Christmas was Charles Dickens’s favorite holiday. He always celebrated the season exuberantly, and in 1843 published A Christmas Carol, which was enormously popular.

This is Dickens's own copy of the book — called a prompt copy, he used it in more than 100 public readings (including several here in New York) that he gave to huge, sold-out audiences. These performances date back to the early 1850s, with his final American performance at Steinway Hall in New York City in 1868.

The book contains his own hand-written notes in the margins, including voice instruction for the readings, as well as audience reaction.

Charles Dickens's copy of a A Christmas Carol

Charles Dickens's copy of a A Christmas Carol

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Charles Dickens's copy of a A Christmas Carol
Courtesy of the NYPL

The author — who had also acted in the theater for much of his life — is said to have employed a different voice and style for each of his characters, from a “sulky growl” for Scrooge to a “childish treble” for Tiny Tim and a “cold, haughty voices” for the spirits of Christmas Past, Present, and Future.

Well-accustomed to bringing “shrieks of laughter” and “floods of tears” to audiences large and small, Dickens knew the power of a good Christmas story.

Charles Dickens's copy of a A Christmas Carol

Charles Dickens's copy of a A Christmas Carol

arrow
Charles Dickens's copy of a A Christmas Carol
Courtesy of the NYPL

The best part is, the NYPL has scanned the entire book, so you can read every single note here — you could probably even have your own copy printed so you can read from it every Christmas. While there's no recording of Dickens reading from it, a few years back Neil Gaiman used his prompt copy for a reading at the Library, and you can listen to that here:


As part of our month-long Dear NYC series, we're looking at New York City gems hidden away at the New York Public Library. The NYPL’s four research centers offer the public access to over 55 million items, including rare books, manuscripts, letters, diaries, photographs, prints, maps, ephemera, and more. Integral to these robust collections is the Library’s extensive material related to New York City, and as NY works to come together, cope, heal and recover from the 2020 pandemic, economic uncertainty, and the many issues that divide us, it is important to look at that history and remember: New York is resilient. New York is strong. New York has seen its share of hard times. And, as always, with Patience and Fortitude (the names given to the Library’s beloved lions in 1933 by Mayor LaGuardia for the virtues New Yorkers needed to get through the Great Depression) we will get through it, together.