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From Dickens Himself, Notes On 'A Christmas Carol'
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From Dickens Himself, Notes On 'A Christmas Carol'
From Dickens Himself, Notes On 'A Christmas Carol'
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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Tis the Season for the various renderings of �A Christmas Carol,� by Charles Dickens. This year, there is the animated version, which you can enjoy in 3D, or if you're more inclined toward the traditional, there are assorted audio readings, such as this one, by the late British actor Paul Scofield.

Mr. PAUL SCOFIELD (Actor): Once upon a time of all the good days in the year, on Christmas Eve, old Scrooge sat busy in his counting-house.

BLOCK: Dickens himself used to perform �A Christmas Carol.� But as NPR's Margot Adler reports, he didn't perform it as he had written it.

MARGOT ADLER: If you walk into New York Public Library during this holiday season, you can look into a small glass case on the third floor in the reading room. Isaac Gewirtz, the curator of the Berg Collection of English and American Literature, explains.

Mr. ISAAC GEWIRTZ (Curator, Berg Collection of English and American Literature): The most prominent item in the case is the promptbook of the Charles Dickens for �A Christmas Carol.�

ADLER: And what's a promptbook?

Mr. GEWIRTZ: A promptbook is a book that prompts the reader on giving a performed reading of a text. In Dickens' day, public readings of fiction or of poetry was not done. It was considered a desecration of one's art and a lowering of one's dignity.

ADLER: But forget about dignity. Charles Dickens, according to Gewirtz, gave perhaps 150 public readings of �A Christmas Carol� over his lifetime. The first one went as long as three hours, later versions took about an hour and 25 minutes. And when you look at the promptbook, he cut out a lot. Complex sentences were replaced with simple ones.

Mr. GEWIRTZ: What's interesting though is to see how much of the atmospherics have been deleted. Scenes that set the mood in the streets of London, for instance.

ADLER: And often anything to do with the state of mind of a character that could be conveyed by tone of voice.

Mr. GEWIRTZ: You will notice that in the right-hand margins of this page there, it says tone to pathos. So he had many of these kinds of cues to himself, how to modulate his voice, what kind of emotion to convey at the time.

ADLER: So, those classic renditions of Dickens, like the one by Paul Scofield here�

Mr. SCOFIELD: Come, then, returned the nephew gaily. What right have you to be dismal? What reason have you to be morose? You're rich enough. Scrooge, having no better answer ready on the spur of the moment, said Bah again, and followed it up with humbug.

ADLER: Be advised: They may not be as traditional as you think. Dickens himself changed Dickens.

Margot Adler, NPR News, New York.

BLOCK: And you can see the edits in �A Christmas Carol,� in Dickens' own handwriting at

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