Bob Cratchit at Home
12.6 high x 9.4 cm
Tenth full-page Illustration for Dickens's A Christmas Carol in Prose: being a ghost story of Christmas in the Ticknor and Fields (Boston), 1869, Diamond Edition.
Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham.
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After a spirited tour of the busy streets of London at the beginning of "Stave 3: The Second of the Three Spirits," the Spirit of Christmas Present transports Scrooge into the Camden Town home of his clerk, Bob Cratchit. Eytinge's illustration realizes the joyous moment of Bob's homecoming, carrying Tiny Tim on his shoulder. In Eytinge's illustration, Bob has just entered in his top hat and white comforter, and, as he inquires after Martha, the young woman herself is coming out from behind the door, so that the moment realised must be this:
So Martha hid herself, and in came little Bob, the father, with at least three feet of comforter exclusive of the fringe, hanging down before him; and his thread-bare clothes cleaned up and brushed, to look seasonable; and Tiny Tim upon his shoulder. Alas for Tiny Tim, he bore a little crutch, and had his limbs supported by an iron frame!.
"Why, where's our Martha?" cried Bob Cratchit looking round.
"Not coming," said Mrs. Cratchit.
"Not coming!" said Bob, with sudden declension in his high spirits; for he had been Tim's blood horse all the way from church, and had come home rampant. "Not coming upon upon Christmas Day!"
Martha didn't like to see him disappointed, if it were only in joke; so she came out prematurely from behind the closet door, and ran into his arms, while the two young Cratchits hustled Tiny Tim, and bore him off into the wash-house, that he might hear the pudding singing in the copper. [Stave Three, "The Second of the Spirits"]
As in the text, Bob is almost mobbed by his wife and children as Martha makes her surprise entrance, to Bob's wonder and delight. This is the very image of the intensely supportive emotional family life of which Scrooge deprived himself when he permitted his love of gain to supplant his love of Belle. This scene is perhaps based directly upon the homecoming of John Dickens one Christmas when young Charles, his siblings, and parents lived in the four-room house at 16 Bayham Street, Camden Town, as first proposed by Willoughby Matchett in "Dickens in Bayham Street" (Dickensian, July 1909); the Micawbers of David Copperfield occupy a similar house in the selfsame neighbourhood.
According to Dickens, the Cratchit family is made up of two daughters, the oldest son ("Master Peter Cratchit," an adolescent), "two smaller Cratchits, boy and girl," as well as Martha and Tiny Tim. Thus, the scene could involve as many as five children, exclusive of Tim and Martha, or as few as four, if Martha is one of the two daughters whom Dickens initially mentions. Eytinge has taken the latter interpretation, with this illustration containing the four: Peter, the lad in the over-sized shirt-collar plunging a fork into the saucepan of potatoes at the fireplace; the two younger children, a boy and girl, immediately in front of their parents (centre); and a tall girl (the ribbons in her hair suggest that she is "Belinda") between her mother and the fireplace. In the following scene, "The Wonderful Pudding", Eytinge has included six children at the table as Mrs. Cratchit presents the flaming dessert, so that Martha in the second Cratchit family illustration must be the beaming girl in the right register, the boy in oversize shirt-collar being her slightly younger brother, Peter (perhaps not quite to scale). Aside from the presence of the children, Eytinge interconnects the two scenes with the chair (centre in "The Wonderful Pudding," but right of centre in "Bob Cratchit at Home"), table and cloth, fireplace, door, and open cupboard up to the ceiling. The playful cat in the foreground, left, of "Bob Cratchit at Home" completes the image of domestic bliss and familial solidarity that was the Victorian ideal, affordable at just fifteen "Bob" or shillings a-week.
Dickens, Charles. A Christmas Carol in Prose: being a Ghost Story of Christmas. Il. Sol Eytinge, Jr. Boston: Ticknor & Fields, 1868.
Hearne, Michael Patrick, ed. The Annotated Christmas Carol. New York: Avenel, 1989.
Last modified 30 December 2010