Mon
Dec 12 2016 6:00pm

Dickens, Prison, and A Christmas Carol

Read this exclusive guest post from Paige Shelton about Charles Dickens's experience with prison and how it shaped his writing—especially A Christmas Carol—and make sure you're signed in and comment below for a chance to win a hardcover copy of The Cracked Spine and an advanced copy of Of Books and Bagpipes!

When I began writing “A Christmas Tartan,” I knew I wanted to add a well-known book into the mysterious items found in a clandestinely delivered box. Of course, Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol came to mind.

Over the years, it has become one of my favorite holiday stories. However, back when I was a little girl and my grandfather switched the television to the channel showing an old black-and-white version, it wasn’t appealing at all. It was so weird and big—full of ghosts and sickly, hungry children. But over the years, and after actually reading the novella, I grew to truly love it.

Dickens was a world famous 19th-century author who wrote his demons into everything he created. Poverty, abandonment, prison, loneliness; these things haunted him, so it was only natural that they showed up in his writing. The instances are numerous, but in A Christmas Carol, specifically, the ghosts deliver the demons, one by one, and force Ebenezer Scrooge to face his past, present, and possible future circumstances. He sees the worst of the worst—and the worst of himself—before the scenes brighten.

Up until Charles Dickens was about twelve, his family lived a poor, lower middle class but hopeful existence with the promise of better days ahead if only Charles worked hard enough and got the right education. But when he was twelve, Dickens’s father was thrown into debtors’ prison with the rest of the family—all except Charles, who was old enough to earn money.

Instead, young Charles was sent to work in a shoe polish factory where, for a year or so, he spent twelve hours a day packing inky polish into containers. Though by all accounts he wasn’t mistreated, his life during that time was terrible to him, not hopeful at all. I have no doubt that Dickens called upon that dark time when Scrooge conveys that children down on their luck should be sent to prisons and workhouses. The Ghost of Christmas Present later uses those words against him.

When Dickens’s family managed to pay the debt and were released from prison, his father wanted Charles to go forward with his education, but his mother wanted him to continue working in the factory. He never forgave her. In A Christmas Carol, it is ultimately forgiveness that saves Scrooge. After the ghosts, when he’s welcomed into the homes of those he’s treated the most poorly, he is completely transformed. I wonder if Dickens did that consciously or if it was just a way of working through those old feelings.

Dickens never spoke publically about the time his family went to prison, but, of course, it showed up in all of his writing. It’s not a stretch to think that formidable year was the biggest spark that shaped one of most popular writers of all time—certainly of his time.

Prison has been known to have a big influence on a number of writers: Oscar Wilde, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, Chester Himes, Jack London, and Evgenia Ginzburg, just to name a few.

It seems pretty likely that if they hadn’t served some time, they would never have become the writers they became. It’s not easy to be grateful for their incarcerations, but it is wonderful to have the work they produced in large part because of it.

In A Christmas Carol, Scrooge begins as a cranky old man who cares for no one but himself and his money. His name has become synonymous with those who are not merry about the holiday. But after the ghostly visits, he becomes a better person—generous and with hope restored. Perhaps Dickens had wished his had been restored all those years ago.

A Christmas Carol is also the first time we see the phrase “Merry Christmas,” and I can’t imagine this time of year without it. Thanks to Criminal Element for letting me stop by today, and a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to everyone!


Comment below for a chance to win a hardcover copy of The Cracked Spine and an advanced copy of Of Books and Bagpipes by Paige Shelton!

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Paige Shelton Comment Sweepstakes: NO PURCHASE NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN.  A purchase does not improve your chances of winning.  Sweepstakes open to legal residents of 50 United States, D.C., and Canada (excluding Quebec), who are 18 years or older as of the date of entry.  To enter, complete the “Post a Comment” entry at https://www.criminalelement.com/blogs/2016/12/dickens-prison-and-a-christmas-carol-paige-shelton-comment-sweepstakes beginning at 5:00 p.m. Eastern Time (ET) December 12, 2016. Sweepstakes ends 4:59 p.m. ET December 22, 2016. Void outside the United States and Canada and where prohibited by law. Please see full details and official rules here. Sponsor: Macmillan, 175 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10010.

