The Man Who Invented Christmas (Movie Tie-In): How Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol Rescued His Career and Revived Our Holiday Spirits (Includes Charles Dickens's Classic A Christmas Carol)

The Man Who Invented Christmas (Movie Tie-In): How Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol Rescued His Career and Revived Our Holiday Spirits (Includes Charles Dickens's Classic A Christmas Carol)

by Les Standiford


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781524762469
Publisher: Crown/Archetype
Publication date: 09/19/2017
Pages: 352
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

LES STANDIFORD is the author of the critically acclaimed Last Train to Paradise, Meet You in Hell, and Washington Burning, as well as several novels. Recipient of the Frank O’Connor Award for Short Fiction, he is Founding Director of the Creative Writing Program at Florida International University in Miami, where he lives with his wife and three children.


Miami, Florida

Date of Birth:

October 31, 1945

Place of Birth:

Cambridge, Ohio


B.A., Muskingum College; M.A. and Ph.D., University of Utah

Read an Excerpt


In London, in 1824, it was the custom to treat a debtor little differently from a man who had reached into a purse and stolen a similar sum. In this case, he was a father of seven, and though he was gainfully employed, it was not gainful enough. His debt was to a baker, a man named Karr, who lived in Camden Street, and the sum was forty pounds, no small amount in those days, when an oyster was a penny, a whole salmon a pound and six, and a clerk who worked for a tightfisted miser in a countinghouse might not earn as much in a year.

Accounts were tallied, the sheriff was consulted, and men were sent in consequence. Our father—John his name, and thirty-seven—was taken by the sheriff’s men to what was called a “spong­ing house,” a kind of purgatory where those who could not meet their obligations were afforded some few days to seek relief from their creditors’ charges, intervention from a person of influence, or possibly a loan from family or friends.

In this instance, help was not forthcoming. Two days passed with no good word, and then our John, officially an insolvent debtor, was passed along to the Marshalsea, imprisoned alongside smugglers, mutineers, and pirates. “The sun has set on me, forever,” he told his family as he left.

One who tried to help was a son of John, who, then twelve, took a job, at six shillings a week in a tumbledown ­factory-house that sat on the banks of the River Thames. One day long afterward the boy would speak of the place, “Its wainscoted rooms and its rotten floors and staircase, and the old grey rats swarming down in the cellars, and the sound of their squeaking and scuffing coming up the stairs at all times, and the dirt and decay of the place, rise up visibly before me, as if I were there again.”

His job was to fill small pots with shoe blacking, and tie them off with paper, and then to paste on each a printed label. The boy worked ten hours a day, standing near a window for better light and where any passersby might see him, with a break for a meal at noon, and one for tea later on. And though the place was grim and the work was numbing, and this had put his childhood to an end, he worked on. For his father was in prison. For a debt of forty pounds. For his family’s bread.

“My whole nature was so penetrated with the grief and humiliation of such considerations,” the boy would one day write, “that even now . . . I often forget in my dreams that I have a dear wife and children; even that I am a man; and [I] wander desolately back to that time of my life.”

While these words testify to the force of a childhood blow, they also offer reassurance that there would one day come a lightening of his circumstances. That the boy would not spend forever in his dismal occupation, nor would his father stay forever in the Marshalsea, though there were three long months there, with our young man visiting his father in a tiny room behind high spiked walls, and where, the boy recalls, they “cried very much.”

And where his father told him “to take warning by the Marshalsea, and to observe that if a man had twenty pounds a year, and spent nineteen pounds nineteen shillings and sixpence, he would be happy; but that a shilling spent the other way would make him wretched.” These words of caution, and lament, and more, and then at 10:00 p.m. the warning bell would toll and our young man of twelve would walk out into the foggy London night, five miles toward home, and some hours of oblivion before the scurrying, and the squealing, and the little pots of blacking came again.

The boy’s name was Charles, of course, and his family’s name was Dickens, and most who have commented on the life of the famed author have ob­served that those sorry experiences of his youth, described in a scrap of autobiography never published during his lifetime, constitute the most sig­nificant of his formative years. All art grows out of its maker’s loss, it has been said—and if that is so, Dickens’s loss of his childhood was to become the world’s great gain.

