"It roved from door-step to door-step, in the arms of little Johnny Tetterby, and lagged heavily at the rear of troops of juveniles who followed the Tumblers," etc.
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The Passage Illustrated
It was a very Moloch of a baby, on whose insatiate altar the whole existence of this particular young brother was offered up a daily sacrifice. Its personality may be said to have consisted in its never being quiet, in any one place, for five consecutive minutes, and never going to sleep when required. "Tetterby's baby" was as well known in the neighbourhood as the postman or the pot-boy. It roved from door-step to door-step, in the arms of little Johnny Tetterby, and lagged heavily at the rear of troops of juveniles who followed the Tumblers or the Monkey, and came up, all on one side, a little too late for everything that was attractive, from Monday morning until Saturday night. Wherever childhood congregated to play, there was little Moloch making Johnny fag and toil. Wherever Johnny desired to stay, little Moloch became fractious, and would not remain. Whenever Johnny wanted to go out, Moloch was asleep, and must be watched. Whenever Johnny wanted to stay at home, Moloch was awake, and must be taken out. Yet Johnny was verily persuaded that it was a faultless baby, without its peer in the realm of England, and was quite content to catch meek glimpses of things in general from behind its skirts, or over its limp flapping bonnet, and to go staggering about with it like a very little porter with a very large parcel, which was not directed to anybody, and could never be delivered anywhere. ["Chapter Two: The Gift Diffused," British Household Edition, p. 168; American Household Edition, p. 153]
Barnard's illustration of Johnny and "Moloch" compared to those by John Leech and E. A. Abbey
As Dickens's original illustrators — John Leech, Clarkson Stanfield, John Tenniel, and Frank Stone — realised, Dickens's last Christmas Book offered plenty of material for realising moments of character comedy, pathos, the supernatural, and the picturesque. Once again, however, the British and American Household Editions of The Christmas Books offer llustrations largely lacking in these respects, the realism of Barnard and Abbey being entirely the wrong mode for the cautionary tale. In Barnard's illustration, we have a street full of children — a minor moment in the narrative. In the equivalent American Household Edition scene, we cannot even discern Mr. Tetterby's facial expression as he admonishes second-eldest son, Johnny, for interrupting him as he attempts to escape into the great (adult) world reported in the daily paper. Barnard's riotous street scene with Johnny (centre) carrying Moloch at least conveys a sense of the "surplus population" of working-class children in the London of the 1840s, so numerous a throng that they must bring themselves up, even as Johnny is given sole responsibility for his sister Sally. Neither Barnard's nor Abbey's illustration has the charm of Leech's "The Tetterbys," however, which also has the virtue of showing the entire family and their cramped quarters rather than merely the children, as in Barnard's illustration, or Johnny, Moloch, and their father in Abbey's.
The original cartoon on p. 68 entitled "The Tetterbys" accomplishes a number of narrative-pictorial tasks that neither Barnard nor Abbey attempted to address. With his illustration sharing the page with the text realised, Leech has seemlessly integrated his illustration of Mrs. Tetterby's attempting to set the table for dinner while her husband and sons look on, the image below coinciding exactly with the line "slapping [the table] with the plates" (p. 68). Leech's interpretation of the lower-middle class family is that family life is relentlessly communal, and young children are omnipresent: there is no escape for either parent. Abbey more realistically dramatizes this point by showing Mr. Tetterby turn on the hapless Johnny, the only child who is in fact not a disturber of his peace. As he swings around on Johnny, the real culprits watch through the partially open door (left). At least Abbey's illustration, lacking in Leech's energy and detail though it may be, advances the reader's understanding of the secondary characters, whereas Barnard's merely establishes the fact that the area around the Jerusalem Buildings is overrun with children.
Leech's exuberant cartoon versus Barnard's modelled group portrait and Abbey's more prosaic treatment: left: Leech's "The Tetterbys"; centre, Leech's "Johnny and Moloch"; and, right, Abbey's "You bad boy!".
The original John Leech cartoon of 1848 depicts the boisterous chaos of the Tetterbys' domestic establishment, without conventional Victorian sentimentality, despite idealised pictures of the royal family's parade of infants and toddlers that occasionally appeared in the illustrated press of the period. Leech, shortly to be joined on the staff of Punch by fellow Haunted Man illustrator John Tenniel after Richard Doyle's resignation in 1850 over the journal's anti-Catholic stance, naturally falls into the mode of caricature and lampoon here. Whereas the Punch-like illustration "The Tetterbys" indicates that the struggling newsagent and his incompetent wife have seven children, the author at the point of writing (October-30 November 1848) had a growing brood of six children — and Catherine was very pregnant that autumn with their seventh child, who would be known as Henry Fielding Dickens (born January 1849); but it may well have seemed to Dickens, struggling to find time for sustained writing and having had to put off the latest Christmas Book by a year, that he and Catherine, married twelve years, already had a brood of Tetterby dimensions, there being four sons and two daughters ranging in age that fall from eleven to one. In contrast to the Dickenses, the Tetterbys have only one daughter (the infant Sally, the perpetual burden of the second-oldest son, Johnny, seen struggling under his charge in the centre of Leech's wood engraving) but six sons. The cartoon-like style and cramped parlour are both well-suited to Leech's subject, the "downside" (as we might say today) of the strained domestic circumstances depicted far more optimistically in the Cratchit family of the first Christmas Book. "The very looseness of Leech's lines in his pictures of Johnny coping with baby Moloch at home (II, 422) and abroad (III, 361) reinforces the good humour" (Cohen 149). In contrast to Leech's rough exuberance, Barnard offers a crowded street scene of modelled figures in vigorous motion, as if the children constitute a mob.
American illustrator E. A. Abbey has combined a visual introduction of Mr. Tetterby in his shop with John Leech's "Johnny and Moloch" in his second illustration for the novella, "'You bad boy!' said Mr. Tetterby" (p. 153), but fails to capture either Johnny's frustration or the sheer size of "Moloch." Abbey's lacks the detailism of Leech's densely-packed parlour scene, with its diminutive dining table and bric-a-brac effectively communicating the text's sense of the inadvertant tyranny of the Tetterby children and their father's feeling of being oppressed, and unable to concentrate on reading his paper. Significantly, Dickens has identified the young father with the publishing trade, although the hapless newsvendor merely has to market and not actually generate printed matter; undoubtedly, Dickens saw Tetterby as an extension of himself, surrounded by numerous progeny and unable to find a moment's peace. An only child, Leech must have wondered how his friend Charles Dickens could have grown up in such a chaotic domestic situation. The novelist, the second of seven siblings, lost a brother and a sister in childhood, and might well as a child have been made the "baby-minder" for Letitia, four years his junior, and even Harriet, born in 1819. The family life of the Tetterbys may reflect that of John and Elizabeth Dickens in Camden Town, London, in the early 1820s, prior to John's incarceration in the Marshalsea Prison for debt in 1824.
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Last modified 28 August 2012