In 1853 Charles Dickens adapted the hugely popular A Christmas Carol for a touring public performance. For his performances, Dickens used special copies of the texts that had extra-wide margins to allow space to make alterations and add stage directions.

This book is a printed version of a reading copy, published in 1868. It may either derive from an original reading copy, or have been transcribed on behalf of the publishing firm. It was published in Boston, US, by Fields, Osgood & Co, the publisher who sponsored Dickens’s American reading tour in 1867.

Dickens’s public performances

Dickens’s first Christmas Carol performance lasted around three hours and was held at City Hall, Birmingham, to a crowd of 2000. Initially the performances were purely charitable, but by the end of the 1850s Dickens began to accept payment and increased the number of performances. They proved exceedingly popular and enraptured audiences in both the UK and America. Altering expression, accent and gesture, Dickens played the characters so well that he was said to possess them.

As well as his first, A Christmas Carol was Dickens’s last performance, on 15 March 1870.

‘Stave Three’ – ‘The Second of the Three Spirits’

The opening to ‘Stave Three’, shown here, was the only scene in the reading copy that was kept exactly the same as in the original novella. It revolves around the high-spirited Cratchit Christmas dinner. This is a key scene that wraps its serious messages – about poverty, charity and God – with an unadulterated celebration of the pure pleasures of Christmas. Audiences no doubt relished Dickens’s evocative descriptions of the smells, sights and tastes of Christmas, such as the grandly unveiled pudding which appears, ‘like a speckled cannon-ball, so hard and firm, blazing in half of half a quartern of ignited brandy, and bedight with Christmas holly stuck into the top’. Alongside this, the audience was invited to contemplate Tiny Tim, who ‘hoped the people saw him in church, because he was a cripple, and it might be pleasant to them to remember, upon Christmas day, who made lame beggars walk and blind men see.’