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7 Dickensian Tidbits to Honor the 164th Birthday of A Christmas Carol

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.

christmascarol1.jpg 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...

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...or play Fagin's Gang, winner of the Best New British Board Game at the UK Games Expo of 2007...

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...or add the Charles Dickens action figure to your collection.

dickensaction.jpg

Terry Fernandes is an occasional contributor to mental_floss.

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10 Fab Facts About George Harrison
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You probably know George Harrison as a Beatle, the lead guitarist of the most famous band in the world. We’re guessing that there’s a lot you don’t know about the youngest of The Fab Four, who was born on this day in 1943.

1. HE WAS ONLY 27 WHEN THE BEATLES BROKE UP.


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George Harrison turned 27 on February 25, 1970, less than two months before Paul McCartney told the world he had no future plans to work with the Beatles. It had been 12 years since Harrison had joined John Lennon’s band, The Quarrymen—shortly after McCartney, his Liverpool schoolmate—in 1958.

2. HE INVENTED THE MEGASTAR ROCK BENEFIT CONCERT.

Before Harrison organized the 1971 Concert for Bangladesh, there were performances for charity, of course. But when his friend, the great Indian sitar player Ravi Shankar, told him about the plight of Bangladeshi refugees, victims of both war and a devastating cyclone who now faced starvation, Harrison felt compelled to devote himself to the cause. He recruited stars like Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan, Ringo Starr, Billy Preston, Badfinger, and Leon Russell, and together they played two sold-out shows at Madison Square Garden on August 1, 1971. Harrison then arranged for the release of a concert album and film. The ventures had raised more than $12 million by 1985, and profits from sales of the movie and soundtrack continue to benefit the George Harrison Fund for UNICEF.

3. HE WROTE “CRACKERBOX PALACE” ABOUT HIS QUIRKY MANSION.

Harrison nicknamed his 120-room Friar Park mansion “Crackerbox Palace” after a friend’s description of Lord Buckley’s tiny Los Angeles home. The 66-acre property, about 37 miles west of London, was first owned by Sir Frank Crisp, a lawyer who lived there from 1889 to 1919. Harrison bought the estate in 1970—and quickly penned “The Ballad Of Sir Frankie Crisp,” which appeared on his first solo album, All Things Must Pass, also in 1970.

Friar Park was a strange place, with gnomes, grottos, a miniature Matterhorn, and lavish gardens, which Harrison loved to tend. According to the Victoria County History website, the house itself “is an architectural fantasy in red brick, stone, and terracotta, mixing English, French and Flemish motifs in lavish, undisciplined profusion.”

4. HE LOVED HANGING OUT WITH BOB DYLAN AND THE BAND.

All four Beatles were Dylan fans, and first met him in 1964. But Harrison felt a special bond with him, and spent weeks at Dylan’s Woodstock, New York home in the fall of 1968. The Band was there, too, and Harrison loved the collaborative atmosphere. During this time Dylan and Harrison co-wrote “I’d Have You Anytime,” which appeared on 1970's All Things Must Pass. The two would become bandmates in the Traveling Wilburys, and maintained a close, lifelong friendship.

5. THE "QUIET BEATLE" WASN’T SO QUIET.

"He never shut up," friend and fellow Traveling Wilbury Tom Petty once said of Harrison. "He was the best hang you could imagine."

6. WHEN HE LOST HIS VIRGINITY, THE OTHER BEATLES CHEERED.

The Beatles at the EMI studios in Abbey Road, as they prepare for 'Our World', a world-wide live television show broadcasting to 24 countries with a potential audience of 400 million.
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During the band’s early years, they had extended runs as a house band in Hamburg, Germany, and were paid so poorly (and had to be on stage for so many hours) that they shared a small room in the club’s basement. Hence the witnesses to George’s deflowering, at age 17. "We were in bunkbeds," Harrison recalled. "They couldn't really see anything because I was under the covers, but after I'd finished they all applauded and cheered. At least they kept quiet whilst I was doing it."

7. WITHOUT HIM, THERE MAY NOT HAVE BEEN A MONTY PYTHON'S LIFE OF BRIAN.

EMI Films, Life of Brian’s original backer, withdrew funding for the Monty Python comedy classic just before filming began, scared that the religious subject matter would be too controversial. Harrison, a big fan and friend of the Pythons, set up his own production company—Handmade Films—to fund the project. Why? "Because I liked the script and I wanted to see the movie,” he explained. Harrison not only saw the film, he appeared in it, as Mr. Papadopolous, "owner of the Mount.” Monty Python’s Life of Brian, released in 1979, was a huge hit in both the UK and U.S., and was ranked as the 10th best comedy film of all time in 2010 by The Guardian.

8. HE WAS THE FIRST EX-BEATLE TO SIMULTANEOUSLY TOP BOTH THE SINGLES AND ALBUMS CHARTS.

Harrison began recording the songs that would comprise All Things Must Pass at Abbey Road on May 26, 1970, just weeks after the Beatles broke up. The triple album was released in late November, along with “My Sweet Lord,” the first single from the album. Both the record and the single spent weeks at the top of the Billboard and Melody Maker charts in early 1971, while receiving rave reviews.

9. THE FIRST SONG HE WROTE WAS INSPIRED BY A DESIRE TO TELL PEOPLE TO GET LOST.

Harrison wrote “Don’t Bother Me,” his first first solo composition, while sick in bed at the Palace Court Hotel in Bournemouth, England, in the summer of 1963. It “was an exercise to see if I could write a song,” Harrison said. “I don't think it's a particularly good song ... It mightn't even be a song at all, but at least it showed me that all I needed to do was keep on writing, and then maybe eventually I would write something good." “Don’t Bother Me” appeared on With The Beatles, their second studio album.

10. HE WAS THE FIRST BEATLE TO VISIT, AND PLAY IN, THE U.S.

In the fall of 1963, Harrison traveled to Benton, Illinois to visit his sister, Louise, and her husband, George Caldwell. During his 18-day stay, Harrison also became the first Beatle to play in the U.S.—appearing on stage with The Four Vests at the VFW Hall in Eldorado. He played the second set with the band, taking over lead guitar and singing "Roll Over Beethoven" and "Your Cheatin' Heart."

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