We've got a couple of weeks left of A CHRISTMAS CAROL: ON THE AIR. This story is tried and true, but there are a few fun facts that we bet you don't know about it. This article originally appears in The Telegraph.
1. The great historian Thomas Carlyle went straight out and bought himself a turkey after reading Dickens’s tale of the redemption of Scrooge. Novelist William Thackeray, not always an admirer of Dickens, called A Christmas Carol a “national benefit”; one American entrepreneur gave his employees an extra day’s holiday. Publication had been a huge success, selling in excess of 6,000 copies. Dickens had began writing his “little Christmas book”, as he called it, in October 1843 and worked on it feverishly for six weeks, finishing it at the end of November, just in time for Christmas.
2. As he wrote, Dickens wept and laughed and wept again and would often take long night walks through London, covering anywhere between 15 or 20 miles “when all sober folks had gone to bed”. When he completed the book, he “broke out”, as he himself described it, “like a madman”.
3. The story is loosely based on Gabriel Grubb, a character in The Story of the Goblins Who Stole a Sexton, which appeared in Dickens’ first published novel, The Pickwick Papers. In the story, a gravedigger determined not to make merry at Christmas, is kidnapped by goblins and convinced to change his ways.
4. Two months after the publication of A Christmas Carol, Parley’s Illuminated Library pirated it. Dickens sued and won his case. The pirates, on the other hand, simply declared themselves bankrupt, leaving Dickens to pay £700 in costs, equal to £56,364 today.
5. Within six weeks of its publication, the book hit the London stage in an adaptation by Edward Stirling, which ran for more than 40 nights before transferring to New York’s Park Theatre. Also in the same city, a musical version was staged which was hampered badly on opening night, when brawling broke out, drowning out the bass drum that ushered Marley’s ghost as he rose through a trapdoor.
6. In 1853, 10 years after its publication, Charles Dickens gave the first public performance in Birmingham’s town hall. He performed it in front of a rapturous crowd of 2,000, all working people from the town, and it lasted just under three hours. Before this time, no great author had performed their works in public and for profit, which many thought beneath Dickens’ calling as a writer and a gentleman.
7. On performance days Dickens stuck to a rather bizarre routine. He had two tablespoons of rum flavoured with fresh cream for breakfast, a pint of champagne for tea and, half an hour before the start of his performance, would drink a raw egg beaten into a tumbler of sherry. During the five-minute interval, he invariably consumed a quick cup of beef tea, and always retired to bed with a bowl of soup.
8. He always presented himself to his audience in full evening dress, with a bright buttonhole, a purple waistcoat and a glittering watch-chain. His stage equipment consisted of a reading desk, carpet, gas lights and a pair of large screens behind him to help project his voice forward.
9. Without a single prop or bit of costume, Dickens peopled his stage with a throng of characters, it is said, “like an entire theatre company… under one hat”. The arrival of Scrooge always created a sensation; Dickens became an old man with a shrewd, grating voice whose face was drawn into his collar like an ageing turtle. During the Fezziwigs’ party, his fingers would dance along the reading table in a mad array of little hops and pirouettes. It is reported that the audience “fell into a kind of trance, as a universal feeling of joy seemed to invade the whole assembly”.
10. Dickens began with A Christmas Carol, and he ended with it. His last reading of the little book took place in London at St James’s Hall, on March 15, 1870. At the end of the performance, he told his audience: “From these garish lights, I vanish now for evermore, with a heartfelt, grateful, respectful, and affectionate farewell.” There was a stunned silence, broken by a tumult of cheering, hat-waving and the stamping of feet. With tears streaming down his face, Dickens raised his hands to his lips in an affectionate kiss and departed from the platform for ever. He died three months later, aged 58.