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MIAMI (Reuters Life!) - A new book about the economic struggles author Charles Dickens faced before he wrote "A Christmas Carol" in 1843 has been a hit with holiday shoppers.
"The Man Who Invented Christmas" by American historian and crime novelist Les Standiford has enjoyed brisk early sales at a time when many people may need some holiday cheer during the worst economic recession since the Great Depression.
"The need to be reminded of the importance of charity is even greater in difficult times," Standiford said in an interview.
At only 31 with a large family to feed, pressing financial needs and a dwindling reputation, Dickens had hit hard times after his earlier successes with "The Pickwick Papers," "Oliver Twist" and "The Old Curiosity Shop."
"I learned that Dickens needed money, he was desperate," Standiford explained.
Haunted by his father's incarceration in debtor's prison and his own experience of being forced to work at 12 to support his family, Dickens underwent a prolonged period of introspection before his fortunes turned again with "A Christmas Carol," according to Standiford.
With the book, and its enduring characters like Tiny Tim, Scrooge and Marley, Dickens had hoped to redeem himself with an uplifting message about a world of universal charity, empathy and family harmony.
But Standiford said he also probably had something less altruistic in mind than changing the world when he penned what became the shortest book he had written.
"The more practical need - to make a few quick bucks -- was not too far on the side," Standiford said.
Dickens wrote "A Christmas Carol" in six weeks and spent his own money to do it. His publishers were dubious. Christmas was not even remotely the holiday then that it is now, so the subject matter was more than doubtful.
There were no Christmas trees or cards, no outpouring of gifts or "Yuletide greetings," and it was already October.
But the book was out in time for Christmas 1843.
Dickens not only wrote it, he did all the editing, chose the paper and binding and paid for it all out of his own pocket in something akin to what we now know as vanity publishing.
Standiford said the book made all the difference in the way we celebrate Christmas today.
"It has entered into the fabric of our Western civilization and Christmas and 'A Christmas Carol' are inextricably entwined," Standiford explained.
His book is subtitled "How Charles Dickens's 'A Christmas Carol' Rescued His Career and Revived Our Holiday Spirits."
"Dickens refused to believe we would always have the haves and have nots. He believed we could figure it out," he said.
Editing by Tom Brown and Patricia Reaney