A Dickensian Time of Year

Frontispiece showing people dancing and celebrating at Fezziwig's Ball from the seventh edition of A Christmas Carol, 1844.
Frontispiece of the seventh edition of A Christmas Carol, 1844. SpCD. 823 D548c1844e

The holiday season is upon us and A Christmas Carol is hard to miss whether it be on TV, put on as a play, or read. Charles Dickens began writing A Christmas Carol, originally titled A Christmas Carol in Prose: Being a Ghost Story of Christmas, as a way to make money quickly because he was plagued by debt. He wrote the story in just six weeks and it was published on December 19th, 1843, by Chapman and Hall of London. From the beginning, the book was incredibly popular and sold over 6000 copies in the first five days of publication. Since then, A Christmas Carol has remained a beloved Christmas staple and inspired more than 200 movie, television, and animated adaptations. Beyond being a story that we revisit this time each year, the book also had a huge impact on how Christmas is celebrated. Around the time of publication, Christmas was beginning to change from a solemn, reflective holiday to a more joyful and festive event like the Christmas celebrations depicted in the book. Dickens’ portrayal of Christmas as a happy celebration with family and good will towards all, especially to those less fortunate, resonated with its Victorian audience and helped turn Christmas into the cheerful and celebratory occasion we know today.

The cover and box of a 1940 edition of A Christmas Carol. The cover is cloth with a Christmas themed pattern and the case has a white and red illustration of people dancing.
A 1940s edition of A Christmas Carol, SpCD. 823 D548c1940


Here at DePaul University Special Collections and Archives, we also have A Christmas Carol to thank for our extensive Dickens collections. This story was what first inspired Samuel Baldwin Bradford to assemble the collection that was later donated to DePaul’s Library in 1972. He wanted to create an extra-illustrated version[1] of A Christmas Carol with examples of how different illustrators imagined the characters and scenes.

Image of a display of A Christmas Carol adaptations collected by William Shuster.
William Shuster’s display.

In 2018, the William George Shuster A Christmas Carol collection was donated to Special Collections and Archives, complementing the Dickens collection and including more popular and contemporary works, including pop-up books, comic books, film adaptations, and whimsical objects like character-inspired rubber ducks, neckties, and postage stamps.  William Shuster collected books and objects related to Scrooge’s transformation for decades, displaying them in his home each year for holiday visitors to enjoy.  The range of A Christmas Carol items – their format, tone, and time period – document the story’s Victorian birth to its pop culture references today.

Stylized cover of a collected edition of Christmas stories from Household Words.
Story collection from 1870. SpCD. 823 D548chr1870

If you have already read A Christmas Carol, we have plenty of other Christmas related works written by Dickens as well! You can find editions of The Chimes, The Cricket on the Hearth, Battle of Life, Haunted Man, and a run of his periodical Household Words in which there are additional short Christmas stories by Dickens.  Our collection also contains first editions and illustrated copies of his other novels and stories, biographical works about Dickens, illustrated prints, and ephemera.

While we cannot offer you candlelight in a cold room as Charles Dickens recommended A Christmas Carol be read (it is a ghost story after all); you can find a warm spot in our reading room to curl up with one of our editions or another Dickens tale. If you are interested in learning more about our Victorian rare book holdings, feel free to reach out to Nora Gabor (ngabor@depaul.edu). If you are interested in using our collections for instruction session please contact Morgen Macintosh Hodgetts (mmacinto@depaul.edu) or submit a request for instruction.

To learn more about DePaul Special Collections and Archives, visit us in room 314 of the John T. Richardson Library or contact us at archives@depaul.edu.

A page spread showing an image of Big Ben and text from A Christmas Carol.
An artists’ book version of A Christmas Carol published by Caliban Press, 2017. SpC. 702.81 D548c2017

Works cited:

Carter, John. “Extra-illustrated.” In ABC for Book Collectors, by John Carter. 5th ed. Norwich: Fletcher & Son Ltd., 1974.

“A Christmas Carol.” In The Christmas Encyclopedia, by William D. Crump. 3rd ed. McFarland, 2013. https://ezproxy.depaul.edu/login?url=https://search.credoreference.com/content/entry/mcfc/a_christmas_carol/0?institutionId=2536

DeGraff, Kathryn. “Charles Dickens and Christmas Traditions” Caxtonian 13, no. 2 (December 2005): 1-4.

[1] An extra-illustrated book is a copy of a publication that has illustrated material added to it that were not originally part of the published work.

2 Replies to “A Dickensian Time of Year”

  1. Hi, Nora.
    Thanks for the great article on Christmas Carol. I must have completely missed that there was a nice addition to it last year. Loved seeing the pop up book and the recent artist edition that were part of that. Helped me get into the holiday spirit, and I hope it did the same for you. Sorry I missed seeing you Wednesday, but so happy to read your words in this post.
    Merry Christmas to all!

    1. Thank you for reading and your kind words! I am sorry to have missed you as well on Wednesday. Wishing you a happy holiday season and a happy new year!

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