Willing Sophy down upon her knees scrubbing early and late and ever cheerful but always smiling with a black face
Edward G. Dalziel
14 cm high by 10.1 cm wide, framed.
Dickens's "Mrs. Lirriper's Lodgings," in Christmas Stories (1877), p. 140.
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Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham
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Girls as I was beginning to remark are one of your first and your lasting troubles, being like your teeth which begin with convulsions and never cease tormenting you from the time you cut them till they cut you, and then you don’t want to part with them which seems hard but we must all succumb or buy artificial, and even where you get a will nine times out of ten you'll get a dirty face with it and naturally lodgers do not like good society to be shown in with a smear of black across the nose or a smudgy eyebrow. Where they pick the black up is a mystery I cannot solve, as in the case of the willingest girl that ever came into a house half-starved poor thing, a girl so willing that I called her Willing Sophy down upon her knees scrubbing early and late and ever cheerful but always smiling with a black face. And I says to Sophy, "Now Sophy my good girl have a regular day for your stoves and keep the width of the Airy between yourself and the blacking and do not brush your hair with the bottoms of the saucepans and do not meddle with the snuffs of the candles and it stands to reason that it can no longer be" yet there it was and always on her nose, which turning up and being broad at the end seemed to boast of it and caused warning from a steady gentleman and excellent lodger with breakfast by the week but a little irritable and use of a sitting-room when required, his words being "Mrs. Lirriper I have arrived at the point of admitting that the Black is a man and a brother, but only in a natural form and when it can’t be got off." Well consequently I put poor Sophy on to other work and forbid her answering the door or answering a bell on any account but she was so unfortunately willing that nothing would stop her flying up the kitchen-stairs whenever a bell was heard to tingle. I put it to her "O Sophy Sophy for goodness' goodness' sake where does it come from?" To which that poor unlucky willing mortal — bursting out crying to see me so vexed replied "I took a deal of black into me ma'am when I was a small child being much neglected and I think it must be, that it works out," so it continuing to work out of that poor thing and not having another fault to find with her I says "Sophy what do you seriously think of my helping you away to New South Wales where it might not be noticed?" Nor did I ever repent the money which was well spent, for she married the ship's cook on the voyage (himself a Mulotter) and did well and lived happy, and so far as ever I heard it was not noticed in a new state of society to her dying day. [Mrs. Lirriper's Lodgings, "How Mrs. Lirriper Carried on the Business," 139-140]
The 1863 Christmas framed tale Mrs. Lirriper's Lodgings contained the introduction and conclusion by Dickens himself — and much extraneous material by his staff-writers at All the Year Round. Although orchestrated, introduced, and concluded by Dickens himself in a vein reminiscent of Mrs. Gamp and Todgers's in Martin Chuzzlewit, published two decades earlier, the story as it originally appeared on 12 December 1863 was a collaborative effort by his staffers.
The novelist Elizabeth Gaskell contributed "How the First Floor went to Crowley Castle," the playwright and journalist Andrew Halliday "How the Side-Room was Attended by a Doctor," the novelist and journalist Edmund H. Yates "How the Second Floor kept a Dog," Amelia B. Edwards "How the Third Floor knew the Potteries," and Dickens's son-in-law, the painter and writer Charles Allston Collins "How the Best Attic was under a Cloud." However, clearly the best received of the seven parts were the opening and the closing ("How the Parlours added a few words"), for Dickens reprised the loquacious, affable rooming-house landlady, Mrs. Lirriper, the following Christmas in Mrs. Lirriper's Legacy. Only the two chapters that Dickens contributed appear in the 1868 Illustrated Library Edition, the British and American Household Editions of the 1870s, and the 1910 Charles Dickens Library Edition.
