In the fall of 1843 Charles Dickens was facing tremendous financial pressure. He knew he
needed to write a hit and he needed to do it quickly. One evening he took a long walk, hoping for something that would spark his imagination. He began his walk in his own neighborhood-one of London’s finest. As he walked he waved and spoke to those he passed, the elegant ladies and the well-dressed gentlemen. His walk took him across the Thames River into the litter strewn streets of one of London’s worst slums. Here, the lords and ladies were replaced by streetwalkers, pickpockets, and beggars.
Suddenly he felt a flash of inspiration. He would write a Christmas story for these very people–people who hungered for a bit of cheer and hope. Christmas was close; Dickens had to write quickly. As he recorded the story of the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge being
visited by the ghost of his dead partner, Dickens began to experience a personal change. What had begun as a calculated plan to eliminate debt became a work that captured his soul.
He wrote about the kind of Christmas he loved–family parties, mistletoe, carols, games, feasts and gifts. When the manuscript was ready for press, Dickens insisted that the book have a gold-stamped cover, a red and green title page, four hand-colored etchings and four woodcuts. To make it possible for the book to reach a wide audience, he priced it at only five shillings.
Neither Dickens or the publisher were prepared for the response to the release of A Christmas Carol. It completely sold out the initial press run of 6000 copies in the first six days–an amazing feat in 19th England. Since the book was so lavishly packaged and so modestly priced, it did not provide an immediate solution to Dickens’ financial problems. This was all right with him; he had enough to get by. His later works (David Copperfield and Tale of Two Cities among them) brought him the financial prosperity he needed.
In Christmas 1843, however, Charles Dickens was satisfied to give this universally loved novel to the world. From the storm of tribulation came a gift–and it changed forever the way people celebrate Christmas.