Rare first editions of Dickens books on show at Leeds University gallery

IT proudly retains its place as the most popular classic festive literature ever penned and has been read by millions around the world and adapted into countless films and stage plays.

Striking a chord with all ages, the well-loved story of A Christmas Carol, visiting the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future, was written by Charles Dickens in 1843.

Now, rare first editions of the book, along with other first editions of the author’s work ‘The Chimes’ and all six parts of ‘The Mystery of Edwin Drood’, were on show at a special event yesterday at the University of Leeds Library.

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First published on 19 December 1843, the first edition of A Christmas Carol had sold out by Christmas Eve; by the end of 1844 a total of thirteen editions had been released, due to public demand.

Richard High from the collections team at the Treasures of Brotherton Gallery looks at a first edition of A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens..10th December 2019.Picture by Simon Hulme

Richard High, collections engagement librarian of special collections at the University of Leeds Library, said he was honoured and delighted to oversee the exhibition.

Mr High said: “We have four first editions of A Christmas Carol which makes for a compelling display.

“There are also first editions of other works. This one-off display will show a variety of his letters including one from 19 September 1848 signed by Dickens as several characters he had played in his theatrical productions.”

Dickens was a prolific letter writer, with around 200 hand-written letters using quills or feathers, in his neat, flowing rhythmic writing.

Richard High from the collections team at the Treasures of Brotherton Gallery A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens dated 1843..10th December 2019.Picture by Simon Hulme

“One of the letters was penned at The Queen’s Hotel in Leeds, where he stayed in the 1860s,” said Mr High. “It was during one of his tours when he performed his work around the country.

Although he came from Portsmouth and spent time in London, he travelled around the UK and also around the world.

“It is wonderful to see them up close and the books generate interest from around the world.”

Dickens was the most popular novelist of his time and remains one of the best-known and most-read of English authors. His works have never gone out of print and have been adapted continually for the screen since the invention of cinema, with at least 200 films and TV adaptations based on Dickens’s works documented.

English novelist Charles Dickens (1812 - 1870). Photo by Rischgitz/Getty Images

Dickens dubbed Leeds “an odious place” when he visited in 1866, adding there was a “ paucity of public houses” and he found it difficult to buy a penknife. He described it as “one of the dirtiest places” he had ever been - quite something considering he had lived in London.

The books are held and looked after by the University of Leeds’ Special Collections.

Due to their rarity, the books won’t be on public display, however requests to visit by appointment can be made with Special Collections at the University of Leeds Library.

The Treasures of the Brotherton Gallery is open all year round and has highlights from the wider collection on display for the public.

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Born in Portsmouth, Dickens left school to work in a factory when his father was incarcerated in a debtors' prison.

Despite his lack of formal education, he edited a weekly journal for 20 years, wrote 15 novels, five novellas, hundreds of short stories and non-fiction articles, lectured and performed readings extensively, was an indefatigable letter writer.

Dickens's literary success began with the 1836 serial publication of The Pickwick Papers. Within a few years he had become an international literary celebrity, famous for his humour, satire, and keen observation of character and society.

His 1843 novella A Christmas Carol remains especially popular and continues to inspire adaptations in every artistic genre. Oliver Twist and Great Expectations are also frequently adapted and, like many of his novels, evoke images of early Victorian London