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The Seven Poor Travellers

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Author Charles Dickens
Genres Prose: Leading Article i
Prose: Occasional (Christmas Story; article in Christmas or New Year Number, &c) i
Subjects Christmas; New Year; Holidays and Seasonal Celebrations
Crimean War, 1853-1856
Ethics; Morals; Moral Development; Moral Education; Philosophy; Values
Food; Cooking; Gastronomy; Alcohol; Bars (Drinking Establishments); Restaurants; Dinners and Dining
Gender Identity; Women; Men; Femininity; Masculinity
Great Britain—Armed Forces; Militias
Great Britain—Description and Travel
Great Britain—History
Health; Diseases; Personal Injuries; Hygiene; Cleanliness—Fiction
Literature; Writing; Authorship; Reading; Books; Poetry; Storytelling; Letter Writing
Marriage; Courtship; Love; Sex
Medical care; Nursing; Hospitals; Hospital Care; Surgery; Medicine; Physicians
Travel; Tourism; Hotels; Resorts; Seaside Resorts—Fiction; Passports;
War; Battles; Peace; Military History; Weapons; Soldiers
Other Details
Printed : 25/12/1854
Journal : Household Words
Volume : Volume X
Magazine : 1854 Christmas
Office Book Notes
Views : 10062

In the 1840's Dickens wrote five Christmas Books (A Christmas Carol, 1843; The Chimes, 1844; The Cricket on the Hearth, 1845; The Battle of Life, 1846; and The Haunted Man, 1848). When he founded Household Words in 1850, he continued this tradition, first by seeing to it that the December issues contained pieces appropriate to the season; and second, near the 25th of the month, by devoting an entire number to Christmas. Then, in December 1851, he published what was to become an annual feature of Household Words - a special, extra-long (one and a half times the usual length), separately sold, supplementary Christmas number. At first these numbers were merely a series of nine or ten stories, essays, and poems with a seasonable theme or title. But beginning with the extra Christmas number for 1854, The Seven Poor Travellers, Dickens put the stories within an overall framework by adding special openings and endings and providing brief links between the segments. Dickens himself usually wrote two of the segments (though he sometimes wrote one, sometimes three). He always set the overall theme, and he usually wrote all of the framework. At first the framework was spare and utilitarian (though the dramatic situation was often fanciful); the typical strategy was to bring together a group of strangers and have them while away their time by telling stories (the dramatic situation usually required such a diversion). In the later Christmas numbers, Dickens gave more attention to the framework and to creating a realistic and sometimes suspenseful situation for the storytelling. In the still later Christmas numbers he began to vary the formula itself by writing nonframework narratives in conjunction with a single collaborator.
The Seven Poor Travellers takes place on Christmas Eve in Rochester at the charity hospice founded in 1579 by Richard Watts - an actual hospice that Dickens knew well from his childhood days. According to Watts' will, his hospice was to supply six poor travelers (providing they were not rogues or proctors) with one night's free lodging and entertainment and with fourpence. In the opening section of The Seven Poor Travellers, entitled 'The First,' the narrator - he brings the travelers up to seven - describes the charity, its procedures, its lapses, and its six clients. Dissatisfied by the scanty charity fare, the narrator provides food and wassail for his companions, and then goes on to tell a story, suggesting that the other guests do likewise. The next six sections are given over to the six stories told by the travelers. In the final section, as the Christmas day dawns, the narrator takes leave of his companions and walks up to London and his home.
Dickens probably wrote the introductory passages to the stories of the Second, Fourth, Sixth, and Seventh Poor Travellers. The stories themselves were written by George Augustus Sala, Wilkie Collins, Eliza Lynn [afterward Mrs. Lynn Linton], and Adelaide Anne Procter, respectively.
Dickens may also have written or modified the introduction to the story of the Fifth Poor Traveller (the story itself was by George Augustus Sala).
The Seven Poor Travellers is in eight parts of which Dickens wrote, in addition to the framework passages listed above, the first part ('The First') and the eighth ('The Road'). The latter two segments are the only parts included in editions of the Collected Works, but even these parts had to be slightly modified upon collection in order to stand separately (for the history of these and similar redactions, and for evidence that Dickens himself made the changes, see note to The Holly-Tree Inn [1855 Christmas]). The chief change was the deletion made in 'The Road' (see below), but Dickens also modified other elements - usually because they referred to excluded segments. Thus,in 'The First,' 'Shall we beguile the time by telling stories, in our order as we sit here?' became 'Shall I beguile the time by telling you a story as we sit here?'; and in 'The Road,' 'The stories being all finished' became 'My story being finished.' In addition, Dickens appended the subtitle 'In Three Chapters' and changed the names of the parts as follows: from 'The First' to 'Chapter I/The Old City of Rochester,' from the typographical break before the story in 'The First' to 'The Story of Richard Doubledick,' and from 'The Road' to 'Chapter III/The Road.'
Dickens wrote the whole of 'The Road,' but in 1867, when he decided to separate his contribution to The Seven Poor Travellers from the rest of the Christmas number and reprint his share in an edition of his Christmas stories, he left out or rewrote those passages which referred to segments not by him. Editions of the Collected Works have re-printed these writings (usually under the title Christmas Stories) in their 1867 form.

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

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