The Christmas Books, p. 152. Engraved by one of the Dalziels, and signed "FB" lower right. [Click on the image to enlarge it.]— Fred Barnard's twenty-first illustration for Dickens's
Barnard's final illustration for The Battle of Life picks up the story's comic thread as it, like its counterpart in the American Household Edition wood-engravings by E. A. Abbey, depicts Benjamin Britain and his wife Clemency in "A Gentleman Attired in Mourning, and Cloaked and Booted like a Rider on Horseback, Who Stood at the Bar-door" (p. 134 — plate) hosting a tanned, fit-looking stranger who has just alighted from his horse at portal of their inn, The Nutmeg Grater, seeking news of the Jeddlers. As a domestic melodrama, the novella requires the antiphonal comic note provided by the quirky Jeddler servants, Benjamin being the stock type known as the Comic Man and Clemency the Comic Woman of the melodrama, whose class, topics of conversation, and mode of dress contrast those of the principal, bourgeois characters.
Barnard's illustration compared to plates by Clarkson Stanfield and E. A. Abbey.
Two alternate interpretations of the return of Michael Warden, six years after events at the end of "Part the Second." Left: Clarkson Stanfield's "The Nutmeg Grater". Right: E. A. Abbey's "A Gentleman Attired in Mourning, and Cloaked and Booted like a Rider on Horseback, Who Stood at the Bar-door".
Although Dickens had asked his London agent, John Forster, to make the decision about "having coats and gowns of dear old Goldsmith's day" (cited in Gibson, 43) to enhance the visual element, a certain "picturesqueness" may be found in the scenes involving an architectural or natural backdrop. There is little such "picturesqueness" in the Barnard and Abbey Household Edition illustrations, which tend instead to focus on the chief characters. Instead of showing the picturesque exterior of the roadside inn as Clarkson Stanfield has done in the original volume, for example, Barnard has moved the reader inside the village public house to witness Britain's puzzlement at his wife's attempting to tell him sotto voce that their visitor is none other than squire Michael Warden, last seen in Leech's "The Night of the Return" in the original volume (even though, in fact, he was not present just before midnight to assist Marion in her escape) and consulting with Snitchey and Craggs about how to repair his fortunes in the two Household Edition illustrations, Barnard's and Abbey's. The scene, set six years after events of the previous chapter, begins with Warden's arrival on horseback about tea time (late afternoon); as Dickens wished to maintain some suspense as to the visitor's identity, he narrates the scene from the perspective of the publicans and designates Warden "the stranger" throughout until Clemency suddenly makes the connection, but fails to communicate to her husband in a whisper:
She raised her head as with a sudden attention to the circumstances under which she was recalling these events, and looked quickly at the stranger. Seeing that his face was turned toward the window, and that he seemed intent upon the prospect, she made some eager signs to her husband, and pointed to the bill, and moved her mouth as if she were repeating with great energy, one word or phrase to him over and over again. As she uttered no sound, and as her dumb motions like most of her gestures were of a very extraordinary kind, this unintelligible conduct reduced Mr. Britain to the confines of despair. He stared at the table, at the stranger, at the spoons, at his wife — followed her pantomime with looks of deep amazement and perplexity — asked in the same language, was it property in danger, was it he in danger, was it she — answered her signals with other signals expressive of the deepest distress and confusion — followed the motions of her lips — guessed half aloud "milk and water," "monthly warning," "mice and walnuts" — and couldn't approach her meaning. ["Part The Third," The Household Edition: by Chapman & Hall, p. 148; by Harper & Bros., p. 135]
In the entirely new series of illustrations for the fourth Christmas Book, both Abbey and Barnard chose to do more than describe the quaint exterior of Benjamin and Clemency's roadside inn, the subject of marine- and landscape painter Stanfield's third and final contribution to the original programme. Both Household Edition plates capture the striking moment when Warden returns to clear up the mystery of Marion's "elopement," but Barnard's illustration involves considerably more humour as he places Clemency, struggling to make herself understood, at the centre of the composition, relegating Warden to a half-seen figure in the doorway to the bar-room (upper left). On the other hand, Abbey makes the rider, just alighted from his horse (upper right), the focal point of his final illustration for the novella, framing him in the open doorway. Whereas both Household Edition illustrators show Benjamin Britain in profile, Barnard gives greater prominence to Clemency, as is appropriate since her speech is the essence of the caption. Visual continuity suffers somewhat, however, as this Clemency does not much resemble the character opening the door to Alfred Heathfield in the previous illustration. Whereas Abbey's costuming of the figures is still mid-eighteenth century (note Benjamin's wig, for example), in Barnard's version Warden's riding coat and hat, both similar to Alfred's in Barnard's previous illustration, imply a late eighteenth-century setting. Barnard, too, has more effectively realised the space in which the publicans deal with the visitor, for Abbey's booted-and-caped rider is standing at the couple's parlour door and not, as the text suggests, in the bar-room.
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Last modified 4 September 2012