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Anxiety produced a Christmas classic

December 30, 2009|By Robert A. "Bob" Poor

With no question to answer for December, and with thoughts on the holiday season, it should be appropriate to remember something about the second greatest Christmas story ever told.

There have been scores of editions and translations, and many stage, television and film adaptations, making "A Christmas Carol" one of the best-loved stories of all time.

It seems that on an early October evening in 1843, as he stepped from his home near Regent's Park, Charles Dickens was deeply troubled. Despite writing several successful novels, the 31-year-old father of four was facing serious financial problems. Sales of his latest novel, "Martin Chuzzlewit," were not what was expected and advances against sales had to be reduced. Memories of his childhood poverty flashed back ... it seemed that his talent was being questioned.

All summer long, Dickens worried about his mounting bills, especially the large mortgage he owned on his house.

One evening, along the Thames River walk, he found himself among bawdy streetwalkers, pickpockets, footpads and beggars. Dickens' thoughts returned to his youth, his father in debtors prison, and Dickens receiving only an hour of school lessons during his dinner break.

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Wearily, he started home from his long walk, no closer to an idea for a "cheerful, glowing" tale that he wanted to tell, which would bring him the money he would need to face the future. As he neared his home, a sudden flash of inspiration came to him. What about a Christmas story?

But Christmas was less than three months away. The book would have to be short. For speed, he struck on the idea of adapting a Christmas-goblin story from a chapter in the "Pickwick Papers." There would be a small, sickly child; his honest, but ineffectual father; and at the center of the piece, a selfish villain, an old man with a pointed nose and shriveled cheeks.

At last, on Dec. 2, he was finished, and the manuscript went to the printers. The first edition of 6,000 copies sold out by Christmas Eve. He made enough money from it to scrape by and the enormous popularity of "A Christmas Carol" revived his audience for subsequent novels, giving a fresh, new direction to his life and career.

In a very real sense, Dickens popularized many aspects of the Christmas we celebrate today, including great family gatherings, seasonal drinks and dishes, and gift giving. And for Charles Dickens, a little Christmas novel brought new found faith in himself and in the redemptive joy of the season.

May your holiday season also be one of joy, followed by a year of new hopes and dreams.

Hagerstown resident Robert A. "Bob" Poor is a member of the Society of Senior Advisers and provides senior professional services for reverse mortgages and personal insurance. He also is a member of the Senior Referral Center of Hagerstown. Questions are welcomed at r.poor@myactv.net or by mail c/o The Herald-Mail, P.O. Box 439, Hagerstown, MD 21741, ATTN: Robert A. Poor column.

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