 

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Paige Shelton had a nomadic childhood as her father’s job as a football coach took the family to seven different towns before she was even twelve years old. After college at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, she moved to Salt Lake City where she thought she’d only stay a few years, but she fell in love with the mountains and a great guy who became her husband. After a couple of decades in Utah, she and her family recently moved to Arizona.

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134 comments
MaryC
1. maryc
My favorite movie version of A Christmas Carol stars Alistair Sim as Scrooge.
Sally Schmidt
2. bigcootie
Charles Dickens had quite the life. Thanks for the giveaway.
3. Theresa Jones
I've been looking for a new series to get into, thank you
Gordon Bingham
4. gordonbingham
Working in a prison or jail also changes a person...seein those who were rehabilitated has been a godsennd for my wife...
Deb Philippon
5. DebP
I haven't read anything about Dickens for many years. I'd be interested in becoming reacquainted with him.
Nancy Spitznagle
6. ngspitz1
Love this opportunity! Dickens was one of my favorite authors.
7. Carol Meyer
Loved the Cracked Spine, can't wait for book 2.
8. John Geraci
Even the Bill Murray movie "Scrooged" has its moments of recognition and enlightenment. It's hard to comprehend the significance and popularity of Dickens. It would be like Stephen King and James Patterson rolled into one.
Karen Legee
9. KarenL
A Christmas Carol has always been a favorite story for me. It's fascinating to read about Dickens' childhood experiences and how they influenced his writing. Thank you!
KATHLEEN FLOYD
10. k5059
Great article! I loved "The Cracked Spine" and "A Christmas Tartan" and I can't wait for the next book! Thanks for the opportunity to win. ( miss the Country Cooking School series, by the way.)
Mary Brockhoff
11. Chells
I have always enjoyed The Christmas Carol. My favorite movie adaptation is from 1938 with Reginald Owen.
Thank you for such a delightful article.
Esther Ressel
12. Puppycat76
Thank you for this great article! Learned some things about Dickens that I'd never heard before.
Amy Hubbard
13. AmyHubbard77
Thank you for this article. Learn a lot about Dickens I didn't know. What a hard life he had but yet he persevered and became an amazing writer. Fantastic!
Tatiana deCarillion
14. decarillion
I've not actually read A Christmas Carol, but have seen numerous iterations on film. I had no idea about the unfortunate part of Dickens' life, mentioned above. It's easy to see how such hardship and trauma may have colored everything he did from then on. Happy Holidays to all!
Alice
16. aliceactor
I love Paige's Country Cooking School Series and would love, love, LOVE to win this! Thanks!!
Kevin McKernan
17. KMac
Dickens is a very interesing author to say the least
Kevin McKernan
17. KMac
Dickens is a very interesing author to say the least
19. Jean Bearrick
I'm ready to start reading!
pearl berger
21. beach
These books would be captivating. I had read Charles Dickens classics and knew about his life. Thanks for this great giveaway.
Tad Ottman
22. tottman
I love all the ways that A Christmas Carol and Scrooge have been reinvented and reimagined throughout the years.
Andrew Kuligowski
23. KuligowskiAndrew
A Chrstimas Carol has been around so long, and is so well known that it's hard to put myself in a place and time when it was new and fresh (although I obviously know it was).
What would Dickens say if he were to learn that his attempt at catharsis has become a model for so many other writers?
Marissa Culp
24. msculp
I actually read A Christmas Carol for the first time this year. I've seen almost every version of the movie but had never read the book - a serious slight now that I see what I was missing all those years! While several of the movies follow closely, the book provides further insight into Scrooge and, surprisingly, his nephew. This will become a yearly read, along with my childhood favorite, The Birds Christmas Carol.
ellie lewis
25. italia
Thanks for this treasure of a giveaway which interests me greatly. Dickens life was filled with trials and tribulations. His novels captivated me and still do.
Marlyn Beebe
26. Marlyn
I love Dickens, but I have to admit that A Christmas Carol is probably my least favorite of his books. Perhaps it has something to do with the annual deluge of adaptations.
Vickie Shaw
27. vickie830
I have never read A Christmas Coral. I guess I should, I love every verison of that story on film. Some more than others. And I would love to have your book.
28. Hippiechck1955
I read A Christmas Carol many times as a child but never as an adult. I've no doubt I would see it from another perspective reading it now.
Ray Palen
29. RPalen7
As an actor who has played Scrooge for over 10 years I am highly interested!
Ray Palen
30. RPalen7
As an actor who has played Scrooge for over 10 years I am highly interested!
Mary Vanderburgh
31. mvanderburgh
I love "A Christmas Carol" by Dickens and re-read it every year. I also must watch the movie starring Alistar Sim (the b&w version). Thanks for this insight into what have motivated Dickens to write this wonderful story. It amazes me that after all this time, the story still has value <3
Portia Asher
32. pixie
Thank you for the excellent article. It explained Dickens' story. Much appreciated.
T Alexander
33. Talex
I really love a book I can get into, and this genre qualifies. I enjoy historical novels tremendously. Charles Dickens has been a favorite since "A Tale of Two Cities" in high school. I can really get lost in his books. I am interested to read Paige Shelton.
Barbara Bibel
35. bbibel
O love Dockens. This book sounds great.
Jerrie Adkins
37. filkferengi
Each version of "A Christmas Carol" has its own strengths and weaknesses.

