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Dickens at work


Preserving the manuscript

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Exhibitions | Online | Charles Dickens at 200

Image of manuscript page

Dickens at work

Dickens wrote the manuscript of A Christmas Carol in black ink, using his customary goose quill pen, on a mixture of high-quality, unlined paper: "London Superfine" for the title page and preface, and "Bath Superfine" for the narrative. Each sheet measured 8 7/8 x 7 1/4 inches. As soon as he completed the story on 2 December, he folded the manuscript vertically and either took or sent it to the printer, Bradbury and Evans. The compositors had to set type extremely quickly in order for the book to be completed by 19 December, just in time for the Christmas market. The printer sent proofs for Dickens to review by 4 or 5 December, but none of the author's revised proof pages survive.

The hundreds of revisions within the manuscript vividly convey the sense of an author writing at a fast pace, usually enacting his second thoughts and changes of mind in the heat of original composition, striking out words and phrases and replacing them with a seemingly unhesitating, continuous flow of new words on the same line. He deleted text with a cursive and continuous looping movement of the pen—rendering his first thoughts exasperatingly difficult to decipher. At the end of each "stave," he inserted a spiral swirl (known as a flourish)—a cue to the printer that the chapter had ended.

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The programs of The Morgan Library & Museum are made possible with public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, and by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature.

Background images: Photography by Todd Eberle unless otherwise noted. © 2006 Todd Eberle.