This year the Ascension Island Post Office has released 4 Christmas stamps that illustrate scenes from A Christmas Carol, to mark the bicentenary of the birth of Charles Dickens, the greatest novelist of the Victorian period.
During his lifetime he enjoyed unprecedented popularity and fame and time has not diminished the appeal of his work. His fictional characters remain as captivating today as ever, whilst the underlying social commentary on Victorian society and his belief that “Virtue shows quite as well in rags and patches as she does in purple and fine linen” has given his novels an enduring relevance.
A Christmas Carol is almost certainly his best-known story. It was published on 19th December 1843, the year of the first commercially available Christmas card; a time when Victorian Britain was experiencing a nostalgic interest in its forgotten Christmas traditions. As middle-class expectations were rising Dickens painted Christmas as a family-based festival of generosity and kindness. In so doing he influenced many aspects of Christmas that are celebrated today in Western culture, such as family gatherings, seasonal food and drink, dancing, games, and a festive generosity of spirit.
A Christmas Carol is the tale of a man who is given a second chance to live a good life. Dickens demonstrated to his readers that they, too, could achieve a similar salvation in a selfish world that had blunted their generosity and compassion. It is hard to imagine a time when such a message will lose its appeal and over the years the novel has exerted a powerful influence upon its readers, inspiring acts of generosity, both great and small. One such example from the early 20th Century would be the presents sent to London’s crippled children each year from the Queen of Norway, signed "With Tiny Tim's Love"!
Although the book is about Scrooge it is of course the character of Tiny Tim that symbolizes the consequences of Scrooges’ choices. Dickens never does tell us what is wrong with Tiny Tim but several ailments (such as rickets) were treatable at the time. What we do know is that without help he will die. Whilst the wealthy Scrooge believes that Christmas is “a poor excuse for picking a man’s pocket every twenty-fifth of December!" Bob Cratchit tells us that poor Tiny Tim “hoped the people saw him in the church, because he was a cripple, and it might be pleasant to them to remember upon Christmas Day, who made lame beggars walk, and blind men see."
The book received immediate critical acclaim. William Makepeace Thackeray pronounced the book, "a national benefit and to every man or woman who reads it, a personal kindness. The last two people I heard speak of it were women; neither knew the other, or the author, and both said, by way of criticism, 'God bless him!'" Thackeray wrote about Tiny Tim, "There is not a reader in England but that little creature will be a bond of union between the author and him; and he will say of Charles Dickens, as the woman just now, 'GOD BLESS HIM!' What a feeling this is for a writer to inspire, and what a reward to reap!”.
Dickens promised a novel “which shall not put my readers out of humour with themselves, with each other, with the season, or with me. May it haunt their houses pleasantly”. He did not disappoint us and of course Scrooge chooses to reform his ways. We are told that Tiny Tim did not die and that Scrooge became a "second father" to him. Indeed, “it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God Bless Us, Every One!”
Designer: Gyula Vasarhelyi
Printer: Cartor Security Printing
Stamp size: 42 x 28mm
Perforation: 13 ¼ x 13 ½ per 2cms
Release date: 15 November, 2012
Production Co-ordination: Creative Direction (Worldwide) Ltd