Monday, November 23rd, 2009
Titled “A Christmas Carol in Prose: Being a Ghost Story of Christmas” and prominently autographed by the author on the title page, the original manuscript penned by Charles Dickens will be on display at the the Morgan Library and Museum from November 20th to January 10th.
The manuscript reveals the author’s method of composition: the pace of writing and revision, apparently contiguous, is rapid and boldly confident. Revisions are inserted for vividness and immediacy of effect.
Deleted text is struck out with a cursive and continuous looping movement of the pen, and replaced with more active verbs and fewer words to achieve greater concision. Dickens’s manuscript shows vividly his efforts to create the highest-quality literary work in the shortest possible time.
After Dickens got it back from his publishers in 1843, he had it elegantly bound in red leather and gilt tooled for his childhood friend and sometime lawyer, Thomas Mitton.
Mitton sold it to a bookseller in 1875, 5 years after Dickens’ death, for £50. It passed through various owners after that, ending up in Pierpont Morgan’s hot little hands in the 1890′s. The Morgan doesn’t say how much he paid for it, but the brokers who sold it to him are thought to have purchased it for £1000, which is a remarkable leap in market value over just 15 years. Goes to show how immensely popular the story was right away. Instant classic, as they say.
The manuscript will play a featured role in the Morgan’s Winter Family Day Celebration on December 6th. Educational theater group The Grand Falloons will lead visitors through the exhibit as characters from the story. They’ll also perform an original play where Scrooge confronts not just a myriad ghost, goblins and ghoulies, but also Dickens himself.
Edit: Browse a high resolution scan of the manuscript itself, complete with Dickens’ many crossings-out and revisions. Post the most intriguing revision in the blog comments and get invited to tea at the Morgan.
Many thanks to Carolina Valencia for the tip.