by Terry Fernandes
During this season to be jolly, we are commonly entertained by Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. Anyone with a shred of literary acuity, however, knows that Mr. Dickens penned a great deal more than this perennial holiday favorite. Here are some Dickensian tidbits that you might not have known, but that can be used to enlighten your theater companions during intermission at this year's presentation of A Christmas Carol (which, by the way, was first published on this date in 1843).
1. Dickens (1812-1870) put his pen to paper at an early age, submitting accounts of fires and other mishaps to the British Press starting at the age of 12. As a young man, Dickens was a tremendously successful reporter.
2. His early pseudonym was "Boz," and most of what he wrote under this moniker was later published in a collection called "Sketches by Boz" in 1836. A lesser known (and lesser used) pseudonym was "Timothy Sparks."
3. Dickens' novel Nicholas Nickleby was one of many Dickens works that were published serially. Theater-goers, however, have had the dubious privilege of seeing the entire story presented in one fell swoop. Playwright David Edgar and the Royal Shakespeare Company brought it to the stage in London's West End in 1980, with a production that lasted 10 hours (including intermissions and a dinner break). Whew! Nevertheless, the daunting length was no setback, as the production drew critical acclaim and moved to Broadway the following year. You can schedule your own potty breaks when you opt to watch it on DVD.
4. A Christmas Carol is actually the short title for A Christmas Carol in Prose, Being a Ghost Story of Christmas. It has been made into countless theater productions and films. Oldsters remember the Mister Magoo version in 1962, with the voice of Jim Backus as Mister Magoo and Ebenezer Scrooge. Thirty years later Michael Caine supplied the voice of Scrooge in The Muppets Christmas Carol with Gonzo as Dickens the narrator. But Thomas Edison had a leg up on both of these; he filmed a version in 1908.
5. Dickens loved animals, particularly dogs. However, one of his favorite pets was a raven he called "Grip."
6. With his wife, Catherine Hogarth, he had 10 children, several of whom were named after writers he admired, such as Alfred Tennyson, Henry Fielding, and Edward Bulwer-Lytton.
7. Dickens was a details guy, and his last will and testament was no exception. Noting that he had expended quite a lot of money in maintaining his large family and providing for his wife, from whom he separated after 24 years, he instructed thusly (and, in typical fashion for wills at the time, with a dearth of punctuation):
I emphatically direct that I be buried in an inexpensive unostentatious and strictly private manner that no public announcement be made of the time or place of my burial that at the utmost not more than three plain mourning coaches be employed and that those who attend my funeral wear no scarf cloak black bow long hatband or other such revolting absurdity.
[Read the full text of his will here.]
If this post has you craving Dickensian fun, opportunities abound. Take a trip to Dickens World theme park in Kent, England...
...or play Fagin's Gang, winner of the Best New British Board Game at the UK Games Expo of 2007...
...or add the Charles Dickens action figure to your collection.
Terry Fernandes is an occasional contributor to mental_floss.