By 1843 Charles Dickens was already a huge presence in then-contemporary English literature. Behind him were The Pickwick Papers, Oliver Twist, and Nicholas Nickleby. Ahead were David Copperfield, A Tale of Two Cities, and Great Expectations. But that year Dickens’ serial novel, The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit, was not making money.
A Christmas Carol Written for Quick Financial Gain
When Dickens’ publishers required him to pay back advances due to the poor sales of Chuzzlewit, he knew he needed some other means of income. At that point in his career, 1843, Dickens was doing well, but had not reached a level of financial security that would allow him to go for a stretch of time without income. Years later he could have managed through, but not that year.
So Dickens “decided to throw off a complete Christmas book in the intervals of writing the monthly serial parts of Chuzzlewit, to relieve…financial complications….” [Farjeon] In an era when an author’s manuscript was published and available to the public in much shorter times than the 21st Century, A Christmas Carol went on sale in December and was a tremendous success.
Dickens Made Christmas Stories an Annual Tradition
Dickens followed up A Christmas Carol with four other Christmas books:
- 1844 The Chimes
- 1845 Cricket on the Hearth
- 1846 The Battle of Life
- 1848 The Haunted Man
After these, the busy routine of novel writing, public readings, and occasional journalism did not allow Dickens time for a short Christmas book each year. Instead he turned to Christmas short stories, which he published in holiday editions of his two magazines, Household Words and All the Year Round. These stories have been described as “small beer…part of the overflow of that volcanic vitality which neither life nor works was able to exhaust; but…on this modest level, rewarding.” [Lane]
- 1850 A Christmas Tree
- 1851 What Christmas is as We Grow Older
- 1852 The Poor Relation’s Story
- 1853 Nobody’s Story
- 1854 The Seven Poor Travellers
- 1855 The Holly-Tree Inn
- 1856 The Wreck of the Golden Mary
- 1857 The Perils of Certain English Prisoners
- 1858 Going Into Society
- 1859 The Haunted House
- 1860 A Message From the Sea
- 1861 Tom Tiddler’s Ground
- 1862 Somebody’s Luggage
- 1863 Mrs. Lirriper’s Lodgings
- 1865 Doctor Marigold
- 1866 Mugby Junction
- 1867 No Thoroughfare
In addition to the stories as they appeared in Household Words, Dickens sometimes pulled the stories out into separate volumes.
Initial Critical Acclaim for Dickens’ Christmas Stories
While Dickens first wrote a story about Christmas to make money, he later launched his two magazines (which were sequential, not concurrent) to stay in close touch to his huge base of fans. This worked, as Household Words sold as many as 300,000 copies when the Christmas story was included. So much was Dickens associated with Christmas that, when he died in 1870, “…a London costermonger’s girl in 1870 [exclaimed] ‘Then will Father Christmas die too?’” [Encyclopedia Britannica]
Eleanor Farjeon, whose father knew Dickens, says that Cricket on the Hearth was more popular than A Christmas Carol at least up through 1900. Eventually this reversed. Readers came to love Scrooge and his three spirits much more than the Cricket. Yet, both books deserve to be read, as do all of Dickens’ Christmas stories