“Marley was dead: to begin with.”
Six words, haunting in nature, begin one of the most beloved Christmas tales of all time. Interestingly, Charles Dickens had something other in mind when he penned the work A Christmas Carol in 1843. Some critics say that Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol as seasonal sentiment highlighting Christmas traditions of years gone by. Others contend that it is a reflection upon Victorian England, emphasizing its social and economic inequalities.
England during the Victorian Era (1837-1901) was not all theatrical plays, brass bands, and Great Exhibitions. Major social, cultural, and economic disparities came to light, such as child labor, prostitution, and severe poverty. A product of poverty and child labor himself, Dickens strove to highlight the issues plaguing the lower class throughout his works.
In 1843, after reading a parliamentary report exposing the realities of child labor in factory and coal mine work, Dickens wrote to one of the commissioners pledging to write a pamphlet titled An Appeal to the People of England, on behalf of the Poor Man’s Child. Four days later he altered his plans and promised to deliver “a sledge hammer” that would “come down with twenty times the force – twenty thousand times the force” (Dickens). Dickens’ sledgehammer turned out to become his famous A Christmas Carol, a work of fiction that would expose the economic and cultural differences between the upper and working classes, harsh living conditions for the poor, and the governmental practices that kept these conditions a reality. Feverishly written in the course of six weeks and published at his own expense, the 6000 copies of A Christmas Carol sold out on the first day. While A Christmas Carol did not enact the social reform Dickens hoped for immediately, it did lend itself to transforming “the Christmas holiday from a church service into a universal season of generosity, gift giving, and family tradition” (Summerhays). Dickens’ collective works would later alter the course of social and economic norms, as he once dreamed.
Print copies available in the Library
Digital and Downloadable, full-text versions available from:
- Project Gutenberg: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/46
- Internet Archive: http://www.archive.org/details/christmascarol00dickuoft
“A Christmas Carol.” Novels for Students. Ed. Michael LaBlanc. Detroit: Gale Group, 2001. 65-95. Print.
Dickens, Charles. “To Dr. Southwood Smith.” 10 March 1843. Letter in A Christmas Carol. Ed. Richard Kelly. Ontario, Canada: Broadview Press, 2003. 212.
Summerhays, James. “The Dickens Sledgehammer that Forever Changed Christmas.” Meridian Magazine 28 December 2004. Web.