A Christmas Carol still beloved 175 years later

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He's legend. But was he based on a real curmudgeon?
He's legend. But was he based on a real curmudgeon?

Right about now, television and local theater companies are mounting production after production of A Christmas Carol.

 
    The Charles Dickens story celebrates its 175th anniversary this year. If you have a pulse, you know all about the miserly rich man named Ebenezer Scrooge who is taught generosity by ghosts on Christmas Eve. 
    Beyond the stage versions and multiple movie productions, the musical, Scrooge, was made into a film in 1970 with Albert Finney in the title role. Another version, Scrooged (1988) featured Bill Murray as a selfish network executive. Even the story behind the writing of A Christmas Carol was made into a movie, The Man Who Invented Christmas (2017), with Dan Stevens.
    But what inspired Dickens? Here is the story:

About Dickens: The author was born Charles John Huffam Dickens, Feb. 7, 1812, in Portsmouth, Hampshire, England. He died June 9, 1870, at Gad’s Hill, near Chatham, Kent. In that lifetime, Dickens wrote some 15 novels, according to Biography.com, along with short stories and nonfiction work. His writing drew attention to the plight of the poor, but it was also witty.

The inspiration for A Christmas Carol: Dickens had known poverty as a child -- primarily as a result of his father’s mismanagement. And not long before writing the story, he had read a government report on child labor in the United Kingdom, an account in Time magazine reports.
    He spoke about poverty and the desperate plight of juveniles at Manchester's Athenaeum on Oct. 5, 1843, according to an article by John Sutherland on the British Library website.  

Was there a real Scrooge? Yes, and a strong candidate is John Elwes (1714-89), born John Meggot, a British politician. Meggot changed his last name to flatter a wealthy uncle, according to an article on The Telegraph website. It paid off -- he inherited his uncle's money and was rich. Even so, Elwes was known to walk home in the rain and sit in his wet clothes to avoid the expense of starting a fire.

The real Tiny Tim: When Dickens gave the speech at the Manchester Athenaeum, he visited his sister, Fanny, her husband, Henry Burnett, and their two sons, Harry and Charles. Harry, who was sickly, was probably the inspiration for Tiny Tim. Eventually, Fanny became ill with consumption -- tuberculosis.  “Charles tried desperately to find a doctor who could cure her,” according to an account on the Charles Dickens Museum website, “but Fanny died on 2 September 1848, and Harry died soon afterwards.”

Reaction to the story: Once Dickens had the idea to put his message about poverty into a story, he got to work. From October to December 1843, he wrote. The story was an immediate success, according to a BBC article: “Six thousand copies were published on 19 December, and on Christmas Eve Dickens received a letter from Chapman and Hall (the publisher) to say ‘as the orders were coming in fast from town and country, it would soon be necessary to reprint.’” 
     Even so, societal changes were slow. “Six months after A Christmas Carol was published the 1844 Factories Act decreed ... that 9-13-year-old (children) could only work nine hours a day, six days a week,” Sutherland writes on the British Library website.  “This was regarded as a humane reform.”    

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