Trotty Veck's Dinner
13.1 x 9 cm vignetted
First illustration for The Chimes, A Goblin Story of Some Bells That Rang an Old Year Out and a New Year In in The Christmas Books, Charles Dickens Library Edition (1910), vol. 8, facing page 79.
This india-ink and wash drawing transformed into a wood-engraving does not betray much influence of earlier illustrations, namely those by John Leech and his collaborators in 1844 or those of the illustrators of the Household Edition (E. A. Abbey and Fred Barnard). [Commentary continued below.]
[Click on image to enlarge it.]
Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham.
[You may use these images without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the photographer and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one.]
"Why you don't mean to say," observed Trotty, looking curiously at a covered basket which she carried in her hand, "that you —"
"Smell it, father dear," said Meg. "Only smell it!"
Trotty was going to lift up the cover at once, in a great hurry, when she gaily interposed her hand.
"No, no, no," said Meg, with the glee of a child. "Lengthen it out a little. Let me just lift up the corner; just the lit-tle ti-ny cor-ner, you know," said Meg, suiting the action to the word with the utmost gentleness, and speaking very softly, as if she were afraid of being overheard by something inside the basket; "there. Now. What's that?"
Toby took the shortest possible sniff at the edge of the basket, and cried out in a rapture:
"Why, it's hot!"
"It's burning hot!" cried Meg. "Ha, ha, ha! It's scalding hot!"
"Ha, ha, ha!" roared Toby, with a sort of kick. "It's scalding hot."
"But what is it, father?" said Meg. "Come. You haven't guessed what it is. And you must guess what it is. I can't think of taking it out, till you guess what it is. Don't be in such a hurry! Wait a minute! A little bit more of the cover. Now guess!"
Meg was in a perfect fright lest he should guess right too soon; shrinking away, as she held the basket towards him; curling up her pretty shoulders; stopping her ear with her hand, as if by so doing she could keep the right word out of Toby's lips; and laughing softly the whole time.
Meanwhile Toby, putting a hand on each knee, bent down his nose to the basket, and took a long inspiration at the lid; the grin upon his withered face expanding in the process, as if he were inhaling laughing gas. [First Quarter, p. 87]
The illustration introduces the working-class protagonist and his comely daughter Margaret (Meggy), who has just delivered her father's lunch to his station at the church porch where, as a ticket-porter, he awaits commissions. In the midst of turning over in his mind the anti-working-class propaganda of the Tory-oriented London papers such as the Times, which he reads second- and third-hand, Trotty enjoys a lunch-time visit from his beautiful adolescent daughter, Meg, who is engaged to a local blacksmith, Richard. The Furniss sketch (almost a cartoon) reflects the various representations of the widower and his daughter that preceded The Charles Dickens Library Edition. Furniss, however, does not make Trotty diminutive, and he conceives of Meg as an angular beauty with long eyelashes, shapely legs, and dainty features, rather than a poor girl bundled up in a working class shawl like Eytinge's figure (reminiscent of New England factory girls) in "Trotty Veck and Meg" in the Diamond Edition volume of The Christmas Books (1867) or even E. A. Abbey's rendition of Trotty Veck, his daughter, and her fiancé.
Left: John Leech's "Alderman Cute and Friends" (1843). Middle left: Sol Eytinge, Jr.'s "Trotty Veck and Meg" (1867). Middle right: E. A. Abbey's "'What's the matter? What's the matter?' said the gentleman for whom the door was opened'" (1876). Right: Fred Barnard's "'No,' said Toby after another sniff. 'It's — It's mellower than Polonies'" (1878). [Click on images to enlarge them.]
