This week (December 19-25) in English literary history – Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol was published (December 19, 1843); Emily Bronte died (December 19, 1848); Robert Frost married Elinor White (December 19, 1895); Poor Richards Almanac was published (December 19, 1732); Thomas Paine’s essay “American Crisis” was published (December 19, 1776); John Steinbeck died (December 20, 1868); Ernest Hemingway and Martha Gellhorn divorced (December 21, 1945); F. Scott Fitzgerald died (December 21, 1940); George Eliot (may Anne Evans ) died (December 22, 1880); Beatrix Potter died (December 22, 1943); Samuel Beckett died (December 22, 1989); Stephanie Meyer was born (December 24, 1973).
Highlighted Story of the Week -
On December 19, 1843, Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol was published. The story is one of the most beloved works of 19th century literature, and the story’s enormous popularity helped make Christmas a major holiday in Victorian Britain. When Dickens wrote the story in late 1843 he had ambitious purposes in mind, yet he could never have imagined the profound impact his story would have. Dickens had already achieved great fame. Yet his most recent novel was not selling well, and Dickens feared his success had peaked. Indeed, he faced some serious financial problems as Christmas 1843 approached. And beyond his own worries, Dickens was keenly attuned to the profound misery of the working poor in England. A visit to the grimy industrial city of Manchester motivated him to tell the story of a greedy businessman, Ebenezer Scrooge, who would be transformed by the Christmas spirit.
Dickens was born in 1812 and attended school in Portsmouth. His father, a clerk in the navy pay office, was thrown into debtors’ prison in 1824, and 12-year-old Charles was sent to work in a factory. The miserable treatment of children and the institution of the debtors’ jail became topics of several of Dickens’ novels. In his late teens, Dickens became a reporter and started publishing humorous short stories when he was 21. In 1836, a collection of his stories, Sketches by Boz, later known as The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club, was published. The same year, he married Catherine Hogarth, with whom he would have nine children. The short sketches in his collection were originally commissioned as captions for humorous drawings by caricature artist Robert Seymour, but Dickens’ whimsical stories about the kindly Samuel Pickwick and his fellow club members soon became popular in their own right. When the stories were published in book form in 1837, Dickens quickly became the most popular author of the day.
The successes were soon reproduced with Oliver Twist (1838) and Nicholas Nickleby (1839). In 1841, Dickens published two more novels, then spent five months in the United States, where he was welcomed as a literary hero. Dickens never lost momentum as a writer, churning out major novels every year or two, often in serial form. Among his most important works are David Copperfield (1850), Great Expectations (1861), and A Tale of Two Cities (1859). Beginning in 1850, he published his own weekly circular of fiction, poetry, and essays called “Household Words.” In 1858, Dickens separated from his wife and began a long affair with a young actress. He gave frequent readings, which became immensely popular. He died in 1870 at the age of 58, with his last novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, still unfinished. Dickens was interred within Poets’ Corner at Westminster Abbey in London.
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Michael Thomas Barry is the author of six nonfiction books that includes Literary Legends of the British Isles and America’s Literary Legends.