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Christmas Carol manuscript by Dickens on display

By Claire Prentice in New York

A handwritten manuscript of Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol has gone on display, revealing just how rushed he was when he wrote it.

The English author's work has gone on display at the Morgan Library and Museum in New York.

John Leech, Mr. Fezziwig's Ball, original watercolor illustration for Charles Dickens's Christmas Carol, first edition, 1843. From the Morgan Library and Museum
Mr Fezziwig's Ball is a watercolour for an 1843 first edition of the book

Dickens wrote the classic story in a six-week flurry of activity, beginning in October 1843 and ending in time for Christmas publication. His speed is evident.

"The manuscript is a mess," says the Morgan's curator Declan Kiely. "It's a mess because Dickens was trying to get everything down on paper really fast."

"When you look at it, you see him in the full flood of creative energy and excitement right there on the page. When he began writing, he just couldn't put it down," says Kiely.

Set at Christmas time, the tale revolves around the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge and his downtrodden clerk Bob Cratchit.

The story of Scrooge's redemption, after he is visited by the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future on Christmas Eve, has inspired numerous TV, radio, film, opera and theatrical adaptations over the years.

Original watercolour from the first edition of A Christmas Carol by John Leech, 1843, from the Morgan Library and Museum's collection. It shows the Third Visitor or the Ghost of Christmas Present
First editions of the book also featured the Ghost of Christmas Present

A new animated movie featuring the voices of Bob Hoskins, Gary Oldman, Colin Firth and Jim Carrey is currently in cinemas across the globe.

The manuscript on display at the Morgan shows Dickens's revisions, corrections and deletions. Kiely describes it as "one of the most revealing and exciting manuscripts" in the Morgan's collection.

The author's many annotations give an insight into the way Dickens plotted the story.

Midway through, after puzzling over a name for his hero, he finally comes up with the memorable Bob Cratchit.

Dickens was known to speak the parts of his characters when he wrote. After finishing A Christmas Carol, he commented that he laughed and wept and laughed again as he wrote it.

Sold out

Ironically, Dickens wrote the story of the miserly Scrooge as a moneymaking exercise.

He had exhausted his finances after a lengthy tour of America and needed to earn some money fast to support his growing family.

The initial print run of 6,000 copies sold out in a week.

Greeted with universal acclaim at the time of publication, A Christmas Carol was described as a "national benefit" by William Makepeace Thackeray.

The story is said to have inspired an American factory owner to give his workers an extra day's holiday.

Dickens's work has enjoyed enormous popularity in America since the author's own lifetime.

But he was very critical of the country and its treatment of slaves and the poor during his first trip to America in 1842. At the time he was at the height of his popularity on both sides of the Atlantic.

Social reform

"It was not a good beginning for Dickens in America," says John Galazin, vice-president of the Dickens Fellowship of New York. "He did not like what he saw here and he let it be known."

Dickens's outspokenness did nothing to dent his sales.

Social reform was a popular theme in his work. The author, known by the pen-name of Boz, created some of the most memorable fictional characters of all time in novels such as Oliver Twist, Great Expectations and David Copperfield.

Reflecting on Dickens's enduring popularity, Galazin says, "His themes are universal. He created these incredibly vivid characters and strong stories which have permeated the English language."

The original manuscript of A Christmas Carol, which Kiely describes as "the ultimate feel-good story", consists of 66 pages.

Dickens's letters

Dickens had it bound in red morocco leather as a gift for Thomas Mitton, his solicitor. It passed through several owners before financier, art collector and Morgan museum founder Pierpont Morgan acquired it during the 1890s.

The Morgan holds a number of Dickens's letters and other manuscripts, including Our Mutual Friend, Dickens's last completed novel.

The collection includes watercolour illustrations by John Leech of scenes from A Christmas Carol, together with the manuscripts of two of Dickens' later Christmas books, The Cricket on the Hearth and The Battle of Life.

Neither of these stories achieved the popularity of A Christmas Carol.

The exhibit will be on display until 10 January 2010.



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