13 x 8.6 cm framed
Dickens's Christmas Stories, Part Two, Vol. 16 of Charles Dickens Library Edition, facing page 39.
The 1867 Extra Christmas Number's fiction offering in All the Year Round is a Victorian thriller on the Collins model rather than, as its predecessors in Dickens's journals, a framed tale of some seven or eight separate short stories connected by the fortuitous meeting of their various narrators. In the nineteenth-century illustrated editions, the story has consistently been the subject of illustration. [Commentary continued below.]
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Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham.
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"Mr. Obenreizer was a black-haired young man of a dark complexion, through whose swarthy skin no red glow ever shone. When colour would have come into another cheek, a hardly discernible beat would come into his, as if the machinery for bringing up the ardent blood were there, but the machinery were dry. He was robustly made, well proportioned, and had handsome features. Many would have perceived that some surface change in him would have set them more at their ease with him, without being able to define what change. If his lips could have been made much thicker, and his neck much thinner, they would have found their want supplied.
But the great Obenreizer peculiarity was, that a certain nameless film would come over his eyes — apparently by the action of his own will — which would impenetrably veil, not only from those tellers of tales, but from his face at large, every expression save one of attention. It by no means followed that his attention should be wholly given to the person with whom he spoke, or even wholly bestowed on present sounds and objects. Rather, it was a comprehensive watchfulness of everything he had in his own mind, and everything that he knew to be, or suspected to be, in the minds of other men. [Act I, "New Characters on the Scene," page 32 in the second half of vol. 16]
Relevant Illustrated Library Edition (1868) and Household Edition (1877) Illustrations
Left: E. G. Dalziel's "If there had been a wrestle with a robber, as I dreamed," said Obenreizer . . . . Centre: Dalziel's "He became roused to the knowledge that Obenreizer had set upon him, and that they were struggling desperately in the snow." (1877). Right: Charles Green's dramatic 1868 illustration of the struggle in "No Thoroughfare". [Click on images to enlarge them.]
The various illustrators of the novella in the anthologies subsequent to the story's initial appearance in print in All the Year Round have deemed the climactic scene involving the struggle between the protagonist, the young English wine merchant George Vendale, and the villainous Swiss embezzler, Jules Obenreizer, on the ice-covered mountain in the Alps particularly suitable as a subject. The Collinsian criminal mastermind is the subject of a number of illustrations in the editions issued between 1868 and 1910.
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. With No Thoroughfare, the holiday production for the following year, he dropped his usual format and leaned heavily on the help of Wilkie Collins. In 1868, he jettisoned the Christmas number altogether. [Thomas 152-153]
The seasonal offering for 1866, Mugby Junction, proved 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. Thomas is rather dismissive of the 1867 novella, for which Dickens contributed just the "Overture" and "Act Three," although he collaborated with Collins on the first and fourth acts. She describes the work as
a technically unremarkable tangle of mistaken identity, murder, love, and larceny. Its form is that of a single story, narrated in the third person, without any interpolated pieces. [Thomas 108]
The story also exists as a theatre script, but only one performance had authorial sanction: this occurred in the same month as the publication of the novella, at the New Adelphi in the Islington district of London, 26-30 December 1867 (Bolton 438). However, with so short a West End run, it is unlikely to have had much influence on nineteenth-century illustrators of the novella. Born in 1854, Harry Furniss might have caught one of the few performances of the play at London's Olympic Theatre in November 1875, since he had already been living in the city some two years at the time. The Illustrated Library Edition of 1868 contained a single, elegant illustration for the 1867 novella, set in the Alps: Charles Green's "No Thoroughfare", there having also been an edition British readers likely never saw the same year, issued by Dickens's American agents, Ticknor and Fields of Boston, and illustrated by their house artist, Sol Eytinge, Junior — for whatever reason, however, Eytinge has not devoted any of his twelve illustrations to this story. The 1876 Harper and Brothers edition of Christmas Books, illustrated by E. A. Abbey, does not contain the novella. Edward Dalziel was Chapman and Hall's chosen illustrator for its own Household Edition volume the year following. The British volume, more extensively illustrated, is dedicated entirely to the Christmas Stories from "Household Words" and "All the Year Round". E. G. Dalziel's execution of the illustrations for No Thoroughfare focuses on the characters, but except for He became roused to the knowledge that Obenreizer had set upon him, and that they were struggling desperately in the snow, these are surprisingly prosaic and static for so tension-filled a narrative. Because the novella comprises five parts — "The Overture" and four "Acts" — Furniss has provided four illustrations: Nurse and Mother for "The Overture" (although it is positioned in the first act); Obenreizer for "Act One: The Curtain Rises"; Marguerite for "Act One: The Curtain Rises," but positioned in the second act; and The Struggle on the Mountain for "Act Three: On The Mountain."
In the four scenes available to him for realisation, Furniss emphasizes the person and character of the Swiss embezzler Jules Obenreizer, who is much more like such Collinsian villains as Count Fosco in The Woman in White (1859-1860) than earlier Dickens antagonists such as the brutal, uncouth Jonas Chuzzlewit in Martin Chuzzlewit and the malevolent, seething Madame Defarge in A Tale of Two Cities. Feline, suave, impeccably dressed, diabolically clever, and self-possessed, the foreign and even exotic Obenreizer, urbane without being bombastic, is far more interesting than the novella's pallid English hero, George Vendale. The task of the illustrator is convey the sinister reality beneath the polished exterior.
Whereas Dalziel's antagonist in "If there had been a wrestle with a robber, as I dreamed," said Obenreizer, "You see, I was stripped for it." "And armed, too," said Vendale, glancing at his girdle seems to be a throwback to the Mediterranean villains of late eighteenth and earlier novels such as Anne Radcliffe's The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794) and melodramas such as The Corsican Brothers (1844) — lithe, lean, olive-skinned, agressive, and black-mustachioed — in sharp contrast to the Dalziel construction of the antagonist, Furniss's respectably-clad bourgeois is a wolf in late-nineteenth century business dress about which there is no apparent whiff of brimstone. Indeed, at this point all the reader knows of Obenreizer is that he has recently taken up residence in the Swiss district of Soho, and that he is the designated agent of a Swiss champagne export house, Defresnier et Cie., with headquarters at Neuchatel. From his own lips he has revealed to reader and George Vendale, recently made a partner in a London wine-importing house, that he was raised in a poverty-stricken and brutal household in Switzerland, and that he resents Vendale's "fine family" (31). Later, fearing that Vendale will expose him as an embezzler, Jules Obenreizer will plot the murder of the young Englishman. As is the case with Furniss's illustrations of the main action (that is, excluding the flashback with the mother and the foundling hospital nurse), the focus of the illustration is on what George Vendale sees and experiences, so that the study of the well-dressed Swiss businessman seems without any taint of suspicion.
Bentley, Nicolas, Michael Slater, and Nina Burgis. The Dickens Index. Oxford and New York: Oxford U. P., 1988.
Bolton, H. Philip. Dickens Dramatized. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1987.
Davis, Paul. Charles Dickens A to Z: The Essential Reference to His Life and Work. New York: Facts On File, 1998.
Dickens, Charles. The Uncommercial Traveller and Additional Christmas Stories. Il. Sol Eytinge, Jr. The Diamond Edition. 16 vols. Boston: Ticknor and Fields, 1867. Rpt. Illustrated Household Edition. Boston: Lee and Shepard; New York: Charles T. Dillingham, n. d.
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 22 October 2013