When Dickens began his literary career in the 1830s, the celebration of Christmas was in decline in England. A number of nostalgic stories and memories of Christmas appear in his early works, but the 19 December 1843 publication of A Christmas Carol broke new ground. Its depiction of a contemporary Christmas among the working poor renewed enthusiasm for the holiday. A lavish production suitable for gift-giving, it had gone through seven printings by May 1844. The Carol became synonymous with the holiday, with countless adaptations and appropriations of its characters and plot (see the 20th-century billboard shown here.) Dickens wrote four more successful “Christmas Books” in the 1840s: The Chimes (1844), The Cricket on the Hearth (1845), The Battle of Life (1846), and The Haunted Man (1848). These works continued the Carol's incorporation of the supernatural, its emphasis on the joys of domestic life, and its focus on compassion and selflessness as the meaning of the holiday.
Rare Book Room Hallway Gallery
Duke University, Durham, NC
On display February 1-April 1, 2012