The Literary Salon – The Man Who Invented Christmas

A Christmas Carol is one of my favorite books of all time.   I love it for it’s perfect plot, it’s memorable characters and it’s simple message of hope and redemption.  If you want to know the story behind the writing of this Christmas classic then this months Literary Salon selection may be for you.    

The Man Who Invented Christmas Book

I first wrote about Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol in a Dec 2017 blog where there is a link to the 68 page handwritten manuscript on view each year at the Morgan Library in New York.   It’s interesting to see how many revisions he made to the original.   Can you imagine Tiny Tim being called Tiny Fred?  This year it is open to the page with the famous description of the foggy London street and the introduction of Scrooge in his counting-house.   

Last year I blogged about A Christmas Carol as Applied to Modern Life as it struck me how many of the descriptions and themes are still applicable today.   

But back to how the story came about, for don’t we always want to know where other writers get their muse.   

The Man Who Invented Christmas: How Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol Rescued His Career and Revived Our Holiday SpiritsThe Man Who Invented Christmas: How Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol Rescued His Career and Revived Our Holiday Spirits by Les Standiford

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The ultimate Christmas gift for the Dickens fan, this little book makes a great stocking stuffer!

The Publisher’s Blurb:   

As uplifting as the tale of Scrooge itself, this is the story of how one writer and one book revived the signal holiday of the Western world.   Just before Christmas in 1843, a debt-ridden and dispirited Charles Dickens wrote a small book he hoped would keep his creditors at bay. His publisher turned it down, so Dickens used what little money he had to put out A Christmas Carol himself. He worried it might be the end of his career as a novelist.  The book immediately caused a sensation. And it breathed new life into a holiday that had fallen into disfavor, undermined by lingering Puritanism and the cold modernity of the Industrial Revolution. It was a harsh and dreary age, in desperate need of spiritual renewal, ready to embrace a book that ended with blessings for one and all.   With warmth, wit, and an infusion of Christmas cheer, Les Standiford whisks us back to Victorian England, its most beloved storyteller, and the birth of the Christmas we know best. The Man Who Invented Christmas is a rich and satisfying read for Scrooges and sentimentalists alike.

Why I Liked It:   

I first read Dickens in the summer of 67 when the musical Oliver came out, and believe me, at the age of eleven it was a struggle.   He was so wordy if I hadn’t already known the plot from the movie it’s unlikely I would ever have attempted it, but I was madly in love with my first crush, the Artful Dodger (as played by Jack Wild who sadly later died from throat cancer) and so I persisted.    I fared better in high school when I enjoyed reading A Tale of Two Cities for a book report.   A Christmas Carol is a mere novella in comparison, at barely a hundred pages.   Of course it helps that we have seen movie versions and theatrical performances of it too.    It’s such an accepted part of the Christmas culture that we seldom think about what inspired it? 

The Man Who Invented Christmas delves into how the book came to be written, including even the smallest of details like the name Ebenezer Scrooge.   As well, Dickens was writing from his childhood experience of poverty as his father was frequently in debtor’s prison and he was made to work in a blacking factory at a young age to support the family.   The book also provides some background context to the times, such as Tiny Tim likely suffered from rickets, a common medical condition in industrial London where smog frequently blocked sunlight and vitamins had yet to be invented.  While I was familiar with much of the discussion in this book, having read Jane Smiley’s excellent (link) biography of Charles Dickens, two things stood out. 

The first is the absolute genius of the plot.    I can picture Dickens walking the foggy streets of London, late at night, planning it all out.   Normally he would write and publish in installments, (a feat in itself leaving no room for revision), but this was to be a complete book, and for something he dashed off in a mere six weeks, writing in a manic frenzy until it was just perfect, it is a work of pure genius. 

The second thing is Dickens knew when he was writing it, that it was good and possibly had the makings of greatness, although he could not have foreseen it’s enduring power, and as he mentioned in several of his letters he was quite obsessed with the process.   What a wonderfully satisfying thing to be pleased with what you have written, and then to find out other people like it too.  Isn’t that something we all aspire too?   The reviews were all positive, glowing in fact.   It never went out of print.  

