“Charles Dickens wept, and laughed, and wept again, and
excited himself in a most extraordinary manner, in the
composition, and thinking whereof, he walked about the
black streets of London fifteen and twenty miles, many a
night when all the sober folks had gone to bed.”
Charles Dickens, on writing A Christmas Carol
What a treat! With just a day to spare, I hopped into Manhattan and over to the Morgan Library, where I feasted my writerly eyes, mind, and heart on an exhibit celebrating the 200th anniversary of the birth of Dickens. He’s been one of my favorite authors ever since I read A Tale of Two Cities when I was 12 or so (see Crying Game). To see some of his manuscripts, letters, and notes was totally thrilling. And then there was his portable inkpot: the size of one of those old metal cigarette lighters, he carried it with him from the time he was a reporter so that he could write anywhere, any time. You could say it’s a Dickensian version of our digital laptops — fantastic!
Best of all was seeing original drafts of some of his most beloved works, especially A Christmas Carol. Amazing to see how much revising he did — words, phrases, whole paragraphs crossed out and rewritten on the fly: he was a printer’s nightmare! Compelled by a financial crisis, Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol in six weeks of intense creativity. An exhibit note described the, “Deleted text struck out — replaced with more active verbs to achieve greater vividness or immediacy of effect — and fewer words for concision.”
The 66-page draft was sent to the printers in a rush so it would be ready for Christmas in 1843. Two days after completing the book, our boy Charles had overdrawn his bank account and had to borrow two hundred pounds from a friend! Not to worry: 6,000 copies were printed and by Christmas Eve, they were sold out!
When asked if he dictated his books, Dickens wrote, “No, I write every word of my books with my own hand. I write with great care and pain (being passionately fond of my art, and thinking it worth any trouble.”) What a guy! And so inspiring. Let’s take a leaf from his book and Write on!