Thank you for this give-away.
elizabeth findlay
38. eafindlay
I adore that short story by Dickens and always look forward to a new look at it. Christmas mysteries are also a favorite of mine and ghosts just add something to any story.
Barbara Lima
39. barblima
Life experience helps us in many ways, as it did Dickens.
Sue Farrell
40. Suekey12
I had no idea that the Dickens family was in debtors prison at one time. Very interesting interview. Thanks for the contest
suefarrell.farrell@gmail.com
44. Katherine M Patchen
I wish I could write. I simply do not have the discipline.
Clydia DeFreese
46. clydia
I love reading biography material about mystery writers. So many have overcome all kinds of obstacles. I am in awe of their talent.
Wilifred Alire
47. walire
It's miserable to see that so many writers have had a prison experience, Dickens had it at a very young age which makes it even sadder.
Jacki Robertson
48. 1228jcr
Enjoyed Paige Shelton's first book and can't wait to get into the others.
Jacki Robertson
49. 1228jcr
Enjoyed Paige Shelton's first book and can't wait to get into the others.
Rebecca Brothers
51. RileyC
Proof it's the utlimate Christmas story is that almost every other Christmas story around today is a call back to Dickens. And how do you top that opening line? "Marley was dead; to begin with."
Rebecca Brothers
51. RileyC
Proof it's the utlimate Christmas story is that almost every other Christmas story around today is a call back to Dickens. And how do you top that opening line? "Marley was dead; to begin with."
Darlene Slocum
52. darandsam
I just read the excerpt on The Christmas Tartan and I must put that on my book shopping list. Looks like some good reading.
Peter W. Horton Jr.
53. mosaix
Christmas shoud be a time of love! Yes!
Rick Ollerman
54. ollerman
Thanks for the essay. I love Dickens and Dickens biographies. When I read his work, despite the language and the time period, he's one of two authors who make me feel like there's a wire from the book to my brain and that Dickens' voice is piped directly into my mind. All time favorite.
Michele Van Epps
55. Ireed
I love having literary references in contemporary books -- this sounds like a good read!
pat murphy
58. pwhitby
Anything from Paige Shelton is a good read .
Anita Nowak
59. sirdustin
This sounds like a good book I would enjoy
Anita Nowak
59. sirdustin
This sounds like a good book I would enjoy
Jean Dickinson
60. justjean
I would like to read Paige Shelton's Scottish Bookshop Mysteries and while I'm waiting to win "Cracked Spine" and "Of Books and Bagpipes", I plan to read "A Christmas Tartan"!
Russ Cross
63. Inertia-Lad
A Christmas Carol starring Alistair Sim is my favorite movie version. I always brings tears to my eyes. I have to admit the TV version with Mr. Magoo gives me a good case of the feels. I really enjoy the music from the Magoo version. The books sound like they would be good holiday reads.
64. Skip
Interesting history.
Lori Provenzano
65. Mountainesque
We should indeed be thankful for our more comfortable living situations than Dicken experienced in his lifetime. We should also be thankful that an abundance of genius resulted from his earlier, grim situation,
Kay Bennett
66. kaytee18
Wow, interesting information. Thanks for the chance to win amazing reading material. Love your books!
susan beamon
67. susanbeamon
I was familar with the book long before I saw any of the movies based on it. We used to read it at Christmas.
Bonnie Karoly
68. grobiemum
I love The Christmas Carol and have watched many different takes on this book. I would love to read Paige Shelton's books.
