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Charles Dickens
(1812–1870)

Autograph manuscript signed, December 1843

Purchased by Pierpont Morgan before 1900

MA 97
Item description: 

Compelled by personal financial difficulties, Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol in only six weeks, during a period of intense creativity in fall 1843. The original manuscript of A Christmas Carol reveals Dickens's method of composition, allowing us to see the author at work. The pace of writing and revision, apparently contiguous, is urgent, rapid, and boldly confident. Deleted text is struck out with a cursive and continuous looping movement of the pen and replaced with more active verbs—to achieve greater vividness or immediacy of effect— and fewer words for concision. This heavily revised sixty-six-page draft—the only manuscript of the story—was sent to the printer in order for the book to be published on 19 December, just in time for the Christmas market.

Transcription: 

34

icy water. The sky was gloomy, and the shortest streets were choked up with a dingy mist, half thawed half frozen, whose heavier particles descended in a shower of sooty atoms as if all the chimneys in Great Britain had by one consent caught fire, and were blazing away to their dear hearts' content. There was nothing very cheerful in the climate or the town; and yet there was an air of cheerfulness abroad, that the clearest summer air and brightest summer sun, might have endeavoured to diffuse, in vain.

For the people who were shovelling away on the housetops were jovial and full of glee: calling out to one another from the parapets and now and then exchanging a facetious snowball—better-natured missile far, than many a wordy jest— laughing heartily if it went right, and not less heartily if it went wrong. The poulterer's shops were still half open; and the fruiterers were radiant in their glory. There were great, round, pot-bellied baskets of chestnuts, shaped like the waistcoats of jolly old gentlemen, lolling at the doors, and tumbling out into the street in their apoplectic opulence. There were ruddy, brown-faced, broad-girthed Spanish Onions shining in the fatness of their growth like Spanish Friars, and winking from their shelves in wanton slyness at the girls as they went by, and glanced demurely at the hung-up mistletoe. There were pears and apples clustered high in blooming pyramids; there were bunches of grapes, made, in the shopkeepers' benevolence, to dangle from conspicuous hooks, that people's mouths might water, gratis, as they passed; there were piles of filberts, mossy and brown: recalling in their fragrance ancient walks among the woods, and pleasant shufflings, ankle deep, through withered leaves; there were Norfolk Biffins, squab and swarthy, setting off the yellow of the oranges and lemons, and in the great compactness of their juicy persons, urgently entreating and beseeching to be carried home in paper bags and eaten after dinner. The very gold and silver fish, set forth among these dainties in a bowl, though members of a dull and stagnant-blooded race appeared to know that there was something going on: and, to a fish, went gasping round and round their little world in slow and passionless excitement.

The Grocers', Oh the Grocers!—nearly closed, with perhaps two shutters down, or one, but through these gaps, such glimpses! It was not alone that the scales descending on the counter made a merry sound or that the twine and roller parted company so briskly, or that the cannisters were rattled up and down like juggling tricks, or even that the blended scents of tea and coffee were so grateful to the nose, or even that the raisins were so plentiful and rare, the almonds so extremely white, the sticks of cinnamon so long and straight, the other spices so delicious, the candied fruits so caked and spotted with molten sugar as to make the coldest lookers-on feel faint and subsequently bilious. Nor was it that the figs were moist and

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Recording of A Christmas Carol courtesy of Naxos AudioBooks