Under the Trees

"Under the Trees" by Sir Luke Fildes. Facing page 25 for The Mystery of Edwin Drood. 15.7 cm wide by 9.9 cm high, vertically mounted. Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham. [You may use this image without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the person who scanned the image and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one..]

Fildes had ample time to study the proofs, refine [Charles] Collins's early perceptions of 'In The Court' (see figs. 191-94), and conceive the meeting between Edwin and Rosa 'Under the Trees' . . . . [Cohen, p. 223]

Why then, one wonders, has Dickens permitted the leaves in the background to be on the trees rather than "underfoot" as in the text. Because Fildes took pains to place his fictional characters in real settings (here, the cloisters of Chester rather than of Rochester Cathedral) and give them striking poses, Dickens was impressed by the almost photographic realism of Fildes' work. It is possible, then, that, although the author noticed the discrepancy between his autumnal setting and Fildes' use of a spring backdrop, Dickens chose not to object or require modification because the plate conveys so well the characters and situation of the couple.

Visually, Fildes has connected Edwin Drood and Rosa Bud by the style and material of their clothing and by situating them on the central bench in close proximity. The stripes and solids of Edwin's well-made pants and jacket (the latter less formal than Jasper's in the first plate) correspond precisely to the stripes and solids of Rosa's fashionable skirt and jacket. If this is, however, a late fall day, the couple's attire is probably insufficient; nevertheless, the absence of coats which a more seasonally accurate depiction would require enables the viewer to appreciate their youthful litheness and to evaluate the meanings of their postures. For so emotional a moment as Dickens describes, the couple seem curiously detached and tranquil in Fildes' realisation of the textual moment in the old Close:

and then — she becoming more composed, and indeed beginning in her young inconstancy to laugh at herself for having been so moved — leads her to a seat hard by, under the elm-trees. [Ch. III, "The Nuns' House," p. 25]

The second plate for the April number thus is in steep contrast to the sordid, social realism of the first, and yet an essential "want of something" lingers behind both images. Whereas the bed and other interior objects of the first plate fill up the opium den, Fildes has taken pains to open up the outdoor scene by making the "seat" a wooden bench, and placing the cloister walls well back from the couple. Fildes has imbued his Rosa, unlike her textual counterpart, with a dignity and seriousness that make her more sympathetic. Gazing introspectively at the tip of her umbrella (not mentioned in the text), Rosa is pensive and withdrawn, in contrast to casual ease of young Edwin Drood, her fiance. Though more thoughtful, however, Fildes's Rosa is equally uncomfortable with the engagement that has been imposed upon her. Juxtaposed against the page in which the young couple attempt to define their relationship, Fildes' illustration clarifies their characters, their class, and their regard for one another. Although hardly earnest enough for an incipient engineer determined to bring practical science to a developing nation (Egypt), Fildes' Edwin, like Rosa, enlists our support by virtue of his reflective features, and the subtle movement he makes towards her. Thus, in the April number of the novel, Fildes has in the accompanying plates sensitively and effectively introduced the story's three most important characters, who constitute the romantic triangle that will fuel the enmity between the anguished John Jasper and his affable nephew, Edwin Drood.

References

Cohen, Jane Rabb. "Chapter 18: Luke Fildes." Charles Dickens and His Original Illustrators. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1980. Pp. 221-228.

The Mystery of Edwin Drood and Other Stories. Charles Dickens. With Illustrations [by Sir Luke Fildes, R. A.] London: Chapman and Hall Limited, 193, Piccadilly. 1880.


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Last modified 9 May 2005