Study Guide

A Christmas Carol

by Charles Dickens

A Christmas Carol eText - eText

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What is a literary classic and why are these classic works important to the world?

A literary classic is a work of the highest excellence that has something important to say about life and/or the human condition and says it with great artistry. A classic, through its enduring presence, has withstood the test of time and is not bound by time, place, or customs. It speaks to us today as forcefully as it spoke to people one hundred or more years ago, and as forcefully as it will speak to people of future generations. For this reason, a classic is said to have universality.

Charles Dickens was born in Portsmouth, England in February 1812. His father, John Dickens was a spendthrift, and the family moved frequently during Dickens's childhood. At one point they lived in a tiny house in Camden Town that many people believe serves as the model for the Cratchits' house in A Christmas Carol. When Dickens was twelve years old, his father was sent to debtor's prison, and Dickens was forced to quit school and begin working. The sympathy he developed for the poor, especially poor children, is reflected in all of his books.

Before becoming a writer, Dickens worked as a law clerk and a newspaper reporter. He began to show promise as a fiction writer by publishing numerous stories in a variety of popular magazines. Finally, in 1836, Dickens married Catherine Hogarth and began writing The Pickwick Papers, the first novel that would bring him a degree of fame.

In all, Dickens completed eighteen novels and died in 1870 while writing his nineteenth, The Mystery of Edwin Drood. He is buried in Poet's Corner in Westminster Abbey in London. All of his novels are still in print, and nearly every high school in the United States requires its students to read at least one Charles Dickens novel, but A Christmas Carol is by far his best-loved book, having been translated into more languages, and inspiring more movies, television episodes, and adaptations than all of his other works combined.