Christmas Past Makes a Great Christmas Present

The literary work most associated with Christmas is Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, but, really, all of Charles Dickens’ works somehow seem to fit the holiday season, so we would like to take this opportunity to feature a very special array of British editions of Dickens’ novels, mostly first editions illustrated by Phiz, and a couple of other very special holiday collectible editions.1-thechimes

The Chimes
This 1905 J.M. Dent deluxe edition of the second of Dickens’ famous Christmas books is bound in vellum, with lovely decorative gilt to the spine and front board, showing holly, ivy and cherubs in an Art Nouveau style. Illustrated by Charles E. Brock. $225

2-nicholasnicklebyThe Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby
First Edition, mixed issue. Chapman and Hall, 1839. Twentieth-century half morocco binding by Zaehnsdorf of London. $1,200 Continue reading

Happy 200th Birthday, Charles Dickens!

While the heft of Great Expectations may strike fear into 9th graders’ hearts year after year, much of the world regards Charles Dickens as the greatest Victorian novelist who ever lived. He was prolific in both writing (15+ novels!) and in life (10 children!). There are dozens of Dickens exhibitions around the world, a “Dickens World” theme park in Kent, and nearly 50 film/miniseries adaptations of his work. Even if you haven’t read any of his stories, it’s unlikely that you’ve escaped familiarity with some of his most memorable literary contributions:

  • “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” (A Tale of Two Cities)
  • “Bah! Humbug!” (A Christmas Carol)
  • “Take nothing on its looks; take everything on evidence. There’s no better rule.” (Great Expectations)
  • “Please, sir, I want some more.” (Oliver Twist)
  • “A loving heart was better and stronger than wisdom.” (David Copperfield)
  • Ebenezer Scrooge, Oliver Twist, The Artful Dodger, Samuel Pickwick, Philip Pirrip (Pip), and dozens of other creatively & aptly named characters.

And a few fun trivia snippets you may not know:

Dickens…

  • Often went by the nickname “Boz.”
  • Narrowly escaped death in an 1865 train crash.
  • Earned money as a child by pasting labels on shoe polish bottles (while his father was in debtor’s prison).
  • Was NOT the source of the phrase, “What the Dickens?” (Shakespeare used the expression in The Merry Wives of Windsor.)

If you’d like to celebrate Dickens’ bicentenary, check out Dickens2012 for a calendar of events, or visit your neighborhood Half Price Books and pick up one (or all) of the author’s famous novels. Still pining for Dickensian delights? Try the Charles Dickens action figure, Oliver Twist iPod charger, or this  t-shirt.

Have you read much Dickens? Which is your favorite of his novels?

— Kate

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