'A Christmas Carol', the novel which ensured Charles Dickens’ place among the immortals of world literature, was based, primarily, on an idea that arose while visiting a home for destitute children, where Dickens found himself confronted by a good deal of rapacity among some of the local officials. Once the plot for his new story fell into place he composed the profoundly moving tale in a matter of days. Successive generations have hailed the work as “the greatest little book in the world” and Dickens himself as “The Great Apostle of Christmas”. Many believe it to be, quite simply, his greatest work and, certainly, it has had an unparalleled impact on the public consciousness.
The following passage, written in 1909 by literary critic Edwin Charles, perfectly encapsulates the significance of Dickens’ story, and is just as true today as ever: “I regard 'A Christmas Carol' as a sacred subject... It is a sermon, amplifying and exemplifying Holy Writ itself, telling as in a practical and material manner of the newer and holier duties of man to man... so that its glorious lesson of Charity to men may sink into the heart.”
The One-Man Shows
As well as being Britain’s greatest novelist, Dickens performed specially adapted passages from his own works. His first public performances were for charity, beginning with A Christmas Carol, before a crowd of 2,000 working-class people. Many people found Dickens's performances hypnotic, and he executed his readings with a compulsive energy that allowed him little time to rest. His final readings, like the others, were a huge success, but he ended them like Prospero: "From these garish lights I vanish now for evermore." Ill health pursued him, and he died within weeks of his last performance.
"I have endeavoured in this Ghostly little book, to raise the Ghost of an Idea, which shall not put my readers out of humour with themselves, with each other, with the season, or with me. May it haunt their houses pleasantly, and no one wish to lay it."
Charles Dickens, December 1843