Part politics, part Christmas story

England was in the midst of the Industrial Revolution, and the upheaval was having a devastating effect on the lower classes. Worse, the well-to-do seemed indifferent to the plight of the poor. Charles Dickens, already a well-known author, was increasingly disturbed by what he read and saw firsthand: Orphans and poor children - some as young as 3 - being sent to work in coal mines for 15 to 18 hours a day.

At first, Dickens considered writing a pamphlet to rouse people to action. But then he had a better idea - an idea for a story. The idea occurred to him in early October of 1843. "A Christmas Carol" was published Dec. 19, the story of a miser's redemption. The book was a runaway bestseller, though Dickens (who needed the money) did not benefit much financially because of the publishing arrangement he'd insisted upon and because the book was widely pirated.

The 1843 edition pictured here is part of a 3,000-book Christmas collection assembled by Jock Elliott, chairman emeritus of the Ogilvy & Mather advertising agency. This image is included in Mr. Elliott's book "Inventing Christmas: How Our Holiday Came To Be" (Harry N. Abrams), which explores the origins of Christmas observances in Europe and America.

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