Why Charles Dickens wrote "A Christmas Carol" The first edition of A Christmas Carol. The illustration on the left is of Mr. Fezziwig’s ball, one of Scrooge’s good memories. (Wikimedia Commons)
Why Charles Dickens wrote "A Christmas Carol"
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A Christmas Carol is more than a timeless Christmas story - its author hoped that its lessons would be remembered all through the year.

The publication of A Christmas Carol in 1843 ensured that Charles Dickens’ name would forever be linked with Christmas. In some ways, it’s a very Victorian story of urban circumstances: extremes of wealth and poverty, industry and inability. But it also helped change Victorian society, writes historian Catherine Golden for the National Postal Museum blog. And that’s why Dickens wrote it.

Aside from boosting people’s awareness of the plight of the poor in Victorian England, though, Dickens also had a more immediate need: cash. He’d spent too much on his 1842 American tour, Golden writes, and he needed to support his large family. “Thinking creatively, he wrote himself out of his dilemma,” she reports.

The already well-known writer’s solution worked, to a degree. He sold out the first print run in a week, all 6,000 copies of it. By the end of the next year, writes Brandon Ambrosino for Vox, the book had sold more than 15,000 copies. But due to the book’s lavish bindings and the relatively low price he chose to sell it for, writes Michael Varese for The Guardian, much of that money didn’t make it back to the author, who was hoping to make at least $1000 from the book. “What a wonderful thing it is that such a great success should occasion me such intolerable anxiety and disappointment!” he wrote.

The book did have the cultural impact Dickens was hoping for, though. The writer came from a poor family and is remembered as a friend to the poor throughout his life. In the fall of that year, writes Ambrosino, the author had visited a Samuel Starey’s Field Land Ragged School, which taught poor children. “Dickens easily empathized with such children living in poverty, coming, as he did, from a poor childhood himself - a fact that set him apart from many other English authors,” writes Ambrosino.

“Even if economics motivated Dickens to write A Christmas Carol, his story stimulated charity,” writes Golden. Characters like Bob Cratchitt’s family, Scrooge’s lost love and of course Scrooge himself paint a vivid picture of a time and place where need was everywhere, especially in London. And Scrooge’s redemption arc that anchors the story is an important voice to potential middle-class givers, writes Ambrosino. “Though he doesn’t give away any of his money [at the beginning of the story], and though he feels no sympathy for those less fortunate than he, Scrooge, as Dickens makes clear, is no criminal. He works hard for his money, day in and day out.” In the end, Scrooge becomes a sympathetic character. And his belief that prisons and workhouses were enough social aid for those in poverty - a common enough belief in Victorian times - is overwhelmed only when he realizes that the city needs something more: empathy, in the form of charity.

Like Scrooge at the end of the story, when he becomes “as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew,” Dickens himself was a charitable man. He made a good living, writes Ambrosino, “and he used his wealth and influence to help those less fortunate.”

Dickens may not have gotten rich off of the publication of A Christmas Carol, but he did make the world a little richer.

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What makes "A Christmas Carol" timeless?
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COMMENTS (23)
  • rachelb-cel
    12/21/2017 - 05:24 p.m.

    A Christmas Carol is timeless because it's something that can be appreciated by all generations. It's lessons are something that all people need to learn, which is why Dickens write it in the first place. It's a story that everyone knows and is a classic Christmas movie. Not only is it entertaining, but there are many lessons you can learn from it. The article tells a chronological story about how the story of how A Christmas Carol came to be so famous.

  • Chey-dec
    3/02/2018 - 08:23 a.m.

    The lessons that were exhibited aren't just for Christmas, they are for all year.

  • OliviaH-wik
    12/11/2018 - 04:39 p.m.

    A Christmas Carol is timeless because the lessons that it teaches makes it apply to all times of the year, and year after year. There will always be people who are less fortunate, so we should give to them. It has also such a popular story for such a long time that it has almost become a part of Christmas itself.

  • ColinS-wik
    12/11/2018 - 05:44 p.m.

    It is timeless because it is relevant year round.

  • KaidenW-wik
    12/11/2018 - 06:45 p.m.

    A Christmas carol is timeless because the theme of the book is relevant in this time and day. The theme that people can change for the good is still something we hope for right now. scrooge viewed how others lived and it changed his way of looking at life.

  • ZoeP-wik
    12/11/2018 - 07:06 p.m.

    I think the fact that the book can be enjoyed all year round is what makes it timeless.

  • AlaynaB-wik
    12/11/2018 - 07:59 p.m.

    The story is timeless because it never gets old. To this day we still read the book and we even put on plays about it. We still read about it in our schools and then do a lesson on it. A Christmas Carol teaches a good moral or lesson which is good for a lot of kids. So that is why A Christmas Carol is so timeless.

  • EmilyS-wik
    12/11/2018 - 09:45 p.m.

    I think it means that the lessons that it teaches will always be there reminding us of charity and why he wrote the book in the first place.

  • samb-wik
    12/12/2018 - 09:04 p.m.

    "A Christmas Carol" is a timeless and brilliantly written book. What makes the story so great is the fact that the moral and or lesson of it overall can relate to all people, no matter what age or race. It shows the reader the importance of gratitude and kindness towards others in your life. Because of this, the story creates an endlessness of joy and love for "A Christmas Carol".

  • lilyh-wik1
    12/13/2018 - 04:08 p.m.

    I think that the story is timeless because whenever you read it you can still relate to it in your own ways. Its a classic story by Charles Dickens that never grows old.

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