminding him of a time when he was more innocent. The second spirit, the Ghost of Christmas Present, takes Scrooge to several radically differing scenes (a joy-filled market of people buying the makings of Christmas dinner, the family feast of Scrooge's near-impoverished clerk Bob Cratchit, a miner's cottage, and a lighthouse among other sites) in order to evince from the miser a sense of responsibility for his fellow man. The third spirit, the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, harrows Scrooge with dire visions of the future if he does not learn and act upon what he has witnessed. Scrooge's own neglected and untended grave is revealed, prompting the miser to aver that he will change his ways in hopes of changing these "shadows of what may be."
In the fifth and final stave, Scrooge awakens Christmas morning with joy and love in his heart, then spends the day with his nephew's family after anonymously sending a prize turkey to the Cratchit home for Christmas dinner. Scrooge has become a different man overnight, and now treats his fellow men with kindness, generosity, and compassion, gaining a reputation as a man who embodies the spirit of Christmas. The story closes with the narrator confirming the validity, completeness and permanence of Scrooge's transformation.
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