The Struggle on the Mountain
14.4 x 9.4 cm framed
Dickens's Christmas Stories, Part Two, Vol. 16 of Charles Dickens Library Edition, facing page 94.
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. [Commentary continued below.]
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Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham.
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Stupefied, dozing, unable to stand upon his feet, a veil before his eyes, his sense of hearing deadened, he made such a vigorous rally that, supporting himself on his hands, he saw his enemy standing calmly over him, and heard him speak. "You call me murderer,” said Obenreizer, with a grim laugh. "The name matters very little. But at least I have set my life against yours, for I am surrounded by dangers, and may never make my way out of this place. The Tourmente is rising again. The snow is on the whirl. I must have the papers now. Every moment has my life in it."
"Stop!" cried Vendale, in a terrible voice, staggering up with a last flash of fire breaking out of him, and clutching the thievish hands at his breast, in both of his. "Stop! Stand away from me! God bless my Marguerite! Happily she will never know how I died. Stand off from me, and let me look at your murderous face. Let it remind me — of something — left to say."
The sight of him fighting so hard for his senses, and the doubt whether he might not for the instant be possessed by the strength of a dozen men, kept his opponent still. Wildly glaring at him, Vendale faltered out the broken words:
"It shall not be — the trust — of the dead — betrayed by me — reputed parents — misinherited fortune — see to it!"
As his head dropped on his breast, and he stumbled on the brink of the chasm as before, the thievish hands went once more, quick and busy, to his breast. He made a convulsive attempt to cry "No!" desperately rolled himself over into the gulf; and sank away from his enemy's touch, like a phantom in a dreadful dream. [Act II, "On The Mountain," page 98 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.]
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 Adlphi 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, in which the French lion of the Victorian stage, Dickens's friend Charles Fechter (1817-1870), starred as "Rischenbach" (Bolton, 440), that is, Obenreizer. It is conceivable that Furniss's Marguerite was influenced by one of the young actresses who took the part in British productions of 1875 (The Lyceum), 1876 (The Olympic), and 1903 (The Grand, Islington). Furniss in his depiction of the struggle on the mountain was likely responding to Charles Green's "No Thoroughfare" in the Illustrated Library Edition of 1868, although the staging of this conflict was likely spectacular in its backdrop.
The 1876 Harper and Brothers edition of Christmas Books, illustrated by E. A. Abbey, does not contain the novella. However, Edward Dalziel's series of illustrations for the Chapman and Hall volume, issued the year following, does contain four three-quarter-page illustrations for No Thoroughfare, all of which focus on the characters rather than the settings. In Dalziel's sequence, Obenreizer appears twice, and Vendale in each wood-engraving, indicating clearly whom Dalziel regarded as the story's most important characters. As in the Furniss sequence, in the Household Edition the conflict between protagonist and antagonist rises to a textual crescendo in He became roused to the knowledge that Obenreizer had set upon him, and that they were struggling desperately in the snow, but unlike Dickens and Collins in the medium of print Dalziel conducts the reader to that climactic moment in the visual sequence without introducing Marguerite or her chaperone, Madame Dor, Obenreizer's Swiss housekeeper.
In the nineteenth-century illustrated editions, the story has consistently been the subject of illustration, in particular, the scene involving the alpine struggle between the young protagonist, George Vendale, and the duplicitous Jules Obenreizer. Although Sol Eytinge in the Diamond Edition (1867-68) had no opportunity to provide an illustration for this last Christmas story (because it had yet to be published in periodical form when he was commisioned to illustrate the Diamond Edition in 1867), apparently the first American edition to include an illustration for The Collins-Dickens Christmas Stories Comprising "No Thoroughfare" and "The Lazy Tour of Two Idle Apprentices" was that published in Boston by William F. Gill and Company in 1876. This volume has a particularly dramatic rendering of this same life-and-death struggle for possession of the proofs of Obenreizer's forgery in which (somewhat inaccurately) the burly Obenreizer is in the act of pushing Vendale off the ledge — Frontispiece. The Death Struggle on the Brink of the Abyss.
By the time that the reader arrives at Furniss's illustration of the wrestling match in near-whiteout conditions of the Tourmente, the reader has already concluded that the villain will have to employ force to realize his designs and recover the evidence against him that Vendale is carrying to Obenreizer's Swiss employers for handwriting analysis. Nevertheless, the reading of the illustration is proleptic in that the reader will have wait another four pages to experience this incident in print. The scene, as the text makes manifest a page earlier than the lithographic plate is the Simplon Pass, near the village of Brieg, above Lausanne. Owing to the softness of the recent, heavy snowfall, neither carriage nor sledge has crossed the pass in four days, leaving the determined Vendale no choice but to walk, relying on the experienced Obenreizer as his guide. Furniss in his liberal use of white conveys the "stormy sky of white clouds" (94) and the "tremendous desolation" (96) of the high Alps as the storm rages wildly about them. Coming out of a cave in which they have sought shelter, Vendale finds himself set upon. Having been drugged, the lethargic Vendale should be no match for the heavier Swiss native, but his youth renders him a match for his assailant, who even now attempts to abstract the incriminating papers from his breast pocket as the mountain storm renders the surrounding background indistinct. Moreover, the illustrator offers the reader no clue as to the outcome of the struggle, keeping the reader in suspense by showing the heavier man on top, pressing the hapless Vendale into the snow on the very edge of the precipice.
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Last modified 23 October 2013