FUN FACTS – Charles Dickens and A Christmas Carol

Dickens visited America and stayed in Baltimore in 1842. According to the Baltimore Patriot and Commercial Gazette, his visit included a trip to the Maryland Hospital and Penitentiary “as he (took) a deep interest in studying human nature in such receptacles of misfortune and crime.”  To read excerpts from Dickens’ travel diary, visit Baltimore Dickens Society.

While in Baltimore, Dickens stayed in Barnum’s City Hotel on Calvert Street at Fayette Street,  about two blocks from Chesapeake Shakespeare’s theater.

Back in England, in fall 1843, with his literary career and finances shaky, Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol at a feverish pace and finished it in just six weeks.  This moment in his career is the subject of a new movie, The Man Who Invented Christmas, due out in November 2017.

Dickens penned the novella in black ink, using a goose quill. The 68-page text shows hundreds of notes and revisions in his own hand. (Tiny Tim was originally named Little Fred!) His manuscript is in the collection of The Morgan Library & Museum in New York. You may view its pages on the library’s website.

  • CHARLES DICKENS and A CHRISTMAS CAROL –  Want to learn more? Meet Menalcus Lankford, president of the Baltimore Dickens Society, on Tuesday, December 12, 2017,  12:30pm to 1:30pm, in our Downtown Baltimore Theater  at 7 South Calvert Street during our free monthly open house, Brown-Bag Bard.

The Cratchits were based on John and Elizabeth Dickens (Charles’ parents) and their family. The eight Dickenses lived in a four-room house like the Cratchits. When Charles Dickens was 12, his family fell on hard times and lived in a debtor’s prison. To help his family, young Charles went to work in a shoe polish factory.

Scrooge’s sister, Fanny, was based on Dickens’ younger sister Frances (Fanny) Elizabeth Burnett, whom he adored. Her disabled son, Henry Burnett Jr., was the inspiration for Tiny Tim. Fred, Scrooge’s cheerful nephew in the play, was named after Dickens’ youngest brother, Frederick.

Goose was the traditional English dish served for Christmas in the 1840s.  When Scrooge treated the Cratchits to a turkey,  which was harder to find and more expensive, it was a show of wealth and prosperity.

A Christmas Carol was published in December 1843, which was near the same time as the printing in England of the first Christmas card.

Dickens’ holiday ghost story inspired several recorded acts of generosity by Victorian employers. Novelist William Thackeray, considered a rival of Dickens, reviewed A Christmas Carol for Fraser’s Magazine (1844).  “It seems to me a national benefit, and to every man or woman who reads it a personal kindness,” Thackeray wrote. “What a feeling is this for a writer to be able to inspire, and what a reward to reap!” 


  • At Chesapeake Shakespeare Company, A Christmas Carol sets Scrooge & Marley’s counting house at 202 E. German Street, the address of Baltimore’s historic Mercantile Trust and Deposit Company building. This 1885 bank had a counting room in the basement.  The building is creatively preserved as Chesapeake Shakespeare’s award-winning theater at the corner of Calvert Street and (now) Redwood Street. Catch the Christmas spirits here December 4 – 23, 2017.  A Christmas Carol, adapted and directed by our Founding Artistic Director Ian Gallanar. Get tickets here.


Compiled by Anne Nelson and Jean Thompson

SOURCES:  The Baltimore Dickens Society; The Morgan Library & Museum, New York; Smithsonian Magazine; Inventing Scrooge, by Carlo Devito; The Man Who Invented Christmas, by Les Standiford;;  The Maryland Historical Society; The International Business Times; CBS; Time Magazine;   

Photos: Dickens (Creative Commons License);  Tim Bintrim as Mr. Fezziwig, Chesapeake Shakespeare Company (2015). Photo by Teresa Castracane.