The history of 'A Christmas Carol'

Posted at 1:32 PM, Dec 23, 2017
and last updated 2017-12-23 13:32:24-05

(CNN) - Charles Dickens wrote "A Christmas Carol" in six weeks, and it is still a classic more than 170 years later.

The iconic characters of the famous novella are known around the world, and the history behind the story is on display in two locations.

The Dickens Museum in London was established at 48 Doughy Street in a house Dickens rented as a young married man. On display are his writing tools, including quill, ink well and magnifying glass. It also includes his fabled writing desk, which went with him every time he moved.

"A Christmas Carol" was first published Dec. 19, 1843, and all 6,000 copies were sold out five days later, on Christmas Eve.

The tale of Ebenezer Scrooge, Bob Cratchit and the four ghosts was Dickens' first work published as a book rather than in serial form.

The original pencil sketches by illustrator John Leech, a young caricaturist with Punch Magazine, are on display at the Dickens Museum.

Dickens is also being celebrated in New York City this holiday season, with a special exhibition at the Morgan Library. It displays the original manuscript for the book in Dickens' own hand, with his scratchy and nearly illegible penmanship.

"These are very cluttered pages where they're heavily revised," Declan D. Kiely, the exhibits curator at the Morgan Library, said. "He's changing his mind, he's going back. The level of artistic energy there, I think, is almost bouncing off the page when you look at it."

Dickens was in his early 30s when "A Christmas Carol" was first published and it became one of his favorite readings while on his celebrated tours in the following decades.

"They were like rock concerts, his readings," actor Simon Callow said. "People were just so thrilled to be in his actual physical presence. The fact that he was also a brilliant actor was such a huge bonus. People would scarcely believe their luck."

Dickens' farewell American tour in the late 1860s earned him the modern equivalent of $1.5 million.

Dickens died in 1870. An engraving of his writing desk with his chair empty became a Christmas best-seller later that year.

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