::THe history of a Christmas Carol::
By mid-December the first edition of A Christmas Carol, In Prose, Being a Ghost Story of Christmas was on the stands. The title was lettered in gold, and it featured gilt-edged pages and eight illustrations by John Leech, half of which were hand-colored. All six thousand copies of the first printing sold out, and two thousand copies of the second printing were committed before publication. Fifteen thousand copies were sold within a year.
Eight London theater companies had dramatic versions of the novel running by February. These extremely popular productions added songs and sometimes characters to Dickens’ text to enhance the melodrama. Although Dickens had his misgivings about many of these productions, he made no attempt to shut any of them down. In fact, Dickens later did his own stage adaptation of A Christmas Carol, then performed it in a public reading, playing all the roles himself. He continually reworked the text, changing the performance to suit each audience.
In the 150 years since A Christmas Carol was published, it has been retold and adapted more often and in more ways than perhaps any other fictional work. Its story has been told as a ballet, opera, musical, film, television special, puppet show, orchestral work and cartoon. Paul Davis’s book The Life and Times of Ebenezer Scrooge documents his research on the historical legacy of A Christmas Carol; in it he suggests that every age “recreates the story in response to its own cultural needs.” For example, Davis shows that Victorian versions treated A Christmas Carol as a parable, a secular “retelling of the Biblical Christmas story.” In the early 1900s it became primarily a children’s story; a few decades later in the late 1920s and early 1930s, versions of A Christmas Carol focused on the story as a “denunciation of capitalism” and a way to escape the harsh economic reality of the Depression era. The Scrooge of the ’60s became a Freudian figure whose subconscious emerges in the form of Marley and the ghosts. More recently, Scrooge has become again “a social figure placed in the center of unsettling economic realities,” much as he was for readers in Dickens’s day.
A Christmas Carol’s message of generosity and social responsibility has prevailed for 150 years, reminding readers and audiences of the true spirit of the holiday season. As Paul Davis notes, “Dickens may have framed out thoughts and established the broad outlines of the story, but the Carol is rewritten each Christmas, and Scrooge, an altered spirit, appears anew with each telling.”