Christmas Numbers


Christmas Numbers


Lydia Craig


This collection (still in development) unites the eighteen Christmas numbers that Dickens orchestrated between 1850 and 1867 in conjunction with multiple Victorian authors, notably Wilkie Collins, and published in his periodicals Household Words and All the Year Round.

After writing five Christmas books and multiple sketches on Yuletide cheer - notably 'Scenes and Characters, No. 10, Christmas Festivities', published as 'A Christmas Dinner' in Sketches by Boz (1836) - not to mention the holiday merry-making described in Pickwick Papers (1836-1837), Charles Dickens might reasonably be supposed to have had his fill of seasonal writing. However, he published a Christmas number in 1850 in HW that contained a series of sketches about Christmas, contributing 'A Christmas Tree' (1850). In the next year's Christmas number, he included the short piece 'What Christmas is, as we Grow Older' (1851). Holiday fiction, though, was what Dickens's readership seemed to crave, and the author, editor, and entrepreneur in Dickens all recognised the opportunity.

In 1852, Dickens decided to develop an extra Christmas number for HW which would harness the creative talents of other writers for a series of unrelated stories told within a frame narrative of his own composition. Each year he himself would write several of these parts, generally two to three. Soon, the Christmas number became as much of an expected holiday tradition among Victorian subscribers as had been the Christmas books. All in all, eighteen Christmas numbers of this kind resulted (1850-1867); nine published in HW and nine in ATYR

Extra Christmas Numbers - Household Words
On 24 December 1852, Dickens published A Round of Stories by the Christmas Fire. Personally, he had written 'The Poor Relation's Story' (No.1) and 'The Child's Story' (No.2) with successive stories authored by other contributors, though no names appeared. What would have been the 1853 extra number was late, published instead on 18 February 1854, a circumstance that would not occur again until the 1864 Christmas number. This time, Dickens published more short stories by himself and others, contributing 'The Schoolboy's Story' and 'Nobody's Story', but the Christmas number, for once, lacked a frame narrative or overarching title, though it would come to be known as Another Round of Stories by the Christmas Fire. 25 December 1854 saw The Seven Poor Travellers, with Dickens penning 'The First' (No.1) and 'The Road' (No.7). By writing the first and last stories in the collection, he, as editor, might steer the entire composition towards a cohesive conclusion. 

Next, Dickens wrote 'The Guest' (No.1), 'The Boots' (No.3), and 'The Bill' (No.7) as part of The Holly-Tree Inn (15 December 1855). The Wreck of the 'Golden Mary' followed on 25 December 1856, with Dickens composing only 'The Wreck' (No.1), a lengthy description of a shipwreck which sets up the framing narrative. Next, Dickens collaborated with Wilkie Collins on The Perils of Certain English Prisoners, and their Treasure in Women, Children, Silver, and Jewels (7 December 1857), Dickens writing 'The Island of Silver-Store' (No.1) and 'The Rafts on the River' (No.3) with Collins contributing the second chapter. Rounding out the extra Christmas numbers for HW, A House to Let appeared on 7 December 1858, with Dickens authoring 'Going into Society' (No.3). The last issue of HW appeared on 28 May 1859, with the journal virtually concluded, due to disagreements with Dickens's publishers Bradbury and Evans, though it was symbolically folded into ATYR.

Extra Christmas Numbers - All the Year Round
After Dickens launched his new journal ATYR on 30 April 1859, Christmas remained house-themed with the extra Christmas number The Haunted House (13 December 1859). It featured three offerings from him, 'The Mortals in the House' (No.1), 'The Ghost in Master B's Room' (No.6), and 'The Ghost in the Corner Room' (No.8). Yet Dickens continued to experiment with his holiday themes. He would write 'The Village' (No.1), 'The Money' (No.2), and 'The Restitution' (No.5) for A Message from the Sea, published on 25 December 1860, a story about a New England mariner, Captain Jorgan, who seeks to discover the truth about the origin of a Welsh family's mysterious nest-egg. 

