In October of 1843, with his wife due to have a baby in January, Charles Dickens got an idea – he’d pay for her medical care and a trip abroad by writing a short book that could be sold at Christmas.
And not some distant Christmas. That very Christmas. A little more than two months away.
Dickens hired John Leech to illustrate the book even before he had a word on paper. But he knew exactly what he wanted – he had written the story in his head as he made fifteen and twenty mile walks across London late at night.
‘A Christmas Carol’ was published on December 19, 1843. In the week before Christmas, it sold 6,000 copies. By May of 1844, it was in its seventh edition.
But it was not an immediate moneymaker for Dickens.
For one thing, his printing costs were very high – he’d specified a lavish binding, quality paper and colored plates for the art. For those first 6,000 copies, he received just 137 pounds.
Then there was a pirated version of the story, which forced him to sue. He won in court, but the pirates declared bankruptcy; Dickens had to pay their legal fees. It cost him 700 pounds to win the right to declare that his was the only authentic edition.
That was his last unhappy experience with ‘A Christmas Carol.’ Soon the story was adapted for the theater. And when Dickens lectured, it was one of his favorites – it was the centerpiece of his farewell performance in 1870.
It may interest you to know what when Dickens read ‘A Christmas Carol’ – and he read it onstage 127 times – he used an abridged version.
That is, a version very much like ours.