Sunday, December 14, 2008

"A Christmas Carol" Charles Dickens and the Invention of Christmas

In 1843, Dickens published "A Christmas Carol." The manuscript is currently on display at the Pierpont Morgan Library. Its a tradition in our household to go and view the manuscript at this time of year!

When the manuscript was returned after printing Dickens arranged for it to be finely bound in red morocco leather and presented it as a gift to his solicitor. It was purchased by Pierpont Morgan in the 1890s. Beginning on November 20, visitors to The Morgan Library & Museum can view the original manuscript by Dickens in a special presentation in the museum's famed McKim Building.

The manuscript reveals the author's method of composition: the pace of writing and revision, apparently contiguous, is rapid and boldly confident. Revisions are inserted for vividness and immediacy of effect.

Deleted text is struck out with a cursive and continuous looping movement of the pen, and replaced with more active verbs and fewer words to achieve greater concision. Dickens's manuscript shows vividly his efforts to create the highest-quality literary work in the shortest possible time.

Judith Flanders points out features of Dickens' Christmas:

When he first described a typical Christmas, in 1837, the year Queen Victoria came to the throne, while some of the standard markers of the festival were already in place – family parties, mistletoe and holly, plum pudding and mince pies – just as many traditional Christmas symbols were missing. There was no tree, no carols, no cards, no stockings, no crackers, no Father Christmas and, perhaps most surprisingly of all, no presents.

The tree arrived in the late 1830's from Germany. Carols took off in the 1850's after pianos arrived in middle class homes encouraging the singing of carols around the piano and Santa Claus came from America in the 1880's. Railways enabled the turkey to supplant a traditional goose on the menu since before the railways, turkeys had been marched from East Anglia where they were raised to their destinations e.g. London. Under such conditions, turkeys lost weight and had to be fattened up again before being sold.

She concludes:
So, by the end of the century, the traditional Christmas – that luxurious moment of home-grown tradition – was produced by manufacturers, delivered by railways and advertised by newspapers and magazines. Everything had been reshaped, reordered and repackaged, to be sold commercially as the perfect image of the home-made holiday.

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