Saturday, December 19, 2015

First Lines Second Thoughts — Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol


First Lines Second Thoughts is a look at the first lines of well known literary works. On second thought, do these opening words stand alone as poetry? Today, in keeping with the spirit of the season we look at the opening lines of Charles Dickens' timeless A Christmas Carol.

Rather than write pamphlets and essays to address the issues of poverty and social injustice in Victorian England, Dickens conveyed his thoughts into A Christmas Carol. A book so cherished that it has never gone out of print since being published this day — December 19 — in 1843.


Marley was dead, to begin with.
There is no doubt whatever about that.
The register of his burial was signed by
the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner.
Scrooge signed it.
And Scrooge's name was good upon
'Change for anything he chose to put his hand to.
Old Marley was as dead as a doornail.


— Charles Dickens


In keeping with the musical title of the book, Dickens' A Christmas Carol is divided not into chapters but staves. The initial popularity of the novella was such that the first run of 6,000 copies sold out by Christmas Eve. By the following spring a seventh edition had also sold out.

It's important to note that, A Christmas Carol was not Charles Dickens' first foray into seasonal writings. He had previously described "A Christmas Dinner" from Sketches by Boz in 1833 and, in The Pickwick Papers four years later he writes of a man undergoing a Christmas conversion following the appearance of goblins.