December 9, 2012

When Charles Dickens came to Portland

And why he left town feeling a bit like Scrooge.

By Bob Keyes
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

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Charles Dickens drew more than 1,200 people to Portland's old City Hall Auditorium to hear him read from his “A Christmas Carol” in March 1868.

Courtesy photo

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Mark Honan, left, stars as Bob Cratchit and Tom Ford is Scrooge in Portland Stage Company’s “A Christmas Carol.”

Darren Setlow photo courtesy of Portland Stage Companyt

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Several versions of Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" are on stage:

Portland Stage Company presents a fully staged production through Dec. 23, with performances at 7 p.m. Wednesday to Friday, 2 and 7 p.m. Saturday and noon and 5 p.m. Sunday, with additional final-week performances at 7 p.m. Dec. 18, 2 p.m. Dec. 20, and noon Dec. 21. Ticket prices range from $15 for children to $44. Call 774-0465 or visit

The Public Theatre in Lewiston wraps up its adaption of "A Christmas Carol" at 2 p.m. Sunday. The Public Theatre's version features six actors and a fiddler; $18 adults, $5 for kids. Call 782-3200 or visit

Freeport Factory Stage, 5 Depot St., presents "A Christmas Carol" at 2 p.m. Sunday and 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Tickets cost $15, $10 for seniors and students. Call 370-5340 or visit

At Mayo Street Arts, 10 Mayo St., Portland, Shoestring Theater presents "A Christmas Carol" at 3 and 7:30 p.m. Dec. 22. This show is performed by kids, with puppets and the odd politician and features a cranky movie, live music and a ghost on stilts. Tickets for the 3 p.m. performance cost $8 adults, $4 for kids at The evening show is pay-what-you-can.

Given the city's rebuilding process, the turnout of 1,250 or so people impressed him. Tickets cost $2 each.

"Yet such is the astonishing energy of the people that the large hall in which I am to read tonight … would compare very favorably with the Free Trade hall at Manchester," he wrote, according to a research paper that appeared in the Colby Library Quarterly in 1962.

The reading went well. The response was enthusiastic, and Dickens termed his appearance "triumphant" – although cynics wondered if his enthusiasm was owed more to his paycheck than to any feeling of artistic accomplishment.

One can presume Portland meant something to Dickens, as he and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow were close friends. Dickens visited the Portland-born poet at his home in Cambridge, Mass. But Portland may well have been just another stop near the end of a very long and tiresome tour.

By all accounts, Dickens had stature equivalent to a modern-day pop star. The local news media chronicled his arrival and departure, and noted his movements around town.

Indeed, the morning after his reading in Portland, a local girl snipped a piece of fringe from his shawl as a keepsake as Dickens walked back to the train station for his return to Boston.

Darrell Bulmer of the Maine Arts Commission has long admired Dickens and his work. An Englishman, Bulmer grew up about 60 miles outside of London, and studied Dickens in college.

"I looked upon Dickens as a one-man 'Occupy Parliament' movement," said Bulmer, who saw the Portland Stage production of "A Christmas Carol" last week. "He was the Jon Stewart of his day. Using a mixture of powerful writing and humor, he had the courage to speak out against social injustices. Unions were not sanctioned during this period in history, and Dickens provided a voice for the masses."

Bulmer appreciates the many productions of "A Christmas Carol" that are available in Maine and elsewhere. It is an important piece of literature with a message that is universal across time, culture and classes.

"Throughout the novel, Dickens addressed the poor treatment of the working class while trying to remind his readers of the traditional meanings of Christmas in England," Bulmer noted. "Dickens wrote the novel at a time when new methods of celebrating Christmas were being introduced, such as the Christmas tree, cards and even caroling. Today we hear disgruntled comments that Christmas has become too commercialized and the true meaning has been lost. It appears that Dickens had those same concerns."

Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or:

Twitter: pphbkeyes


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Additional Photos

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Joel Leffert as Scrooge and Maddy Leslie as Tiny Tim in The Public Theatre production of “A Christmas Carol.”

Courtesy photo

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Daniel Noel as Marley's ghost in the Portland Stage Company version.


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