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Charles Dickens’s (1812–1870) A Christmas Carol was first published on 19 December 1843. The story of the old miser who, following visits by three ghosts, reforms into a generous and popular benefactor, was an immediate critical and popular success.
Stagings of the work immediately followed, continuing throughout the Victorian period – as shown by this poster from over thirty years later, which promises the latest in entertainment technology.
At Christmas 1876, the grand reopening of Lambeth Baths (long since demolished) in south London staged the tale with optical effects from projection systems called ‘Pepper’s Ghost’ and ‘Gompertz’s Spectrescope [sic]’. Tickets – from one shilling down to threepence – were cheap, costing the same as using the baths themselves.
Many notions of a ‘traditional Christmas’ such as greetings cards, trees (a German custom popularised by Prince Albert, 1819–1861) and carol singing date from the early 1840s, and A Christmas Carol helped establish today’s image of the season – for instance, the idealisation of fireside social gatherings with unlimited food and drink – as well as popularising the very expression ‘Merry Christmas’.
Simon Callow CBE examines Dickens as an actor who gave lively and emotional performances of his own works to an enthralled public on both sides of the Atlantic.
Roger Luckhurst challenges the idea of the 19th century as one of secularisation, exploring the popularity of mesmerism, spiritualism and 'true' ghost stories in the period.