The Illustrated Library Edition "anthologized" version of the 1863 novella contained Edward Dalziel's Mrs. Lirriper's Lodgings. The 1876 American Household Edition of Christmas Stories contained E. A. Abbey's sixties style illustrations for The Christmas Stories, including wood-engravings for the five novellas of the 1840s and plates for a few of the periodical stories, including the maudlin "She prayed a good good prayer and I joined in it poor me". Having contributed five of the fifteen wood-engravings for the 1868 Illustrated Library Edition, Edward Dalziel was Chapman and Hall's choice of illustrator for its own Household Edition volume the year after the Harper and Brothers volume, but his execution of the illustration Willing Sophy down upon her knees scrubbing early and late and ever cheerful but always smiling with a black face for this chapter is not his best work. The single character study does not explore the physical and emotional dimensions of any of the principal characters, that is, the landlady, her adopted son, Mrs. Edson (the boy's mother, who dies of child bed fever in the rooming house), and Major Jackman.
Dalziel's 1868 Library Edition illustration entitled Mrs. Lirriper's Lodgings fails to convey the differences between the rescuer (the amiable Mrs. Lirriper, the rooming-house landlady) and her suicidal lodger (the desperate Mrs. Edson, whose husband has abandoned her in London). More effectively, Dalziel, abandoning the notion that he might realize a crucial moment of melodrama in the 1863 Christmas Story, realizes instead a minor moment in the opening portion of the novella, in which Dickens establishes the various characters in Mrs. Lirriper's London boarding-house, including the rather awkward maid Sophy, who cheerfully scrubs away at the floors, but always somehow manages to blacken her face in the process. Accordingly, Mrs. Lirriper must forbid her answering the door under any circumstances. As character comedy, Dalziel's production is not objectionable — but it contributes little to the reader's understanding of the principal characters. Edward Dalziel has elected to provide a portrait in action of Sophy, the upstairs-downstairs maid in Mrs. Lirriper's rooming-house because her story is, as it were, self-contained, and yet is revealing of the lodging-house owner's sympathetic personality as Mrs. Lirriper charitably pays out of her own pocket to resettle the working-class girl in distant Australia.
Relevant Illustrated Library (1868), Household (1876-77), and Charles Dickens Library (1910) Edition Illustrations
Left: E. G. Dalziel's 1868 plate "Mrs. Lirriper's Lodgings". Centre: E. A. Abbey's "She prayed a good good prayer and I joined in it poor me" (1876). Right: Harry Furniss's 1910 illustration "Jemmy and the Major" (1910). [Click on images to enlarge them.]
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Davis, Paul. Charles Dickens A to Z: The Essential Reference to His Life and Work. New York: Checkmark and Facts On File, 1998.
Dickens, Charles. Christmas Books and The Uncommercial Traveller. Illustrated by Harry Furniss. Charles Dickens Library Edition. 18 vols. London: Educational Book Company, 1910. Vol. 10.
Dickens, Charles. The Uncommercial Traveller and Additional Christmas Stories. Illustrated by Sol Eytinge, Junior. Boston: Ticknor and Fields, 1867.
Dickens, Charles. Christmas Stories from "Household Words" and "All The Year Round". Illustrated by Townley Green, Charles Green, Fred Walker, F. A. Fraser, Harry French, E. G. Dalziel, and J. Mahony. The Illustrated Library Edition. London: Chapman and Hall, 1868, rpt. in the Centenary Edition of Chapman & Hall and Charles Scribner's Sons (1911). 2 vols.
Dickens, Charles. Christmas Stories. Illustrated by E. A. Abbey. The Household Edition. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1876.
Dickens, Charles. Christmas Stories from "Household Words" and "All the Year Round". Illustrated by E. G. Dalziel. The Household Edition. London: Chapman and Hall, 1877.
Scenes and characters from the works of Charles Dickens; being eight hundred and sixty-six drawings, by Fred Barnard, Hablot Knight Browne (Phiz); J. Mahoney; Charles Green; A. B. Frost; Gordon Thomson; J. McL. Ralston; H. French; E. G. Dalziel; F. A. Fraser, and Sir Luke Fildes; printed from the original woodblocks engraved for "The Household Edition.". New York: Chapman and Hall, 1908. Copy in the Robarts Library, University of Toronto.
Thomas, Deborah A. Dickens and The Short Story. Philadelphia: U. Pennsylvania Press, 1982.
Last modified 10 May 2014