The Face at the Window
13.8 x 8.8 cm framed
Dickens's Christmas Stories, Vol. 16 of Charles Dickens Library Edition, facing page 512.
The 1866 Christmas framed tale Mugby Junction contained Dickens's introduction and two other pieces, but not as in previous years a conclusion by Dickens. His chief contribution was a significant piece of psychological ghost fiction, "The Signal-Man," called "Chapter IV. No. 1 Branch Line. — The Signal-Man" in the 1866 Extra Christmas Number of All the Year Round. [Commentary continued below.]
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Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham.
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Ascending a gentle hill of some extent, he [the traveller, Young Mr. Jackson, designated "Barbox Brothers" from the labels on his portmanteaus] came to a few cottages. There, looking about him as a very reserved man might who had never looked about him in his life before, he saw some six or eight young children come merrily trooping and whooping from one of the cottages, and disperse. But not until they had all turned at the little garden-gate, and kissed their hands to a face at the upper window: a low window enough, although the upper, for the cottage had but a story of one room above the ground.
Now, that the children should do this was nothing; but that they should do this to a face lying on the sill of the open window, turned towards them in a horizontal position, and apparently only a face, was something noticeable. He looked up at the window again. Could only see a very fragile, though a very bright face, lying on one cheek on the window-sill. The delicate smiling face of a girl or woman. Framed in long bright brown hair, round which was tied a light blue band or fillet, passing under the chin. [Chapter 1, Part 2, "Barbox Brothers," page 518]
In successive illustrated anthologies, the often subsequently reprinted short story "The Signal-man" was detached from Mugby Junction, appearing under the heading "Two Ghost Stories." Whereas this landmark cautionary tale for the industrial age was the subject of illustration by Townley Green in the 1868 Illustrated Library Edition, by E. A. Abbey in the 1876 Harper and Bros. Household Edition, and by E. G. Dalziel in the 1877 Chapman and Hall Household Edition, Harry Furniss elected instead to illustrate "The Barbox Brothers" and "Barbox Bros. and Co." The multi-part story as it originally appeared on 10 December 1866 was a collaborative effort by the "Conductor" and four of Dickens's staff-writers, who produced four of the "branch lines" or stories associated with the "Mugby" (in fact, Rugby) railway junction. Andrew Halliday (1830-1877), last represented in the Extra Christmas Numbers by "How the Side-Room was attended by a Doctor" in Mrs. Lirriper's Lodgings (1863), contributed "No. 2 Branch Line. The Engine-Driver"; Dickens's son-in-law, painter and writer Charles Allston Collins (1828-1873), "No. 3 Branch Line. The Compensation House"; children's writer Hesba Stretton (the nom de plume of Sarah Smith, 1832-1911), "No. 4 Branch Line. The Travelling Post-Office"; and novelist and journalist Amelia B. Edwards (1831-1892) "No. 5 Branch Line. The Engineer." The organisation of the parts balances Dickens's initial pieces — variously sentimental, satirical, suspenseful and psychological — with the short stories of the younger writers.
After Doctor Marigold's Prescriptions, Dickens' interest in what had become the traditional Christmas number apparently declined. In Mugby Junction, as its table of contents indicates, he added the stories by other writers as a kind of inevitable supplement at the end of his own contributions. [Thomas 152]
This, then, was to be the last of Dickens's "framed tales for Christmas," since 1867's No Thoroughfare is a tightly organised joint venture with just one other writer, Wilkie Collins, who had not contributed any short stories whatsoever to Dickens's seasonal offerings since 1861.
The Illustrated Library Edition "anthologized" version of the 1866 sequence of short stories contained J. Mahoney's Mugby Junction and Townley Green's The Signal-Man, neither of which foregrounds the limited omniscient's focal character, Young Jackson (otherwise, the flaneurtermed "Barbox Brothers"). 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 an atmospheric realisation of the "Do you see it?" I asked him. The serious tone, the gloomy setting, and the psychologically damaged signal-man here Abbey balances with the satirical group scene I noticed that Sniff was agin a-rubbing his stomach with a soothing hand, and that he had drored up one leg for "Main Line: The Boy at Mugby." Perhaps Furniss avoided this piece on the horrors of British catering at railway coffeeshops since the food services problems besetting travellers were no longer topical. Certainly the "Refreshment Room" was still a cause celebre when Mahoney illustrated Mugby Junction in 1868, for he selected as his subject the humorous confrontation between the American visitor, used to better fare when travelling by rail, and the imperious Matron of the culinary establishment. Mahoney's illustration entitled Mugby Junction in the 1868 Illustrated Library Edition realizes the scene between the external observer (closer to the reader) and the signal-man (in company uniform, rear), comparable to E. A. Abbey's 1876 illustration "Do you see it?" I asked him.
Edward Dalziel was Chapman and Hall's chosen illustrator for its own Household Edition volume the year following the publication the Harper and Brothers volume; the British volume, more extensively illustrated, was dedicated entirely to the Christmas Stories from "Household Words" and "All the Year Round". E. G. Dalziel's execution of the illustration I took you for some one else yesterday evening. That troubles me. for "The Signal-man" is surprisingly prosaic and static for so tension-filled a narrative, and certainly not nearly as mysterious as Furniss's pencil-and-ink sketch of the disembodied head at the upper storey window, which tantalizes the reader but ultimately proves to be the face of a young dame school teacher in "Barbox Brothers." The companion stories "Barbox Brothers" and "Barbox Brothers and Co." (chapters one and two in the 1910 anthology) were the subjects that Furniss chose to illustrate, despite the fact that these had never been subjects for illustration previously.
Relevant Illustrated Library Edition (1868) and Household Edition (1876-77) Illustrations
Left: Mahoney's 1868 plate "Mugby Junction"; Townley Green's "The Signal-Man". Centre: E. A. Abbey's "Do you see it?" I asked him. Right: Edward Dalziel's 1877 stolid illustration "I took you for some one else yesterday evening. That troubles me" [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: Facts On File, 1998.
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.
Dickens, Charles. Christmas Stories. Il. Edward Dalziel, Harry French, F. A. Fraser, James Mahoney, Townley Green, and Charles Green. The Oxford Illustrated Dickens. Oxford, New York, and Toronto: Oxford U.P., 1956, rpt. 1989.
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 24 September 2013