virtue of its being located "a league" from shore and "Built upon a dismal reef of sunken rocks" (A Christmas Carol, Stave Three, page 101), Dickens's lighthouse would seem to be the famous Eddystone Light, the fourth tower (built between 1756-9) of which he, Forster, Maclise, and Stanfield must have seen eight miles off Start Point in the English Channel when they toured Cornwall (the locale suggested by"A place where Miners live" on the previous page of the Carol). In The Haunted Man, Dickens's reference to "lighthouses, on rocks and headlands" (6) again implies a coastline much like that of the Land's End area, which boasts"the greatest concentration of lighthouses anywhere in the world" ("Lighthouses of Cornwall"). Today, the area has thirteen lighthouses, but in October, 1842, the four friends would have seen only the following six: Eddystone (re-built in 1759 to mark the dangerous reef called"The Hand Deep"), Wolf Rock (built in 1795 eight miles off Land's End), Lizard (1619), St. Agnes (1680), Longships (1795), and St. Anthony's Head (1835). Before Dickens published The Haunted Man, the new lighthouse at Trevose Head had just been completed 4.5 miles from Padstow on the shore. Ironically, despite the ominous description of the coastline, while travelling in Cornwall Dickens much enjoyed himself in the company of his three friends. Michael Hearn is probably incorrect in his assertion that the Carol's"solitary lighthouse" in Stave III is"Likely the Longships" (131), since the lighthouse in Dickens's text is specifically"some league or so from shore" (p. 101), whereas the Longships light is "just over a mile out to sea" (Penzance and West Cornwall Travel Guide -- Land's End). Furthermore, Philip Collins and Edward Guiliano in The Annotated Dickens, Volume One, identify the lighthouse in A Christmas Carol as

the famous Eddystone lighthouse, a location also recalled years later in a play Wilkie Collins wrote with his [Dickens's] help, The Lighthouse (1855). Dickens starred in it as the lighthouse keeper." (Note 54, p. 865)

In a letter to Forster (August, 1842), as he was reading about Cornwall and its many lighthouses in preparation for their fall walking tour, Dickens considers the"notion" of beginning his next novel, Martin Chuzzlewit, in the lantern of a lighthouse. It is quite likely that the journey he and his friends had made to the Cornish coast a year previous was still in Dickens's mind in the autumn of 1843, when he wrote A Christmas Carol, and that his notions about rock-bound coasts and lighthouses were thenceforth inextricably connected with reminiscences of that convivial vacation. Dickens's manifest interest in lighthouses was not entirely based on their picturesque locations, for they were part of Victorian Britain's increasing concerns about the safety of merchant shipping, in connection with which one need merely consider such contemporary initiatives as the instituting of instituting of seamanship examinations (1845, 1851) and of the Meteorological Office (1854).

Charles Dickens

Last modified 20 Febuary 2000