Certainly Dickens cannot be fully understood without the Christmas Stories. — K. J. Fielding, "Review of Charles Dickens' Uncollected Writings from "Household Words" 1850-1859," 217.

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fter the last of the five Christmas Books, The Haunted Man and The Ghost's Bargain in 1848, Charles Dickens turned his attention once again to journalism while continuing to write such lengthy, serialized novels as David Copperfield (1849-50) and Bleak House (1851-53), so that he lacked the time necessary each fall to write a tightly organized novella by himself. As the managing editor or "Conductor" of Househould Words (and subsequently of All the Year Round) he hit upon a solution to provide his devoted readers with a seasonal offering analogous to the five Christmas Books — highlighting family sentiment and the importance of memory to the moral life —: he would write "in company," composing the opening and closing pieces as a frame for stories supplied by his staff writers. Although these younger writers, a number of them women, were capable journalists, few were as talented in working within the short story genre as Elizabeth Gaskell, George Augustus Sala, and Wilkie Collins, so that the texture of these "framed tales for Christmas" is somewhat uneven. The formula that Dickens pursued relentlessly from 1852 to 1866 involved gathering together a group of disparate individuals of both genders and a range of ages, classes, vocations, and backgrounds who would while away a Christmas Eve by recounting various types of tales in the manner of the pilgrims in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. These stories appealed to the Victorian taste for family sentiment, romance, and charming children, and were vastly popular in their day; certainly every "Extra Christmas Number" boosted significantly the sales of Dickens's weekly journals, which enjoyed high circulations even into the 1860s, even though at a modest sellIng price these periodicals could not be illustrated.

Rather, anthologies such as Ticknor and Fields' Diamond Edition volume (1867), containing both The Uncommercial Traveller essays and Christmas Stories by Dickens himself (without the other pieces by other authors originally within the "frame"), were the first illustrated versions of these heart-warming, amusing, multi-voiced narratives. The first such British anthology (issued by Chapman and Hall), the Illustrated Library Edition of 1868, featured fifteen illustrations by some of the leading "New Men of the Sixties," including Fred Walker, E. G. Dalziel, and Harry French; since this volume appeared two years before his death, Dickens was likely aware of the program of illustration, even if he was not involved in a supervisory or collaborative capacity.

The Charles Dickens and Illustrated Library Editions contained sixteen stories; subsequent editions (notably the Household Edition volume, illustrated entirely by E. G. Dalziel and published by Chapman and Hall in 1877, and the 1910 Charles Dickens Library Edition, illustrated exclusively by Harry Furniss) added further pieces from Mugby Junction, "A Christmas Tree," "What Christmas is as we Grow Older," and The Lazy Tour of Two Idle Apprentices. The standard edition remains the Oxford Illustrated Dickens, issued in twenty-one volumes between 1947 and 1958, with indifferently re-engraved images of the original illustrations — the plates for Christmas Stories having been taken from the 1868 Illustrated Library Edition, which is also the basis for the Centenary Edition of 1911.

Related Material


Bentley, Nicolas, Michael Slater, and Nina Burgis. The Dickens Index. Oxford and New York: Oxford U. P., 1988.

Davis, Paul. Charles Dickens A to Z: The Essential Reference to His Life and Work. New York: Facts On File, 1998.

Dickens, Charles. Christmas Stories. Il. Harry Furniss. Charles Dickens Library Edition. 18 vols. London: Educational Book Company, 1910. 2 vols.

Dickens, Charles. Christmas Stories from "Household Words" and "All The Year Round". Il. Fred Walker, F. A. Fraser, Harry French, E. G. Dalziel, J. Mahony [sic], Townley Green, and Charles Green. Centenary Edition. 36 vols. London: Chapman & Hall; New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1911. Volume Two.

Dickens, Charles. Christmas Stories. Il. Edward Dalziel, Harry French, F. A. Fraser, James Mahoney, Townley Green, and Charles Green. The Oxford Illustrated Dickens. Oxford, New York, and Toronto: Oxford U.P., 1956, rpt. 1989.

Dickens, Charles. Christmas Stories. Il. E. A. Abbey. The Household Edition. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1876.

Dickens, Charles. Christmas Stories from "Household Words" and "All the Year Round". Il. E. G. Dalziel. The Household Edition. London: Chapman and Hall, 1877. Rpt., 1892.

Fielding, K. J. "Review of Charles Dickens' Uncollected Writings from "Household Words" 1850-1859, ed. Harry Stone." Victorian Studies 13 (1969): 217.

Schlicke, Paul, ed. "Christmas Stories." The Oxford Companion to Dickens. Oxford and New York: Oxford U. P., 1999. Pp. 100-101.

Thomas, Deborah A. Dickens and The Short Story. Philadelphia: U. Pennsylvania Press, 1982.

Last modified 10 October 2013