Dickens, who is generally considered one of the most ­ac­complished writers in the English language, published twenty novels in his lifetime—he died in 1870—and none of them has ever gone out of print. His personal experience of harsh working conditions and a deep sympathy for the poor inform much of his writing, and more than one scholar has made a life’s work out of tracing the parallels between the ­author’s life and his fiction. The number of academic books, dissertations, monographs, and articles devoted to Dickens and such lengthy works as Oliver Twist and David Copperfield, Bleak House and Great Expectations, is, practically speaking, beyond counting.

But perhaps the best known and certainly the most be­loved of all Dickens’s works has received relatively little study. Though A Christmas Carol abounds in references to Dickens’s life, and is the very apotheosis of his themes—and though it is exquisitely crafted, often referred to as his most “perfect” work—critical attention has been scant.

Perhaps it is because the book is short, fewer than 30,000 words; perhaps it is because of its very popularity, its readership said at the turn of the twentieth century to be second only to the Bible’s; or perhaps it is because of the difficulty or the irrele­vance of analyzing what is simply very good. Dickens’s contemporary, William Makepeace Thackeray, as scathing a critic as ever walked the streets of London, once said of it, “Who can listen to objections regarding such a book as this? It seems to me a national benefit, and to every man or woman who reads it, a personal kindness.”

Perhaps the most surprising thing about the story behind this well-known story, however, is the pivotal role it played both in Dickens’s career and in cultural history itself. At the time he sat down to write his “slender volume,” Dickens’s once unequaled popularity was at a nadir, his critical reputation in a shambles, his bank account overdrawn.

Faced with bankruptcy, he was contemplating giving up on writing fiction altogether. Instead, he pulled himself ­together and, in six short weeks, wrote a book that not only restored him in the eyes of the public but began the transformation of what was then a second-tier holiday into the most significant celebration of the Christian calendar.

However, as many an old storyteller has put it, we have gotten a bit ahead of ourselves.

Mean Season


On the evening of October 5, 1843, thirty-one-year-old Charles Dickens sat on a stage in the smoke-laden city of Manchester, surely unaware that on this evening a process would begin that would change his life—and Western culture—forever. At the moment he was simply trying to pay attention as fellow novelist and junior member of Parliament Benjamin Disraeli completed his remarks to their eager audience.

Dickens and Disraeli, along with political firebrand Richard Cobden, were the featured speakers for this special program, a fund-raiser for the Manchester Athenaeum, the industrial capital’s primary beacon of arts and enlightenment. Designed by Charles Berg, architect of the Houses of Parliament, the Athenaeum’s headquarters (as well as its mission) was greatly revered by culture-starved workingmen and the more progressive of the city’s leaders. But a lingering downturn in the nation’s economy—part of the industrial revolution’s ceaseless cycle of boom and bust—had sent the Athenaeum into serious debt and placed its future in doubt.

Hoping to turn the tide, Cobden, a Manchester alderman and also an MP, had joined with other concerned citizens to lay plans for a bazaar and “grand soirée” in the adjoining Free Trade Hall. A popular and vociferous opponent of the onerous Corn Laws, which imposed stiff duties on imported grain and inflated the profits of England’s landowners at the expense of a citizenry often unable to buy bread, Cobden could always be counted upon to draw an audience. But with the addition of popular authors Disraeli and Dickens to the bill, the promoters hoped for a bonanza of shopping and new subscriptions that would secure the future of the Athenaeum once and for all.

Disraeli—the man who would go on to serve nearly forty years in his nation’s government, including two stints as prime minister, propelling his country into such epic undertakings as the annexation of Cyprus and the building of the Suez Canal—was at that time simply the socially conscious son of Jewish parents, a budding politician who had left the study of law to write a series of popular romances.

The evening’s headliner, however, was Dickens, who had become perhaps the world’s first true celebrity of the popular arts. The author of Sketches by Boz, The Pickwick Papers, Oliver Twist, Nicholas Nickleby, and The Old Curiosity Shop was far and away his country’s best-selling author, acclaimed as much for his themes—the passionate portrayals of the misery of the poor and the presumption and posturing of the rich—as for his spellbinding powers as a storyteller. And yet, for all his accomplishments, Dickens sat upon that Manchester stage a troubled man. True, he had risen from a poverty-stricken childhood of his own to enjoy unimaginable success and influ­ence. But what preoccupied him on that evening was how rapidly—and how unaccountably—his good fortune had fled.

