Jemmy and The Major
13.1 x 9 cm vignetted
Dickens's Christmas Stories, Vol. 16 of Charles Dickens Library Edition, facing page 432.
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. [Commentary continued below.]
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The miles and miles that me and the Major have travelled with Jemmy in the dusk between the lights are not to be calculated, Jemmy driving on the coach-box which is the Major's brass-bound writing desk on the table, me inside in the easy-chair and the Major Guard up behind with a brown-paper horn doing it really wonderful. I do assure you my dear that sometimes when I have taken a few winks in my place inside the coach and have come half awake by the flashing light of the fire and have heard that precious pet driving and the Major blowing up behind to have the change of horses ready when we got to the Inn, I have half believed we were on the old North Road that my poor Lirriper knew so well. Then to see that child and the Major both wrapped up getting down to warm their feet and going stamping about and having glasses of ale out of the paper matchboxes on the chimney-piece is to see the Major enjoying it fully as much as the child I am very sure . . . . [Chapter 1, "How Mrs. Lirriper Carried on the Business," page 427-428]
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 Books 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". Edward Dalziel was Chapman and Hall's choice of illustrator for its own Household Edition volume the following year, 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, and 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, wh dies of child bed fever in the rooming house), and Major Jackman.
Dalziel's illustration entitled Mrs. Lirriper's Lodgings in the 1868 Illustrated Library Edition realizes a 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 nothing to the reader's understanding of the principal characters.
Relevant Illustrated Library Edition (1868) and Household Edition (1876-77) 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". Right: Edward Dalziel's 1877 illustration "Willing Sophy down upon her knees scrubbing early and late and ever cheerful but always smiling with a black face!" [Click on images to enlarge them.]
Even when his predecessors emphasized the painfully sentimental, as was the case with Abbey's representation of the death of young Mrs. Edson, Furniss favours comic subjects involving children and the positive interaction of adults with children. Here is yet another of example of how Furniss gravitates towards more light-hearted scenes — as we have already seen in his realisation of a playful moment in The Golden Lucy earlier in this volume for the 1856 Christmas story The Wreck of 'The Golden Mary', Being the Captain's Account of the Loss of the Ship, and the Mate's Account of the Great Deliverance of her People in an Open Boat at Sea in Dickens's first weekly journal, Household Words.
Here, the imaginative youngster whom the doting Mrs. Lirriper has adopted plays at being a stagecoach driver, while Major Jackman, sounding a paper horn, enacts the role of the guard on the route that Dickens took many times as a young shorthand reporter following the political speeches about the Great Reform Bill in the early 1830s. Furniss betrays far greater sympathy for the kindly widow than E. G. Dalziel in his illustrations for the 1868 and 1877 editions, and conveys effectively the exuberance of Jemmy and his "guard" by contrasting their vigorous actions with the beatific smile and angelic demeanour of Mrs. Lirriper, who clearly dotes upon the child that Providence has delivered to her.
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Dickens, Charles. Christmas Stories. Il. Harry Furniss. Charles Dickens Library Edition. 18 vols. London: Educational Book Company, 1910. 2 vols.
Dickens, Charles. Christmas Stories from "Household Words" and "All The Year Round". Il. Fred Walker, F. A. Fraser, Harry French, E. G. Dalziel, J. Mahony [sic], Townley Green, and Charles Green. Centenary Edition. 36 vols. London: Chapman & Hall; New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1911. Volume Two.
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Dickens, Charles. Christmas Stories. Il. E. A. Abbey. The Household Edition. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1876.
Dickens, Charles. Christmas Stories from "Household Words" and "All the Year Round". Il. E. G. Dalziel. The Household Edition. London: Chapman and Hall, 1877. Rpt., 1892.
Schlicke, Paul, ed. "Christmas Stories." The Oxford Companion to Dickens. Oxford and New York: Oxford U. P., 1999. Pp. 100-101.
Thomas, Deborah A. Dickens and The Short Story. Philadelphia: U. Pennsylvania Press, 1982.
Last modified 16 September 2013