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Charles Dickens’s holiday tales

As the holidays approach, many will celebrate this year by reading or viewing one of the numerous film or stage adaptations of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. While this tale has become a well-loved classic, Dickens’s other Christmas books are relatively unknown today.

Dickens published these holiday tales in the 1840’s — a decade often referred to as the “Hungry Forties,” which was a particularly difficult time in the British Isles. Poor harvests, high prices, and other economic troubles fostered poverty and social unrest. Dickens’s Christmas books, though wrapped in the trappings of holiday sentimentality, were meant to carry messages about the plight of the working classes and the oppressed.

Dickens issued five Christmas books, beginning with A Christmas Carol. All were bestsellers, though not all of them were well-received by contemporary critics. Following A Christmas Carol (first published December 17, 1843) were The Chimes (December 16, 1844), The Cricket on the Hearth (December 20, 1845), The Battle of Life (December 19, 1846), and The Haunted Man (December 19, 1848). Special Collections has first editions of all five of the Christmas books, including copies signed by Dickens.

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