Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” reappears on our cultural radar every year at this time, one of many reasons being that the original manuscript goes on public display at the Morgan Library and Museum in Manhattan. By tradition the folio is opened to show a single page each year.
This year is the first time online readers will enjoy a privilege formerly reserved for scholars – they can examine the complete manuscript via high-resolution images and personally decipher Dickens’ many handwritten edits. Thanks to the New York Times for such a fine holiday gift.
Through a Times blog about the event I discovered Charles Dickens, despite writing with a quill instead of a keyboard, didn’t miss experiencing what has become such a prominent feature of contemporary book marketing. He self-published “A Christmas Carol.”
Dickens had grown frustrated with the amount of income he was earning from Martin Chuzzlewit. In hopes of making a lot more money he published “A Christmas Carol” at his own expense. The 6,000 copies printed in time for Christmas sold out. Yet the cost of including hand-colored drawings by a leading illustrator resulted in his making a mere £230 and not the much larger amount he needed to keep his household going.
What a lesson in cost-accounting. Here was a work in great demand by a popular author that produced surprisingly little net income for the writer because he yielded to the temptation to order all the wonderful, expensive extras the production company had to offer.