Wednesday, December 19, 2018

175th Anniversary of a Christmas Classic

By Bryan Whitledge

On December 19, 1843, the arguably most-beloved of Christmas stories was first offered to the public. Despite disputes and differences of opinion about the publication of the book, Charles Dickens and his publisher worked up until the very end to ensure that A Christmas Carol would be on the shelves ahead of the Christmas holiday. Dickens’ insistence on the highest-quality product possible created a great deal of work for the publishers. But most agree that all of the work to bring the novel to market prior to Christmas was a great idea - the entire run of 6,000 copies sold out on the first day! Before the end of that year – less than two weeks – Chapman and Hall, the publisher, produced a second and third edition of the text.

From the start, the book was a critical and popular success. In the United States, the story became Dickens’ most popular, with over two million volumes sold in the one hundred years following the initial release. Countless adaptations for radio, stage, television, and cinema have been produced. And our language has been forever changed – Bah! Humbug is a curmudgeonly way of dismissing anything, nobody ever wants to be called a scrooge, and merry is the preferred adjective for a Christmas greeting.

At the Clarke, you can find various editions of A Christmas Carol spanning 163 years -- from an 1843 first edition to a 2006 edition illustrated by award-winning Irish artist P.J. Lynch (pictured at right). Lynch is not the only award-winning artist to have added his or her graphical interpretation to the story. Lisbeth Zwerger and Roberto Innocenti (pictured at bottom), who have been awarded the Hans Christian Andersen Award from the International Board on Book for Young People, have illustrated editions of A Christmas Carol. The beautifully-illustrated British and American editions of famed artist Arthur Rackham are among the most attractive copies of the book that one can find. And there are pop-up versions of the story from the late-twentieth century among the 39 different editions of Dickens’ classic yuletide story in the Clarke's holdings (pictured at bottom).

A Christmas Carol, illustrated by Arthur Rackham

The first edition, one of the 6,000 copies released 175 years ago, is a special item found in the Clarke. The only book for which Dickens sprung for color illustrations, the famous red and blue title page and frontispiece of Mr. Fezziwig’s Ball are a delightful touch for a book published in 1843 (pictured at top). It is a wonder to think that this little book was part of a frenzy in England matching that of a new smartphone release in San Francisco today. One presumes that this book was a coveted acquisition when it was purchased on December 19, 1843. All these years later, anyone can have the same experience of opening the pages of this treasured story and reflecting on Ebenezer Scrooge’s transformation from a scrooge to a wisher of Merry Christmases.

"Marley's Ghost" from the 1843 first edition
A Christmas Carol, illustrated by Lisbeth Zwerger

A Christmas Carol, illustrated by Roberto Innocenti

Pop-up editions of A Christmas Carol