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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Dramatic adaptations of the Christmas books of Charles Dickens, 1844-8 : texts and contexts Allingham, Philip Victor


Although Dickens' familiarity with Victorian theatre has been explored with reference to his own playwrighting, amateur theatricals, style, and characterization, little work has been done on his actual involvement with the adaptation of his works for the stage. For example, even though A Christmas Carol remains his most staged and filmed work, few critics have explored the degree of Dickens' involvement in the 'officially-sanctioned' adaptation by one of the Victorian theatre's most prolific adaptors, Edward Stirling. Dickens' letters shed some light on his involvement in the staging of the various Christmas Books, but they do not indicate much about the adaptations themselves. Furthermore, neither Malcolm Morley in his series of articles in the Dickensian nor F. Dubrez Fawcett in Dickens the Dramatist (1952) has considered the relationship between the final printed text of each novella, that of the corresponding official adaptation, and the original manuscript of the play that was submitted to the office of the Lord Chamberlain for licensing. While the intention of the following dissertation is to reveal the methods employed by Dickens' stage adaptors, it occasionally reveals passages that, rejected for the final text of the novella, were retained in the drama, based as it was on early proof sheets. The most notable instance of such a phenomenon occurs in the Mark Lemon/Gilbert A'Beckett adaptation of the second of the Christmas Books, The Chimes (1844), in which Dickens seems to have modified the plot in the final stages in order to make it less controversial. Although Dickens was not much involved in the staging of The Chimes, he appears to have worked closely with the company at the Royal Lyceum (his friends the Keeleys being both the comedic stars and managers of that theatre) and the adaptor, Albert Smith. In the 1846 production of The Battle of Life Dickens made innovative suggestions about the staging, including the transformation scene and the use of a miniature coach advancing through the background, climaxed by the appearance of a real carriage on stage. Dickens' letters attest to his being the originator of these innovations; reviews in the contemporary press attest to their effectiveness. Finally, despite their tremendous popularity in their own day, the dramatic adaptations of the Christmas Books seem to be accorded a place neither in studies of the early Victorian theatre nor in discussions of that most formative period in the literary career of Charles Dickens, the 1840s. The Christmas Books and their theatrical progeny occupied a good deal of Dickens' time between Martin Chuzzle-wit and David Copperf ield, but only recently have the importance of the Christmas Books and the scope of Dickens' works on stage been fully recognized. Another intention of this study is to reveal the extent of Dickens' role in the dramatisation of the Christmas Books through an examination of the texts of the sanctioned adaptations and the Christmas Books themselves. The dissertation has a two-fold structure in that it consists of a critical study of the plays and their contexts, as well as a (non-critical) edition of Stirling's Christmas Carol and Lemon's Haunted Man, which exist only in manuscript. No previous writer on the subject of Dickens and the drama has attempted to bring together information on the adaptors, actors and actresses, theatres, play manuscripts and published texts. This dissertation provides an exhaustive study of what is known about these subjects while endeavouring to establish the extent of Dickens' involvement in the writing and staging of the officially-sanctioned plays based on the Christmas Books. Would that Christmas lasted the whole year through, and that the prejudices and passions which deform our better nature, were never called into action among those to whom they should ever be strangers! (Charles Dickens, Sketches By Boz, p. 210)

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