By Rhian Isaac, Senior Librarian for Special Collections
A perfect Christmas treat for day 19 is A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens which was published on this day, in 1843.
The cold, dark winter nights have always invited the sharing of supernatural tales and Christmas has long been associated with ghosts. However, the telling of ghost stories at Christmas became particularly popular during the Victorian period. British travel writer and humourist Jerome K. Jerome describes how ‘Nothing satisfies us on Christmas Eve but to hear each other tell authentic anecdotes about specters,”
Charles Dickens was hugely influential in establishing the ghost story genre’s popularity. He not only incorporated the supernatural into stories, such as A Christmas Carol, but as editor of Household Words and All the Year Round he featured many ghost stories, especially in the Christmas issues.
In 1852 Dickens invited Elizabeth Gaskell to contribute to the Christmas issue of Household Words’ and here we find the chilling ‘Old Nurse’s Tale’. Dickens described it ‘as a very fine ghost-story indeed. Nobly told, and wonderfully managed’ although he couldn’t resist proposing a change to the ending which she rejected. The Haunted House was another of Dickens’ contributions to the festive ghost story tradition. This was a collaboration with Elizabeth Gaskell and Wilkie Collins and was published in the 1859 edition of All The Year Round.
The most enduring story of this genre is still A Christmas Carol. The first run of 6000 copies sold out by Christmas Eve of 1843, with the publishers returning to the press another eight times within the first six months. Dickens wrote another four Christmas books, The Chimes, The Cricket on the Hearth, The Battle of Life, and The Haunted Man.
You could hear Dickens read from these tales during his public reading tours in the 1850s and 60s. His Christmas stories, in books and periodicals, mean that Dickens is forever linked with festive celebrations. Why not try telling each other ghost stories in front of the fire this Christmas Eve?