The young writer was desperate to come up with a quick fix for his money woes. Sales of previous books were poor and his wife was pregnant with their fifth child. It was October of 1834. As he wracked his brain for an answer, an idea came to him. Christmas books made money, but there was not much time to get a book written and published in six weeks. No better solution came to mind, so he plunged forward.
Charles Dickens lived in a time when children were forced to work in factories. As a child from an impoverished family, Dickens had worked in a factory and developed a sense of kinship with the poor. In March of 1934, Dickens visited a factory and decided to write a pamphlet entitled, “An Appeal to the People of England of Behalf of the Poor Man’s Child.” The pamphlet never was written, but the idea stayed with him.
Later that year, Dickens visited schools for the poor, encountering children who lived on the streets, learning to survive as thieves and prostitutes. Soon afterward, he gave a speech on the importance of education for the poor. Not long after the speech, he got the idea for his famous story.
Dickens worked feverishly at his desk, churning out The Christmas Carol in only six weeks. The publisher created a beautiful book with a red cloth binding, gilt-edged pages, and colored illustrations. By the way, a first edition is available on Etsy for $32,000.
Alas, the book was a financial flop. Undaunted, Dickens hit the road, reading his story in 127 performances over the next few years and helping to make Tiny Tim and Ebenezer Scrooge household names. Both characters were based on real people.
Thomas Malthus was a 19thcentury economist who argued for limiting population growth, particularly those mired in poverty.
It could well have been Malthus saying these words of Scrooge,
Since you ask me what I wish, gentlemen, that is my answer. I don’t make merry myself at Christmas and I can’t afford to make idle people merry. I help to support the establishments I have mentioned: they cost enough: and those who are badly off must go there.” “Many can’t go there; and many would rather die.” “If they would rather die,” said Scrooge, “they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.”
Tiny Tim was inspired by two family members. Dickens had a sickly younger brother they called Tiny Fred. He also had a disabled nephew named Henry Burnett, Jr.
The Christmas Carol became one of the most famous stories ever written, inspiring movies, musicals, and stage productions. Its timeless themes of redemption and charity continue to bring hope to a world weary of sin and despair.