The story of Ebenezer Scrooge, the businessman whose greed cost him his humanity, was inspired by conditions which greatly disturbed Dickens in the early 1840s. As the modern industrial world was emerging, many in society suffered in hopeless poverty.
In 1842 Dickens had traveled to America, where he was entertained in polite society. Yet he chose to view prisons and haunts of the very poor, such as the notorious Five Points neighborhood of lower Manhattan. Back in England the following year, he traveled to Manchester to speak at a gathering of working people in October 1843.
Taking a late-night walk after his address in Manchester, Dickens apparently reflected upon injustices in society. He may also have thought about his own uncertain fortunes. Sales of his novels had been trailing off and he desperately needed to write something that would have popular appeal. During that walk, he worked out the characters, plot, and tone of his new story.
He returned home to London and wrote A Christmas Carol quickly, finishing in time to enlist an illustrator and get the finished book into print in time for the 1843 Christmas season. It was an immediate success, and has never been out of print.
By now it seems everyone knows the story of Scrooge and his transformation. And the tale Dickens crafted as a cautionary note for his own time has become eternal.
Illustration: Depiction of Scrooge from the original edition of A Christmas Carol/courtesy New York Public Library Digital Collections