In fact, an account of Dickens’s rise from his miserable days in a London boot-blacking factory up until the time of his appearance in Manchester reads like melodrama:

His education was first interrupted at the age of twelve, when his father—a naval pay clerk who always struggled to meet his obligations—was imprisoned for debt (in time, the rest of the family, including Dickens’s mother, Elizabeth, and his three younger brothers and sisters finally joined his father in Marshalsea). Though he was able to resume school briefly after his father was released, the family’s fortunes plunged again, and at fifteen, young Charles was taken from school and apprenticed as a law clerk. Though he found the work there only slightly less dismal than the bottling of boot polish—and though he quickly came to loathe the hypocrisy of a labyrinthine and self-serving legal system—he formed a lifelong commitment to the distinction between “justice” and “the law.”

In 1829, at the age of seventeen, Dickens took a job as a court stenographer, and five years later, at twenty-two, be­gan writing for a British newspaper, the Morning Chronicle, which dispatched him across the country to cover various elections. Along the way, Dickens discovered an interest in and facility for writing of the foibles, eccentricities, and trag­edies embedded in the nation’s legal and political machinations; his keen eye and caustic wit enabled him to place a number of pieces in periodicals, a practice that not only supplemented his income but gratified his ego as well.

Of his first publication, a sketch titled “A Dinner at Pop­lar Walk,” in the December 1833 issue of Monthly Magazine, Dickens recalls the purchase of “my first copy of the magazine in which my first effusion—dropped stealthily one evening at twilight, with fear and trembling, into a dark letter-box, in a dark office, up a court in Fleet Street—appeared in all the glory of print; on which occasion by-the-bye,—how well I recollect it!—I walked down to Westminster Hall, and turned into it for half-an-hour, because my eyes were so dimmed with joy and pride, that they could not bear the street, and were not fit to be seen there.”

While many of his first “outside” publications took the form of rudimentary short stories, Dickens began to make a name for himself with his nonfiction work for the Chronicle, especially the series of “Street Sketches” that offered readers for the first time a vivid and empathetic view of ordinary London life. Pieces such as “Brokers and Marine Store Shops,” “The Old Bailey,” and “Shabby-Genteel People,” not only fascinated the readers of Dickens’s time but foreshadowed the dramatic style of today’s so-called new journalism. As the critic Michael Slater notes, “Already in these sketches Dickens is experimenting, very effectively, with that blending of the wildly comic and the intensely pathetic that was to win and keep him such thousands of devoted readers in after years.”

This success in the Morning Chronicle led its publisher, George Hogarth, to invite Dickens to fashion a similar piece for the launch of a new publication, the Evening Chronicle. Soon Dickens was contributing regularly to the new publi­cation and others, signing off as “Boz,” and creating something of a stir in London literary circles. In October of 1835, the publisher John Macrone offered Dickens one hundred pounds for the rights to publish a collection of Sketches by Boz, a handsome sum for a young reporter making just seven pounds per week.

Writers’ use of pseudonyms for the publication of literary items was a standard affectation of the time, and more than a small amount of gossip arose among those “in the know” as to the true identity of such widely read figures as Fitzboodle, Titmarsh, and Mr. C. J. Yellowplush. Dickens was fond of passing along to friends the contents of a hush-hush note he had received informing him in no uncertain terms that the writer behind the moniker of “Boz” was none other than his friend and fellow essayist Leigh Hunt.

It was not until advertisements for Sketches were placed that the true identity of “Boz” (taken from a childhood nickname for Dickens’s youngest brother, Augustus) was revealed, and for several years afterward, Dickens maintained the good-natured and popular affectation. Friends called him Boz, and Dickens often referred to himself in the third person as Boz. (Later he would be fêted at the “Boz Ball” during a tour of the United States, and as late as 1843, his novel Martin Chuzzlewit, though acknowledging its author as Charles Dickens, still carried the notation “Edited by Boz” on its title page.)

