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Household Words, Volume XII

1855 Christmas

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Publicised 25/12/1855.
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OTC status: Corrected

For general remarks on the extra Christmas numbers, see note to The Seven Poor Travellers.
The Holly-Tree Inn tells the following story. A shy young man who believes he is spurned by his beloved decides to flee to America, but during a preliminary journey becomes snowbound on Christmas Eve in the remote Holly-Tree Inn. He is the lone guest, and he soon finds he is bored to death. To distract himself he looks about, reads a meager collection of books, reconstructs his extensive experience of inns, but finally finds that he has nothing left to do. At this juncture, despite his shyness, he decides to occupy himself by talking to members of the staff and writing down what they have to say (see note to 'The Guest '). In this manner he whiles away the days and records five stories. And by this means Dickens introduces 'The Ostler' by Wilkie Collins, 'The Boots' by himself, 'The Landlord' by William Howitt, 'The Barmaid' by Adelaide Anne Procter, and 'The Poor Pensioner' by Harriet Parr ('Holme Lee'). When the roads are reopened a week later, the young man finds that he has not been jilted after all. He returns to London and marries his beloved.
Dickens was disappointed in the first gathering of contributions for the interpolated stories and rejected almost all of them. 'The way they don't fit,' he complained on 24 November 1855, 'into that elaborately described plan, so simple in itself, amazes me'. Later (12 December 1855) he told Wilkie Collins that the 'botheration' of the Christmas number had been 'prodigious.' 'The general matter,' he continued, 'was so disappointing, and so impossible to be fitted together or got into the frame, that after I had done the Guest and the Bill, and thought myself free for a Little Dorrit again, I had to go back once more (feeling the thing too weak) and do the Boots.' Perhaps this experience induced him, in subsequent Christmas numbers, to devote even more attention to the framework and the letter of instructions.
Dickens wrote three of the seven parts of The Holly-Tree Inn ('The Guest,' 'The Boots,' and 'The Bill'). Many years later, these three parts were separated from the remainder of the number and included in editions of the Collected Works under the title of The Holly-Tree, but owing to the omission of the four segments written by other authors, some of the link passages connected with Dickens' parts were deleted or modified. Such changed passages include portions of the penultimate and all of the final paragraph of 'The Guest' (paragraphs which introduce the framework and then the first framework story) and the opening paragraph of 'The Bill'.
It has usually been supposed that the changes listed above were made after Dickens' death and that the new version - the version always reprinted in editions of the Collected Works - first appeared in 1874 in volumes added to the Library Edition and the Charles Dickens Edition of Dickens' works. It is clear, however, from texts of The Seven Poor Travellers and The Holly-Tree Inn corrected in Dickens' hand and containing printers' notations (these texts and those of five additional Christmas numbers are now in the Berg Collection of the New York Public Library), as well as from additional evidence, that Dickens himself made the alterations in question and that the modified versions were first published in America in 1867.
Dickens made the changes for thespecially authorized Diamond Edition of his works, an edition which was issued in Boston in 1867 by the American publishing firm of Ticknor & Fields. (Dickens arrived in America for an extended reading tour late in 1867; James T. Fields - the 'Fields' of Ticknor & Fields - was Dickens' most intimate American friend.) The importance of the Diamond Edition was underlined by Dickens himself. The volume of that edition entitled The Uncommercial Traveller, and Additional Christmas Stories contained the following notice:

The Publishers have pleasure in calling attention to the contents of the present volume, which are now first collected and revised for this edition by the author, thus rendering the Diamond Edition of his works the most complete and authentic. The following note explains the manner in which the collection has been made by the author: -
'In this volume are brought together various short stories of my writing, which have not yet been collected in England. Most of them are reprinted from 'Christmas Numbers' of Household Words or All the Year Round, and represent the portions of those Numbers written by myself as my contribution towards the execution of my own general design. They were originally so constructed as that they might express and explain themselves when republished alone.
'CHARLES DICKENS.
'Boston, November, 1867.'

Dickens' statement was written after he arrived in the United States. Whether he altered the Christmas stories while in America is uncertain, but given the notice in the Diamond Edition, it seems clear that the Berg texts - all of which contain compositors' marks, and all of which contain the exact emendations followed in the Diamond Edition - were used in setting type for the Christmas Stories of that edition.
Dickens also made a number of small changes (all entered in his hand in the Berg texts) designed to allow his portions of the Christmas numbers to stand as independent entities. In The Holly-Tree Inn he changed the name to The Holly-Tree: Three Branches, and he changed the titles of his contributions as follows: from 'The Guest' to 'First Branch - Myself,' from 'The Boots' to 'Second Branch. The Boots,' and from 'The Bill' to 'Third Branch. The Bill.' The original versions of the more extensive passages that he changed or deleted are reproduced in the pages which follow.
In addition to the passages excluded from his own work, Dickensly wrote the following hitherto uncollected link passages for segments of The Holly-Tree Inn written by his collaborators: the opening paragraph of 'The Barmaid'; the introduction to 'The Poor Pensioner'; the conclusion to 'The Poor Pensioner.'
Dickens may also have written or rewritten the following framework passages: the introduction to 'The Ostler'; the conclusion to 'The Ostler.'

Harry Stone; © Bloomington and Indiana University Press, 1968. DJO gratefully acknowledges permission to reproduce this material.

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