For Tom Tiddler's Ground, published 25 December 1861, Dickens produced 'Picking up Soot and Cinders' (No.1), 'Picking up Miss Kimmeens' (No.6), and 'Picking up the Tinker' (No. 7). An impressive four parts of Somebody's Luggage (4 December 1862), 'His Leaving it Till Called For' (No.1), 'His Boots' (No.2), 'His Brown-Paper Parcel' (No.7), and 'His Wonderful End' (No. 10) were produced by Dickens, who notably portrays himself in the story as a character, in his capacity as AYTR editor, to amusing effect.

Two subsequent Christmas numbers, Mrs. Lirriper's Lodgings (25 December 1863) and Mrs. Lirriper's Legacy' (12 January 1864), concern the life and activities of a generous landlady who adopts a young boy and raises him with the help of her gallant lodger, Major Jackman. The former contained Dickens's two introductory and conclusion chapters, 'How Mrs. Lirriper carried on the Business' (No.1) and 'How the Parlours added a few words' (No.6), while the latter featured 'Mrs. Lirriper relates how she went on, and went over' (No.1) and 'Mrs. Lirriper relates how Jimmy topped up' (No.7), a story including a jaunt to France, with identical placement at the beginning and end of the number.

Doctor Marigold's Prescriptions appeared in 1865, with Mugby Junction following in 1866; both frame narratives deal with themes of disability and poverty. For the first, Dickens contributed 'To be Taken Immediately' (No.1), 'To be Taken with a Grain of Salt' (No.6), and 'To be Taken for Life' (No.8); for the latter, he wrote 'Barbox Brothers' (No.1), 'Barbox Brothers and Co.' (No.2), 'Main Line. The Boy at Mugby' (No.3), and 'No.1 Branch Line. The Signal-man' (No.4). For the final Christmas number, No Thoroughfare (12 December 1867), Dickens collaborated with Collins on an imaginative European thriller that ranges from orphanages and offices in London to hotels and precipices in the Swiss Alps. Dickens is known to have primarily written most of The Overture, Act I, Act III, with Collins taking Act 2. Both collaborated on Acts IV and V. However, they deliberately interspersed passages into each other's parts to confuse readers as to which author had written which 'Acts' (Slater, Charles Dickens, pp. 569-573). Consequently, we have merely transcribed the Christmas number in its entirety, as a collaboration.

Though Dickens considered beginning a Christmas number in 1868, his other activities, coupled with failing health, led him to gratefully relinquish the idea. Instead, he would eventually go on to attempt another novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood (1870), evidently sensing the public's interest in the detective genre, one which he and Collins had, more or less, pioneered with their respective novels Bleak House (1853) (Inspector Bucket) and The Moonstone (1868) (Sergeant Cuff). His mind may also have been running on the mysterious plot of No Thoroughfare, with its malevolent villain, though he did not live to see the plot through to its conclusion.

While building this collection, we have consulted, and transcribed scans from Dickens Journals Online; all items are linked to their original location on the internet. With the exception of No Thoroughfare, transcripts have been made only of parts of numbers Dickens is known to have authored. Lists of writers known to have authored chapters or portions of these extra Christmas numbers have been added to the metadata of each item (Klimaszewski, Appendix A). 

Please contact us with any errors, corrections, and suggestions.