Sketches was published in February of 1836 and met with unqualified success. Suddenly, Dickens saw himself vali­dated as a spokesman for the underclass and an appointed foe of buffoonery, unwarranted privilege, and chicanery. One pa­per lauded him as “a kind of Boswell to society,” and another called the sketches “a perfect picture of the morals, manners, and habits of a great portion of English Society.” John Forster, who would one day become Dickens’s great friend, adviser, ed­i­tor, and first biographer, wrote in the Examiner that Dickens

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Man Who Invented Christmas: How Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol Rescued His Career and Revived Our Holiday Spirits 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 20 reviews.
Hoosierlv More than 1 year ago
This book satisfied the story behind the story of A CHRISTMAS CAROL and the man who fought some personal demons to get it done within his deadline. He elevated the poor without making them look utterly helpless and hapless. He chastened the hard-hearted rich who could not see beyond their unfathomable greed and utter selfishness. And he gave his readers a sense of just how to pull out the stops and REALLY celebrate a holiday outside of the religious institutions of the time. His three ghosts help a dowdy old man to repurpose his life and his goals and found that richness is only measured in how it is used to improve the lives around you, rather than in a bank vault. His protagonist is an unlovable person because he is incapable of loving anything that has no monetary value-- even his beloved family and his neighbors and employees. What is fascinating about this book is the back drop of Victorian England and the English speaking world's dismissal of a holiday and how it was revived from the ashes of feudal England and the Institutional Christendom and was reset as a social event without becoming preachy or overbearing. Dickens, a known socialist, was tempted by Marxist theory but rejected it and embraced instead a higher meaning of how society, church, and government can co-exist through the social networks of people as England evolved into the Industrial Revolution without losing or punishing any of those past institutions. He puts magic and sparkle and joy back into the gray skies of London England and the rest of the world. I would heartily recommend this book to the lover of history and for book club discussions, especially during the holiday season.
JL_Garner More than 1 year ago
Who among us hasn't read Charles Dickens' classic novel "A Christmas Carol" at least once, or seen one of the many film or TV adaptations over the years? Probably most of us, and we could debate for hours over whose Scrooge is the best.

It wasn't until I read Les Standiford's new volume "The Man Who Invented Christmas" that I realized just what a powerful impact Dickens' novel had on how the Anglo-American world regards and celebrates Christmas.

