Censored Scrooge – a tense moment for Charles Dickens!

By the Kajman ©2021 (“Konverzace v anglickém jazyce, man!“)

You’re probably familiar with Charles Dickens’ popular novella, A Christmas Carol, either through reading it, or from seeing one of the very many stage or film adaptations of this classic of English literature.

You know how miserly old Scrooge was visited by four ghosts in a campaign to improve and save him. First, he is warned to change his selfish ways by the ghost of his former business partner, Jacob Marley. Next, the Ghost of Christmas past takes him through episodes of his life and we see his decline into bitterness. Then the Ghost of Christmas Present shows him glimpses into the lives of the other people around him, and finally the Ghost of Christmas-yet-to-come shows him his possible future. You know the story. You didn’t need spoiler warnings.

But have you heard about Dickens’ fight with his publishers? No? Well, here’s the true story.

In 1843 Dickens presented his text to his publishers. They considered the Ghosts of Christmases past, present and future, and in a tense discussion, they advised Charles Dickens, or as they patronisingly addressed him, Chucky Diki, to add the complete range of verb tenses. Yes, they wanted more ghosts! More ghosts for more thrills and bigger sales!

How about the Ghost of Christmas Past Continuous? Maybe appearing as a floating Christmas pudding, maybe even appearing as a terrifying trio together with the Ghosts of Christmas Past Perfect and Past Perfect Continuous? “Had you not been considering that?”, they asked him.

They went on pitching their vision of a ghost-tense extravaganza with Ghosts of Present Continuous, Present Perfect and Present Perfect Continuous. “What could be more perfect, Chuck? Think of it. Have you thought of it? Have you been thinking of it? They could be like flying Christmas trees – with flaming presents flying off them in all directions!” 

Their suggestions for more future ghost-tenses would have been even wilder had Dickens even been listening to these ideas, or even to those concerning Ghosts of Christmas Zero Conditional or anything else they envisioned to overwhelm the readers. But no, Dickens had rightly had enough of this intrusive interference upon his artistic vision. Unable to stand hearing anymore nonsense, he gave them his ultimatum: publish it as written or I take it to another publisher.

The rest is history as we know it. And as we have known it. And will know it.

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