Since Furniss was intimately familiar with Fred Barnard's work for the British Household Edition of Charles Dickens's Works of the 1870s, it is likely that he remembered "'No,' said Toby after another sniff. 'It's — It's mellower than Polonies'", the half-page wood-engraving that appears at the head of the First Quarter and points the reader to the same moment at Furniss's. Barnard's more carefully modelled and more three-dimensional figures, shown in closeup, are more realistic than the stylized figures in Furniss's illustration — and Barnard emphasizes Meggy's fairness of face rather than attractiveness of form. There is, moreover, nothing in either Barnard's or Furniss's handling to suggest either the fantastic dimension of the Tower of the Chimes nor the realistic dimension of urban poverty in which the widower and his daughter live. Both illustrators, however, capture more effectively than the 1844 illustrators the closeness and playfulness of the father-daughter relationship.
However, Furniss's chief source of images for The Chimes remains those by Daniel Maclise, Richard Doyle, Clarkson Stanfield, and particularly John Leech, whose "Trotty Veck" is far more a gross caricature and far less a realistic portrait than Fred Barnard's. In contrast to these earlier interpretations, Furniss's is decontextualised, that is, it offers no backdrop or geographic marker. Needless to say, although Furniss accurately depicts the effect of the wind on the father and daughter's clothing, but in giving Meggy a short skirt, he allows the reader a view of her shapely legs that a more realistic, working-class costume of the 1840s would certainly not.
Reading and responding to the text and images in Furniss's volume Christmas Books, etc. (1910) are, however, very different experiences from those enjoyed by Dickens's reader for the little scarlet-and-gold volume of 1844, for in that first edition one reads the illustrations of Trotty and his daughter by proleptically (i. e., in anticipation), as in "The Dinner on the Steps" by Richard Doyle on page 1, some seventeen pages before one encounters that same moment in the letterpress, and analeptically (i. e., after the fact or simultaneously with the print text), as in the case of Leech's "Trotty Veck" (p. 9, the picture imbedded in the passage which describes the ticket-porter) and Alderman Cute and His Friends" (p. 34, again imbedded in the textual passage realised). So complicated and mutually informative a reading of print and illustration cannot occur in Furniss's volume because the picture by some eight pages, and because no other image assists the reader in construing what amounts to an anticipatory frontispiece. The reader of 1844 situated the dinner on the steps as occurring underneath the Gothic spire of a city church whose walls appear in the two succeeding illustrations. Furniss's reader, in contrast, encounters the images of Trotty and Meggy well in advance of their appearance in the text, and is offered no clue visually as to where the metting occurs. However, making clear in the illustrations that Trotty is the central character, Furniss reiterates his image in three of the following four images, whereas Meggy appears only once again (her skirt being rather longer in "Margaret and Richard" (facing p. 144).
Cohen, Jane Rabb. Charles Dickens and His Original Illustrators. Columbus, Ohio: Ohio U. P., 1980.
Dickens, Charles. The Chimes: A Goblin Story of Some Bells That Rang an Old Year Out and a New Year In. Il. John Leech, Richard Doyle, Daniel Maclise, and Clarkson Stanfield. London: Bradbury and Evans, 1844 [dated 1845].
Dickens, Charles. The Christmas Books. Il. Harry Furniss. Charles Dickens Library Edition. 18 vols. London: Educational Book Company, 1910. Vol. 8.
Dickens, Charles. The Christmas Books. Il. Sol Eytinge, Jr. The Diamond Edition. 16 vols. Boston: Ticknor and Fields, 1867.
Dickens, Charles. Christmas Books. Il. Fred Barnard. The Household Edition. London: Chapman and Hall, 1878.
Dickens, Charles. Christmas Stories. Il. E. A. Abbey. The Household Edition. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1876.
Solberg, Sarah A. "'Text Dropped into the Woodcuts': Dickens' Christmas Books." Dickens Studies Annual 8 (1980): 103-118.
Thomas, Deborah A. Dickens and The Short Story. Philadelphia: U. Pennsylvania Press, 1982.
Welsh, Alexander. "Time and the City in The Chimes." Dickensian 73, 1 (January 1977): 8-17.
Last modified 19 June 2013