“A Christmas Carol” turns 175

Lots of people took notice. 

Dickens, of course, wrote it to make money. He was in debt to his publisher and needed a hit. That’s how life works.

Here’s the beginning of A Christmas Carol. Was there anyone as good at beginning a novel as Dickens?

Marley was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner. Scrooge signed it: and Scrooge’s name was good upon ’Change, for anything he chose to put his hand to. Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail.

Mind! I don’t mean to say that I know, of my own knowledge, what there is particularly dead about a door-nail. I might have been inclined, myself, to regard a coffin-nail as the deadest piece of ironmongery in the trade. But the wisdom of our ancestors is in the simile; and my unhallowed hands shall not disturb it, or the Country’s done for. You will therefore permit me to repeat, emphatically, that Marley was as dead as a door-nail.

Here’s a nice article about its covers through the years. The original cover was pretty meh:

Dickens’ Dream

It’s his 206th birthday, so:

Here’s some information about the painting.

I read all of Dickens’s novels when I was in college and wrote my undergraduate thesis on them. I’ve only reread a couple of them since then, but the time may be coming to dip into them again. There was no one like him.

Philip Roth is retiring

At 79, Roth apparently has had enough of writing novels. The Slate writer thinks this may explain his recent attempt to fix his Wikipedia page–it’s time to work on his legacy.

The recent news that he had finally agreed to work closely with a biographer also suggested that perhaps he saw the end of his career approaching. And his recent contretemps with Wikipedia further implied a focus on his legacy.

If this is true, I’m glad his last novel was Nemesis, which was great, rather than the one that preceded it, The Humbling, which was embarrassing.  It’s always good when people have the sense to bow out at, or at least near, the top of their game.  I’ve always liked John Updike, but I was unable to finish the last couple of novels he wrote; the times seemed to have passed him by.  Even Shakespeare seems to have gone on a bit too long; I wouldn’t regret it if Henry VIII and The Two Noble Kinsmen had never seen the light of day.

Maybe the best way to leave the stage belongs to Charles Dickens; drop dead with a murder mystery (The Mystery of Edwin Drood) half-finished and the killer unrevealed.  Which led to ongoing attempts to finish the novel, including this one:

The third attempt was perhaps the most unusual. In 1873, a young Vermont printer, Thomas James, published a version which he claimed had been literally ‘ghost-written’ by him channelling Dickens’ spirit. A sensation was created, with several critics, including Arthur Conan Doyle, a spiritualist himself, praising this version, calling it similar in style to Dickens’ work and for several decades the ‘James version’ of Edwin Drood was common in America. Other Drood scholars disagree. John C. Walters “dismiss[ed it] with contempt”, stating that the work “is self-condemned by its futility, illiteracy, and hideous American mannerisms; the mystery itself becomes a nightmare, and the solution only deepens the obscurity.”

I don’t think anyone would try to complete an unfinished Philip Roth novel.  And I certainly don’t think Roth’s ghost would help him.