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Dickens: A Christmas Carol

2. Context – Part I

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This module provides some of the historical, cultural and literary context for A Christmas Carol, focusing in particular on Dickens’ early life and career. As we move through the module, we think about: (i) Dickens’ earliest published work, Sketches by Boz, a collection of short pieces published in various newspapers and magazines between 1833-36; (ii) Dickens’ early life and its impact on his late writing: his father’s imprisonment, his own work at a boot polish factory, etc.; and (iii) Dickens’ earliest writings about Christmas, including ‘Christmas festivities’ (1835), an essay that would later appear in Sketches by Boz, and the Christmas scene in his first novel, The Pickwick Papers (1836).


In this course, Professor John McRae (University of Nottingham) explores Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. In the first module, we introduce the novel by looking at the first two paragraphs of the story, including its famous opening line (“Marley was dead; to begin with”) and the reader’s first impression of the character of Scrooge (“Scrooge's name was good on ‘Change”). In the second and third modules, we go through some of the literary, cultural and historical context for the novel, including Dickens’ life and career up to 1843, the impact of the Industrial Revolution on British society and culture, the ‘invention’ of the ‘traditional, family Christmas’ in this period, and Dickens’ preoccupation with capitalism, poverty and children. In the following twelve modules, we read through the novel stave by stave: the fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh modules cover Stave One; the eighth and ninth cover Stave Two; the tenth, eleventh, and twelfth cover Stave Three; the thirteen and fourteenth cover Stave Four; and the fifteenth covers Stave Five.


John McRae is Special Professor of Language in Literature Studies and Teaching Associate in the School of English at Nottingham University, and holds Visiting Professorships in China, Malaysia, Spain and the USA. He is co-author of The Routledge History of Literature in English with Ron Carter, and also wrote The Language of Poetry, Literature with a Small 'l' and the first critical edition of Teleny by Oscar Wilde and others.

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APA style

McRae, J. (2020, March 24). Dickens: A Christmas Carol - Context – Part I [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

McRae, J. "Dickens: A Christmas Carol – Context – Part I." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 24 Mar 2020,

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