69. CALLIE WESTBROOK
Our favourite Christmas tradition is for the whole family to gather around the television set and watch Dicken's A CHRISTMAS CAROL starring Alastair Sim. The messages it sends of humanity, generosity, friendliness. and love makes it a must watch anytime of year.
DJ Shatley
70. dejs
I've never read A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. I guess now would be a good time. I've also never won a contest... *sigh* I do love mysteries though, so I'll be checking out Paige Shelton's books even if I don't win them. I love finding authors I've never read. :)
Susan Robinette
71. susanrob
Thanks for the information of Charles Dickens -- I didn't know that. I can see that it must have had an effect on his "A Christmas Carol."
Sandra Furlotte
72. skfurlotte
This is a new series to me and the books look wonderful. Background information adds so much to the reading experience.
73. redron
I want to read this book
Veronica Sandberg
74. redron
I read Christmas Carol a couple of times. Would love to win.
Angela Jett
75. AngelaJett
Interesting article. Look forward to new book.
Pat Dupuy
76. Pat D
Dickens' mom wanted him to keep working and forget about education?
Good grief. Debtors prison must have really messed her up.
Carol Lawman
77. juju2cat
I love Dickens but I find it takes me more time than usual to read his books because I find myself rereading passages repeatedly; what a beautiful genius he had.
Jerry Lafferty
78. mrcapncaveman
I had no idea so many different formidable authers had served time
Beth Talmage
79. wordygirl
I know someone for whom this would be the perfect gift. Thanks for the chance to enter.
80. EricStar
This sounds fantastic - thanks for the opportunity.
Laurent Latulippe
81. krag48
Very interesting. I look forward to reading this.
Chi Shannon
83. anastasiafall
This would make for great cold weather reading :)
84. Diana Meyer
Look forward to reading.
Janice Santillo
85. themommazie
Interesting info on Charles Dickens. Hope I win.
Margot Core
86. AnnaZed
I do associate the 'merry' over the 'happy' with Dickens, but I did not realize that his influence in that regard was so extensive.
Ida Umphers
87. idasue123
Love the incomparable Dickens characters. Merry Christmas! Thank you for the giveaway.
M Thompson
88. MST
I never tire of watching A Christmas Carol on tv every year. Would love to win these books by an author who is new to me. Thanks and Merry Christmas to all!
Deborah Dumm
89. deb730
This proves that with hard work & determination you can accomplish a lot in life. I can't wait to read this book it sounds amazing!
Nicole
90. nasselin
This is fascinating. I admit I don't know much about Charles Dickens and this taste of his life makes me want to learn more.
I was never into a Christmas Carol (other than the Disney version), but I think it might be time to revisit it now that I'm older.
Nicole
90. nasselin
This is fascinating. I admit I don't know much about Charles Dickens and this taste of his life makes me want to learn more.
I was never into a Christmas Carol (other than the Disney version), but I think it might be time to revisit it now that I'm older.
Paula Adams
91. qnofdnile
I never read the book A Christmas Carol but I've watched several versions of it made into movies. I loved A Cracked Spine and can't wait to read Of Books and Bagpipes.
Marjorie Manharth
92. mmanharth
Too bad everyone's misfortunes don't translate into a masterpiece. I also didn't know Dickens led such a life. Thank you.
Marjorie Manharth
92. mmanharth
