“Marley was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that."
These rather grim words began A Christmas Carol published in London in 1843 by Chapman and Hall. The first edition was released on December 19 and was sold out by Christmas Eve. Warm reviews, including glowing praise by critic William Thackeray, helped to spark immediate interest. Word of mouth quickly spread about this heartfelt, ghostly story that remains a holiday classic nearly 180 years later.
We have been in love with Ebenezer Scrooge ever since. Not the tight-fisted miser, but the tender soul who transformed into a kinder, gentler man after visits from the spirits of Christmas Past, Present, and Yet to Come.
What makes this novella such a beloved classic?
Charles Dickens penned the story in the midst of his own literary crisis following disappointing sales of Barnaby Rudge. His last real success was Oliver Twist in 1838.
Under financial pressure, he wrote A Christmas Carol in just six weeks. The thin volume ultimately became a self-published work with original illustrations by John Leech.
Dickens wrote the story with great emotion, often laughing and weeping over the characters and plot. He is known to have walked the streets of London at night thinking about his creation.
During this Victorian period, the British grappled with different sentiments about Christmas traditions and some were seemingly open to newer customs such as Christmas cards and Christmas trees.
Dickens wrote many of his literary works from lived experiences. He had once been poor himself and sympathized with the underserved. As a boy, he had to leave school to work at a boot-blackening factory. He never forgot this hardship and it manifested in much of his writings.
A major reason behind the book's success are its enduring characters, beginning with Scrooge's clerk, Bob Cratchit. We feel deeply for this caring man who struggles under the cruel treatment of Scrooge, yet he never wavers from finding comfort in the moment and from providing for his family. Tiny Tim, the afflicted gentle soul, steels our hearts and we cry at the thought that he might die from the consequences of Scrooge's callous actions.
In the end, old Scrooge does change and he lifts us up. We forgive the miser. Cheering alongside him, we open our hearts to the joy of this special season and the spirit of charity.
Yes, we are still in love with Scrooge and his redemption is a worthy lesson for us all.
William Weger is a regular contributor to Books & Bards. A writer, former journalist, and author of Marshmallows over Manhattan and Inspire Good: Nonprofit Marketing for a Better World. He is the founder of Books & Bards and Clearfont Media.