Thus, the story behind Dickens’ A Christmas Carol

“Marley was dead to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that.”  Thus — such a wonderful word, thus, and greatly underused in today’s society, I think –– begins the immortal story of Charles Dickens “A Christmas Carol.”  With his wit, humor and imagination, Dickens sings for us a carol that has permanently woven its tune into the holiday season, and even everyday life.  I mean, who hasn’t called a stingy person a Scrooge? And who names their child Ebenezer anymore? Here are some interesting facts behind the story of “A Christmas Carol.”

  • Instead of chapters, Dickens called the breaks in his story staves.  A stave is a verse in a poem or a song.
    Originally, Bob Crachit’s  sickly child was named Fred, after Dickens’ younger brother.  Though, the young Crachit’s name was changed to Tim, the name Fred was still used in the story for Scrooge’s nephew.
  • “Fan” was not only Scrooge’s sister in the book, but also the nickname of Dickens own sister, Frances, who died of consumption in 1848 at the age of 38.
  • Dickens’ sister “Fan” has a son Henry, who was a sickly child and died at the age of 10.  He was most likely the model for Tiny Tim.
  • Dickens stated in his diaries that Scrooge stems from a grave marker, which he saw in 1841 for the vintner Ebenezer Lennox Scroggie.  The marker identified Scroggie as a “meal man,” meaning he was a corn merchant, but Dickens misread to say “mean man” and wrote it must have “shriveled” Scroggie’s soul to carry “such a terrible thing to eternity.”  Unfortunately, the grave marker was lost during construction work in 1932.
  • There have been several theories as to where Dickens got additional inspiration for the character of Scrooge, but the man who Dickens mentions in his letters that bears a strong resemblance to the character was a noted British eccentric and miser named John Elwes (1714-1789).  Dickens illustrator, John Leech used Elwes’ likeness to portray Scrooge in his illustrations.
  • The word “humbug” means deceptive or false talk. Though Scrooge is known for saying “Bah! Humbug!” he actually only says it twice in the entire book. He uses the word “Humbug!” by itself seven times, but he stops on the first syllable the seventh time after realizing Marley’s ghost is real, and the word is never used again. 
  • The name “Ebenezer” is Hebrew for “Stone of Help.”
  • Since its publication in 1843, “A Christmas Carol” has been adapted for theater, film, television, radio and opera.  Can you name some of the actors who have played Ebenezer Scrooge?  What about Bob Crachit?

“And it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless Us, Every One!”

Happy holidays! — Julie

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