Mr. and Mrs. Varden and Miss Miggs

"Mr. and Mrs. Varden and Miss Miggs," the fifth full-page illustration for the volume by Sol Eytinge, Jr. 7.4 cm high by 10 cm wide. The Diamond Edition of Dickens's Barnaby Rudge and Hard Times (Boston: Ticknor and Fields, 1867). Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham. [You may use these images without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the photographer and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one.]

In the earlier chapters the reader has already encountered Mrs. Varden, her long-suffering husband, the locksmith, and the sour maidservant, Miss Miggs:

Mrs Varden's chief aider and abettor, and at the same time her principal victim and object of wrath, was her single domestic servant, one Miss Miggs; or as she was called, in conformity with those prejudices of society which lop and top from poor hand-maidens all such genteel excrescences, — Miggs. This Miggs was a tall young lady, very much addicted to pattens in private life; slender and shrewish, of a rather uncomfortable figure, and though not absolutely ill-looking, of a sharp and acid visage. [Chapter 7, page 43]

However, the precise situation that Eytinge has chosen to depict in order to convey the personalities and relationship of the Vardens and their sycophantic maid suggests that the illustrator was working within the tradition of realisation, that is, the illustration's capturing a precise moment in the narrative, although in this instance the moment is not particularly sensational or comic. The placement of the woodcut, facing page 95 in chapter 17, further strengthens the connection between the picture and the text, since the plate culminates a comic sequence in which the unreasonable Martha Varden — another of those obtuse middle-aged women that Dickens enjoys making the butt of his satire — tries to win her point by playing the "poor health" card in order to tyrannise over her hapless husband:

Mrs. Varden wanted to go to Chigwell; that she did not want to make any concession or explanation; that she would only go on being implored and entreated so to do; and that she would accept no other terms. Accordingly, after a vast amount of moaning and crying upstairs, and much damping of foreheads, and vinegaring of temples, and hartshorning of noses, and so forth; and after most pathetic adjurations from Miggs, assisted by warm brandy-and-water not over-weak, and divers other cordials, also of a stimulating quality, administered at first in teaspoonfuls and afterwards in increasing doses, and of which Miss Miggs herself partook as a preventive measure (for fainting is infectious); after all these remedies, and many more too numerous to mention, but not to take, had been applied; and many verbal consolations, moral, religious, and miscellaneous, had been super-added thereto; the locksmith humbled himself, and the end was gained.

"If it's only for the sake of peace and quietness, father," said Dolly, urging him to go upstairs.

"Oh, Doll, Doll," said her good-natured father. "If you ever have a husband of your own &mdash"

Dolly glanced at the glass.

"— Well, when you have," said the locksmith, "never faint, my darling. More domestic unhappiness has come of easy fainting, Doll, than from all the greater passions put together. Remember that, my dear, if you would be really happy, which you never can be, if your husband isn't. And a word in your ear, my precious. Never have a Miggs about you!"

With this advice he kissed his blooming daughter on the cheek, and slowly repaired to Mrs Varden’s room; where that lady, lying all pale and languid on her couch, was refreshing herself with a sight of her last new bonnet, which Miggs, as a means of calming her scattered spirits, displayed to the best advantage at her bedside.

"Here's master, mim," said Miggs. "Oh, what a happiness it is when man and wife come round again! Oh gracious, to think that him and her should ever have a word together!" In the energy of these sentiments, which were uttered as an apostrophe to the Heavens in general, Miss Miggs perched the bonnet on the top of her own head, and folding her hands, turned on her tears.

"I can't help it," cried Miggs."I couldn't, if I was to be drownded in 'em. She has such a forgiving spirit! She'll forget all that has passed, and go along with you, sir — Oh, if it was to the world's end, she’d go along with you."

Mrs. Varden with a faint smile gently reproved her attendant for this enthusiasm, and reminded her at the same time that she was far too unwell to venture out that day.

"Oh no, you're not, mim, indeed you're not," said Miggs; "I repeal to master; master knows you're not, mim. The hair, and motion of the shay, will do you good, mim, and you must not give way, you must not raly. She must keep up, mustn’t she, sir, for all out sakes? I was a telling her that, just now. She must remember us, even if she forgets herself. Master will persuade you, mim, I'm sure. There's Miss Dolly's a-going you know, and master, and you, and all so happy and so comfortable. Oh!" cried Miggs, turning on the tears again, previous to quitting the room in great emotion, "I never see such a blessed one as she is for the forgiveness of her spirit, I never, never, never did. Not more did master neither; no, nor no one — never!" [chapter 18]

References

Bentley, Nicolas, Michael Slater, and Nina Burgis. The Dickens Index. Oxford and New York: Oxford U. P., 1988.

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. Barnaby Rudge and Hard Times. Il. Sol Eytinge, Junior. Boston: Ticknor and Fields, 1867.


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Last modified 5 November 2011