1. See Melisa Klimaszewski. Collaborative Dickens: Authorship and Victorian Christmas Periodicals (Ohio University Press, 2019); Jude Piesse. 'Dreaming Across Oceans: Emigration and Nation in the Mid-Victorian Christmas Issue'. Victorian Periodicals Review 46.1 (Spring 2013): 37-60; Robert Tracy. '"A Whimsical Kind of Masque": The Christmas Books and Victorian Spectacle'. Dickens Studies Annual 27 (1998): 113-30; Deborah A. Thomas. 'The Chord of the Christmas Season'. In Dickens and the Short Story (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1982): pp. 62-93; Sarah A. Solberg. '"Text Dropped into the Woodcuts": Dickens's Christmas Books'. Dickens Studies Annual 8 (1980): pp. 103-18; Ruth Glancy. 'Dickens and Christmas: His Framed-Tale Themes'. Nineteenth-Century Fiction 35.1 (June 1980): pp. 53-72; Thomas. 'Contributors to the Christmas Numbers of Household Words and All the Year Round, 1850-1867.' Part I. The Dickensian 70.372 (1973): pp. 163-72. and Part II. TD 70 (1974): pp. 21-29; 'Messages in Bottles and Collins's Seafaring Man'. Anthea Trodd. SEL: Studies in English Literature 41.4 (Autumn 2002), pp. 751-64; Susan Shatto. 'Miss Havisham and Mr. Mopes the Hermit: Dickens and the Mentally Ill'. (Part One) Dickens Quarterly 2.2 (June 1985): pp. 43-50 and (Part Two) DQ 2.3 (September 1985): pp. 79-84; Molly Boggs. '"Given to you by nature for an enemy": The landlady in mid-century London'. Journal of Victorian Culture 23.3 (2018): pp. 310-331; Thomas. 'Dickens' Mrs. Lirriper and the Evolution of a Feminine Stereotype'. Dickens Studies Annual 6 (1977): 154-169; Martha Stoddard Holmes. '"Happy and Yet Pitying Tears": Deafness and Affective Disjuncture in Dickens's Doctor Marigold'. Victorian Review 35.2 (Fall 2009): 53-64; Diana C. Archibald. 'Dickens's Visit to the Perkins School and Doctor Marigold'. Dickens and Massachusetts: The Lasting Legacy of the Commonwealth Visits. Eds. Archibald and Joel J. Brattin (University of Massachusetts, 2015): pp. 123-33; Anne Chapman. '"I am not going on": Negotiating Christmas Publishing Rhythms with Dickens's Mugby Junction'. Victorian Periodicals Review 51.1 (2018): 70-85; Samia Ounoughi. 'The Swiss Alps and Character Framing in No Thoroughfare'. Ed. Maxime Leroy. In Charles Dickens and Europe. Cambridge Scholars Publishing; 2013. pp. 114-25; Lillian Nayder. Unequal Partners: Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins, and Victorian Authorship (Cornell University Press, 2002). Michael Hollington. '"To the Droodstone": Or, From The Moonstone to Edwin Drood via No Thoroughfare'. Q/W/E/R/T/Y: Arts, Littératures & Civilisations du Monde Anglophone 5 (1995): 141-9. 

Collection Items

The 1850 Christmas Number
Published inHousehold Words,Vol. II, No. 39, 21 December 1850, pp. 289-312.

The 1851 Christmas Number
Published inHousehold Words,Vol. IV, Extra Christmas Number, 25 December 1851, pp. 1-24.

A Round of Stories by the Christmas Fire (1852 Christmas Number)
Published in Household Words, Vol. VI, Extra Christmas Number, 25 December 1852, pp. 1-36.

Another Round of Stories by the Christmas Fire (1853 Christmas Number)
Published in Household Words, Vol. VIII, no. 196, New Year Number, 18 February 1854, pp. 409-444.

The Seven Poor Travellers (1854 Christmas Number)
Published in Household Words, Vol. X, Extra Christmas Number, 25 December 1854, pp. 1-36.

The Holly-Tree Inn (1855 Christmas Number)
Published in Household Words, Vol. XII, Extra Christmas Number, 15 December 1855, pp. 1-36.

The Wreck of the 'Golden Mary' (1856 Christmas Number)
Published in Household Words, Vol. XIV, Extra Christmas Number, 25 December 1856, pp. 1-30.

The Perils of Certain English Prisoners, and Their Treasure in Women, Children, Silver, and Jewels (1857 Christmas Number)
Published in Household Words, Vol. XVI, Extra Christmas Number, 7 December 1857, pp. 1-36.

A House to Let (1858 Christmas Number)
Published in Household Words, Vol. XVIII, Extra Christmas Number, December 1858, pp. 18-23.

The Haunted House (1859 Christmas Number)
Published inAll the Year Round, Vol. II, Extra Christmas Number, 13 December 1859, pp. 1-49.
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