While Standiford's new book is hardly a groundbreaking study of Dickensian literature, it is a great read for casual Dickens fans, lovers of "A Christmas Carol," and those who are interested in the holiday itself.
horacewimsey on LibraryThing 3 months ago
Attempts to parallel the rise in popularity of Christmas with the popularity of Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol." The book is filled with interesting facts about Dickens and about the making of "A Christmas Carol," but I don't think it does a great job at paralleling the arcs of Christmas celebration with the life of Charles Dickens. "A Christmas Carol" is quite popular, indeed, but I don't think I've ever heard it said that Charles Dickens reinvented Christmas with it.The physical book is a bit smaller than the average hardback which leads me to believe it was published to make a quick buck at Christmas by allowing itself to be easily displayed on the Christmas table at Barnes & Noble.
jfslone on LibraryThing 3 months ago
Copy and pasted from my blog:I picked this book up from the new releases table at Borders because I am a huge fan of Charles Dickens, and with the Christmas season coming up fairly quickly I thought it would be beneficial to read about the origins of one of my favorite Christmas tales. This is a non-fiction work, and while it is a biography down to the last word, I found it to be extremely conversational and light reading. There are many different biographies out there on Dickens, but it was interesting to get a perspective based around a specific work. I think this helped Standiford narrow the multitude of facts available on Dickens down to a manageable amount, which contributed to the ease of reading for me.There are so many things to love about this book, especially for the die-hard fan of classic literature and its authors. There are many anecdotes discussed that link Dickens¿ life experiences to his work, and explain why he may have written the things he did. There is also an in-depth look at the symbolism of the Carol, as well as analysis of the reactions of Dickens¿ friends and reviewers of the time. All these are things that made the part of me that remembers I hold a degree in history absolutely hungry for more.There are a few areas I think Standiford could have improved upon before the final publication of this book. Since I¿ve just finished it, I think the ending is most fresh in my mind and I can only say I feel it was too short. I feel like I spent so many pages delving into the very heart of the Carol, with so many different aspects dissected and analyzed for my enjoyment, and then the conclusion was almost unbearably quick. After he finishes his analysis, Standiford rapidly discusses the other Christmas books Dickens wrote, followed by a quick succession of other novels, and then discusses his unfortunate demise and death from a stroke. While he does devote the final chapter to summarizing just how important Dickens was to the institution of Christmas and the celebrations we enjoy today, I just can¿t shake the feeling that the end was put together much faster than the rest of the book, and meant to tie up as many loose ends as possible without using too many words.This is interesting, in that it is almost the complete opposite of the book¿s beginning, which brings me to the only other fault I can find. I am an avid Dickens fan, therefore I already know much about his early work, the ways in which it was published, and the circumstances of his life. I spent a lot of time during the first portion of the book wondering just when the Carol was going to come into play, and when Standiford was going to start making connections that would make the background information make sense in regards to his thesis. He spends a lot of time covering basic biographical information in a decently good amount of detail.However, once he really got into the meat of the Carol and its circumstances, I was captivated. It¿s such an interesting perspective, and one that I think any fan of the story would appreciate. It¿s a plot that nearly everyone has heard, seen, or read in some way, and its themes are recognizable in nearly every nation of the world. To hear the origins of these themes and the opinions of the author himself as well as his closest friends and advisers, is a treat I wish I could savor for every classic work of literature that I love.The thought struck me, during the writing of this review, that perhaps the reason I found some parts too basic and humdrum, was because I am a scholar of Dickens. I knew this base material coming in to this book, and I think I believed it would begin as if the reader already knew the basics, and immediately proceed to delve into the Carol with fervor and in depth analysis. This book definitely has those things I was looking for, but it is written in such a way that even the most casual of fans could pick it up and understand exactly what Standiford is trying to say. He makes sure that he exclud
NewsieQ on LibraryThing 3 months ago
A narrative about what led up to Dickens's writing A Christmas Carol -- and how it affected his difficult financial situation. As the subtitle suggests, the author also makes the case that if Dickens didn't exactly INVENT Christmas, he reinvented it after the celebration had been dormant for centuries in England.Not an overly scholarly book, but with adequate back notes for readers who want them.An enjoyable read -- now I'm onto the Annotated A Christmas Carol.
LittleTaiko on LibraryThing 3 months ago
What a wonderful read for the holiday season. My book club had just finished reading A Christmas Carol so this book came at the perfect time. I have always been a fan of Dickens and enjoyed learning more about his background and the circumstances that caused him to write this book. It was also very informative to see how Christmas used to be celebrated and how it has evolved over the years. I would recommend this book to anyone who likes A Christmas Carol.
George02141 on LibraryThing 3 months ago
A wonderful biography of both Charles Dickens and the idea that was the genesis of A Christmas Carol. The book explains how our modern ideas of Christmas (outside of the tree and St. Nick) almost directly come from the famous Dickens story.
jasonlf on LibraryThing 3 months ago
Excellent book. Like a well written novel (not Dickensian though, if you want that read Dickens). It is partly biography (focusing on a narrow slice of Dickens' life surrounding the 1843 publication of A Christmas Carol), partly a history of Christmas, and partly a detailed description of the book publishing industry at the time. The subtitle is "How Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol Rescued His Career and Revived Our Holiday Spirits" and the book was probably stronger on the first half of this promise than the second. In fact, the defense of Dickens's Christmas role against Washington Irving was a bit of a stretch. Overall, I would recommend this to anyone as a great introduction to the period and the writer and a narrow slice of social history.
LydiainJoliet More than 1 year ago
I was expecting this to be such a good book, instead all I can say is it is okay. I don't think that I learned much from it any more so than I would have read in wikipedia, I felt that the author was quite detached from Charles Dickens and it was like reading a bland rendition of something that the author looked up in various books about Dickens and simply put in order and had printed into a book. Maybe reading it in the beginning of December might give it a bit more interest, but I wanted to get a more personal look into the man than this gives. To be honest I was so relieved when it was over...
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Easy to read and holds your interest all the way. Dickenson has always been one of my favorite writers. This was an excellent peek into his life and also gave insight into the evelopment of one of our biggest holidays. If you have children...they need to read this
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Dr.Angel More than 1 year ago
My joy in reading comes when I come across books such as these. I grew up reading books by Charles Dickens and of course CHRISTMAS CAROL is one of my favorite. When I picked up the treasure Mr. Standiford had written, I was ecstatic to say the least that I would now be able to read a history of the classic itself. Loved the book!
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