Too bad everyone's misfortunes don't translate into a masterpiece. I also didn't know Dickens led such a life. Thank you.
charles j hauser jr
95. admiral
Awesome- Dickens and Mystery and Old London
charles j hauser jr
95. admiral
Awesome- Dickens and Mystery and Old London
Marisa Young
98. Risa
Interesting article - want to read Paige's book.
Sue Bazner
99. sueB
Wouldn't have wanted to have Dickens experience what he did, but wouldn't want to have missed any of his glorious writings either
Richard Edmundson
105. rjedmund
I had never heard Dickens' life history before. Very interesting.
Diana Petty-Stone
106. DPSreads
What a wonderful article about Dickens. It's aways amazing how such beautiful literature can come from such hardship and suffering.
Mary Ann Woods
107. puttputt1198eve
Have always looked forward to the family reading or watching of A Christma Carol each Christmas. Thanks for the chance to learn more about Dickens!
Rhonda Barkhouse
109. Rhobar
Great article. I love to read Dickens this time of year.
Rhonda Barkhouse
110. Rhobar
Great article. I love to read Dickens this time of year.
Terrie Ash
112. teria222
I have not previously read any of Ms. Shelton's works, but look forward to doing so! A Merry Christmas to us all!
115. BasBleuBarb
Although being in prison is a bad thing, we can be glad it probably had an influence on Dickens' writing.
Marty Crosson
116. mcrosson
To be honest, I've never been a Dickens fan. His books, written to be serialized over many months, read as padded and melodramatic. (Call me Scrooge! No, wait, don't)
Lucinda Larson
117. JohnsJane
I had no idea what he had gone thru in his life.
Sharon Haas
118. kazul
I never knew that Dickens had such a dramatic childhood but it explains a lot about his stories.
L
120. LStirling
Big fan of Charles Dickens, so I enjoyed the biographical information on how his life influenced his writing, and how his writing influenced Paige Shelton's.
Melissa Keith
121. melly801
This is a fantastic post. I love Dickens and didn't know these facts. My favorite Christmas movie is A CHRISTMAS CAROL. The 1951 version with Alastair Sim. I also love Scotland and enjoy Paige's books. It would be a dream come true for me to win. I would enjoy both books immensely!! This has been a really rough year. Please make my spirits (hee) bright! TA!
Suzanne Timmsen
122. bowlinsuzy
Always a good read when Charles Dickens is involved. Facts I did not know or probably knew but forgot.
Carolyn Bybee
123. CSB
A fan of history, a fan of Dickens, and a fan of mysteries, this book looks to be very interesting!
Joyce Lokitus
124. Joyce710113
I had no idea that Dickens had been in prison nor that the words "Merry Christmas" were first printed in A Christmas Carol. Two years ago I had the opportunity to see the great grandson of Charles Dickens perform a one man dramatic reading of A Christmas Carol - it was so special. I love mysteries and enjoy reading them in the winter. Hoping to win yours for a nice read during this wintry season in PA!
Karen Hester
126. rosalba
I never knew Dickens ws responsible for Merry Christmas
127. Kelli ende
I love this!
bill norris
128. bnchile
So many new Dickens facts that i hadnt been aware of before. Thanks.
Pat Murphy
129. murphyp2011
Looking for a new series and this seems to be it.
Sarah H
130. Anneoftucson
I adore your series Scottish Bookshop Mysteries! Excited for the next release! Very interesting post on Charles Dickens, lots of info I didn't know :)
Catherine Myers
131. ktpotat
That is what makes Dickens so fabulous he lived it.
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