The Advent Calendar of Literature: Day 17

Over the last few days, we’ve discussed Dickens’s A Christmas Carol and the various interesting facts that we’ve unearthed surrounding its composition, publication, and legacy. It is, of course, one of the most enduring stories of the Victorian age – perhaps of all time.

Gabriel GrubBut A Christmas Carol wasn’t the first Christmas story Dickens wrote. It wasn’t even the first Christmas ghost story Dickens wrote.

He’d already written ‘The Story of the Goblins Who Stole a Sexton’, featuring miserly Gabriel Grub, an inset tale in his first ever published novel, The Pickwick Papers (1836-7).

The tale shares many of the narrative features which would turn up a few years later in A Christmas Carol: the misanthropic villain, the Christmas Eve setting, the presence of the supernatural (goblins/ghosts), the use of visions which the main character is forced to witness, the focus on poverty and family, and, most importantly, the reforming of the villain into a better person at the close of the story. It is hard to see it as anything other than the dress rehearsal for the more celebrated story Dickens would go on to write a few years later.

You can read ‘The Story of the Goblins Who Stole a Sexton’ here.

Image: The Goblin and the Sexton, by Hablot K. Browne (Phiz), author: Philip V. Allingham.


  1. Pingback: 24 Amazing Literature Facts for Christmas | Interesting Literature

  2. I’ve just re-read Dickens’ The Haunted Man & the Ghost’s Bargain which is another Christmas story about redemption, forgiveness and living from ones true self. Its full of humour, melodrama, lots of sentimentality (!) but hugely entertaining.
    Its in A Christmas Carol & other Christmas Writing; a Penguin Classic.

    • Yes, The Haunted Man has its moments. I seem to recall a baby Moloch who was amusing. But some of Dickens’ other Christmas writings are among the worst things he wrote, or so I remember. I’m thinking especially of The Battle of Life, one of the few things he wrote that’s pure sentimentality without any leavening humour or imagination.