A Christmas Carol

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File:A Christmas Carol frontpiece.jpg
A Christmas Carol frontpiece, first edition 1843.

A Christmas Carol is Charles Dickens' "little Christmas Book" first published on December 17, 1843 and illustrated by John Leech. The story met with instant success, selling six thousand copies within a week. Originally written as a potboiler to enable Dickens to pay off a debt, the tale has become one of the most popular and enduring Christmas stories of all time.

In fact, some historians have suggested that the very popularity of this story played a critical role in redefining the modern importance of Christmas and the major sentiments associated with the holiday.


Plot synopsis

Template:Spoiler A Christmas Carol is a Victorian morality tale of an old and bitter miser, Ebenezer Scrooge, who undergoes a profound experience of redemption over the course of one evening. Mr. Scrooge is a financier/money-changer who has spent his life concentrating on the accumulation of wealth and little else. He holds anything other than wealth in contempt including friendship, love and the Christmas season.

Ebenezer Scrooge encounters "Ignorance" and "Want" in A Christmas Carol

In keeping with the title "Christmas Carol" Dickens divides his literary "piece of music" into five "staves" (plural of staff, an element of written music) on which he will put his "notes." The story begins by establishing that Jacob Marley, Ebenezer Scrooge's business partner in "Scrooge & Marley," was dead—the narrative begins seven years after his death to the very day, Christmas Eve! Scrooge and his clerk Bob Cratchit are at work in the counting-house with Cratchit stationed in the poorly heated "tank," a victim of Scrooge's stinginess. Scrooge's nephew Fred comes in to wish his uncle a "Merry Christmas" and invite him to Christmas dinner the next day. He is dismissed by Scrooge with "Bah! Humbug!" among other unpleasantries. Two "portly gentlemen," collecting charitable donations for the poor, come in right after, but they are rebuffed by Scrooge, who points out that the Poor Laws and workhouses are sufficient to care for the poor. When Scrooge is told that many would rather die than go there Scrooge mercilessly responds, "If they would rather die ... they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population." At the end of the workday Scrooge grudgingly allows Cratchit to take Christmas Day off, but to be all the earlier to work on the day after.

Scrooge leaves the counting-house and returns to his home, an abandoned warehouse, kept dark and cold by the miser. While he unlocks his door Scrooge is startled to see the ghostly face of his former partner Marley instead of the familiar appearance of his doorknocker. This is just the beginning of Scrooge's harrowing night for Marley later comes up to visit him as he eats his gruel by the fireplace. Marley has come to warn Scrooge that his miserliness and contempt for people will subject him to the same fate Marley himself was suffering in death, wearing the chain he had forged in his selfish life, condemned to walk the earth in penitence since he had not done it in life in concern for mankind. Scrooge's fate might be worse in death because his chain was as long and as heavy as Marley's seven Christmases ago when Marley had died, and Scrooge had been working on it with his selfish life. Marley tells Scrooge that he has a chance to escape his own fate through the visitation of three more spirits that will appear one by one. Scrooge is shaken but goes to sleep thinking that a good nights sleep will make him feel better.

At one o'clock in the morning the first spirit appears and introduces himself to Scrooge as The Spirit of Christmas Past. This spirit leads Scrooge on a journey into some of happiest and saddest moments of Scrooge's past.

Scrooge's spirit-provided visions show him the meagre Christmas celebrations of the Cratchit family, the sweet nature of their crippled son, Tiny Tim, and a possible early death for the child; this prospect is the immediate catalyst for his change of heart.

In the end, Scrooge changes his life and reverts to the generous, kind-hearted soul he was in his youth, before the death of his sister, the only person in his youth who seemed to care for him.

The story deals extensively with two of Dickens' recurrent themes, social injustice and poverty, the relationship between the two, and their causes and effects. It was written to be abrupt and forceful with its message, with a working title of "The Sledgehammer." The first edition of A Christmas Carol was illustrated by John Leech, a politically radical artist, who in the cartoon Substance and Shadow printed earlier in 1843, had explicitly criticised artists who failed to address social issues.



A Christmas Carol has been adapted to theatre, film, radio, and television countless times. According to the Internet Movie Database, various movie adaptations of the story were filmed as early as 1910.

Perhaps the most popular and critically-acclaimed film adaptation of the story was made in Britain in 1951. Originally titled Scrooge (and renamed A Christmas Carol for its American release), it starred Alastair Sim as Scrooge, and was directed by Brian Desmond-Hurst with a screenplay by Noel Langley.

Most modern adaptations refer to the spirit of "Christmas Yet to Come" as the spirit of "Christmas Future" instead.

Other noteworthy adaptations of the story include:

In addition, others have noted that the classic film It's a Wonderful Life is essentially A Christmas Carol in reverse. That is instead of a miserly and selfish man changing his ways with a supernatural experience on Christmas Eve, the film depicts the story of a compassionate businessman who sacrificed his dreams to help his community and feels he is a failure. In the depths of despair, there is a supernatural occurrence to show him that his choices were more than worthwhile.


Dickens wraps up the story with two short paragraphs telling us that sickly Tiny Tim survives and stingy Ebenezer Scrooge becomes renowned for his newfound goodness--basically a "happily ever after" ending--but he provides no detail on what happens to any of the characters. Following the every-good-story-deserves-a-sequel idea, a number of authors have crafted their own versions of what befell Scrooge and company. Ranging from Internet stories to best-selling novels, several different works have picked up the characters and events of Dickens' classic to spin new tales for the story's aftermath.

Here are but a few:

  • Timothy Cratchit's Christmas Carol, 1917: A Sequel to the Charles Dickens Classic (Dickens World, 1998) by Dale Powell. In this version, an elderly "Tiny Tim" is a wealthy immigrant living in America who experiences his own spiritual visitations on Christmas Eve.
  • The Trial of Ebenezer Scrooge (Ohio State University Press, 2001) by Bruce Bueno De Mesquita. A uniquely philosophical take on the Scrooge mythology set in the afterlife with Scrooge on trial to determine if he merits entry into Paradise.
  • "Scrooge & Cratchit" (scrooge-and-cratchit.com, 2002) by Matt McHugh. Beginning seven years after the events of the original, Bob Cratchit is now Scrooge's partner in business as they both face the wrath of bankers every bit as ruthless as Scrooge in his prime.
  • The Last Christmas of Ebenezer Scrooge: The Sequel to A Christmas Carol (Wildside Press, 2003) by Marvin Kaye. This sequel picks up right where the original left off, with Scrooge trying to right an unresolved wrong. This version was also adapted for the stage.
  • Mr. Timothy (HarperCollins, 2003) by Louis Bayard. Here again is an adult Tiny Tim, only this time as a 23-year-old resident of a London slum who becomes embroiled in a murder mystery. Mr. Timothy was included in the New York Times' list of Notable Fiction for 2003.

See also

External links

Template:Wikisource Online editions


es:Canción de Navidad fr:Un chant de Noël it:Canto di Natale ja:クリスマス・キャロル pl:Opowieść wigilijna pt:A Christmas Carol sv:En julsaga

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