Les Standiford’s book is a fascinating peek behind the scenes into the mind of a creative genius and well worth a read, especially for fans of Dickens.    

Postscript:   Skip the movie by the same name and read the book instead.  What the Dickens kind of miscasting was that?   Dan Stevens will be forever known as Mathew Crawley on Downton Abbey.   Any suggestions for who could play Dickens well? 


15 thoughts on “The Literary Salon – The Man Who Invented Christmas

  1. Joni says:

    I saw the movie first last year, before I read the book, and Dan Stevens just did not seem to be a very animated Dickens to me. The only thing I remember was the characters kept appearing to him in his study while he wrote. I guess there wasn’t enough of a story to translate to screen.


  2. Jo Shafer says:

    I loved this movie! The year that the book came out, I gifted a copy to my husband at Christmas, as we both had enjoyed the film. Matthew Crawley as Dickens? Oops, you see, Dan Stevens IS Matthew Crawley after all. I believe Dickens was a darker man, brown hair, jolly brown eyes, but I can’t think of a suitable actor to portray him today.

    Yes, the characters do keep appearing, and that works in the film version so that the viewer is not left to imagination, whereas the book describes these characters flitting in and out (if I remember correctly).

    About Dickens, I enjoyed reading Tale of Two Cities in school, Little Dorrit more recently. Thank you, Joni, for bringing these titles back to my mind.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Joni says:

      I’m glad you liked it Jo. I just couldn’t get past the Mathew Crawley image. I imaged Dickens as more of a jovial outgoing extroverted fellow, and Mathew was too mild for me.


    • Joni says:

      I loved the music to Oliver and would listen to the album over and over again on our little portable record player. We didn’t get a stereo until the 70’s. It was the first album I ever bought.

      Liked by 1 person

      • lindasschaub says:

        I remember going to see it at the show; perhaps my first musical, though I saw “The Sound of Music” and I guess you could call “Mary Poppins” musicals, but “Oliver” had a more historical tone to it. Same for our family as I had a little cream-colored record player of my own and my parents got a bigger stereo sometime in the 70s – my father would play records all day Sunday and I knew them all by heart as they were the same 8-10 albums, like the old-time country/western (Patsy Cline, Hank Williams Sr, or non-C&W like Jim Reeves). Before that, they had a smaller table-top stereo which I remember as they played my Christmas 45s on there every year. It was a combo radio so they used it more for listening to the news than spinning records.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. annieasksyou says:

    Tiny Fred? Sure glad that one wasn’t immortalized.

    Of course Dickens’ work stands on its own, but when you describe your image of him as jovial, I think of how awful he was to his wife Catherine after 10 children and multiple miscarriages. He drove her from their home and disgraced her.

    But the man could write! Interesting post, Joni.


    • Joni says:

      Yes, that’s true, but I thought he had moved in with his young actress friend, which just goes to prove that men did stupid things back then too. Classic modern celebrity behavior! There was no mention of marital discord in the movie of course. I suspect Dickens might have been a bit of a classic bipolar character, charming to the public but with a nasty side to his wife etc, plus the requiring very little sleep, roaming the streets at night behavior, etc. For that reason, I don’t think Dan Stevens played him well at all as his energy did not come across. And yes he could write – what amazes me is the installment method of his books. Did he know the general outline of it at the beginning, or did he just make it up as he went?

      When we talked earlier of our love for long posts, if you are interested you might want to check out the link to A Christmas Carol as Applied to Modern Life that I mentioned in the blog. Warning it tops out at 5000 words, but most of them are Dickens!


    • Joni says:

      That’s an interesting point. I’ll have to poll some young people and see if they have even heard of it! Same with the movie – that old black and white version would probably not be of interest to any teenager today.

      Liked by 1 person

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