Trotty before Sir Joseph

Trotty before Sir Joseph by Harry Furniss. 1910. 10 x 14.4 cm. Dickens's Christmas Books, Charles Dickens Library Edition, facing p. 97. [Click on image to enlarge it.]

Passage Realised

Toby wiped his feet (which were quite dry already) with great care, and took the way pointed out to him; observing as he went that it was an awfully grand house, but hushed and covered up, as if the family were in the country. Knocking at the room-door, he was told to enter from within; and doing so found himself in a spacious library, where, at a table strewn with files and papers, were a stately lady in a bonnet; and a not very stately gentleman in black who wrote from her dictation; while another, and an older, and a much statelier gentleman, whose hat and cane were on the table, walked up and down, with one hand in his breast, and looked complacently from time to time at his own picture — a full length; a very full length — hanging over the fireplace. ["Second Quarter," p. 103]


As Sarah Solberg has demonstrated, no subsequent illustrations in the various anthologies of the Christmas Books match the complexity of the original edition's wood engravings dropped into the letterpress. The "illogical movement of time associated with the fairy tale" (Solberg 103) is well exemplified by the dual scene in Leech's "Sir Joseph Bowley's, in which we see simultaneously Trotty, having passed the drowsy porter, about to enter Sir Joseph's library from the foyer (below) and Trotty presenting Alderman Cute's letter (above). In other words, bending the dimension of time, the illustrator shows two related scenes to convey the protagonist's experiences at the Tory MP's townhouse:

it shows a theatrical "scene." The illustration is framed by curtains pulled back at each side, and the artist has taken the same freedom as a dramatist. We accept the passage of time between scenes in a play and the transformation of characters in a pantomime. [Solberg 104]

Leech's foyer and library have the feeling of theatrical sets because of the curtains, right and left, and the lack of depth of field, and the cartoon-like proportions of the characters, with larger than normal heads, again suggest the popular seasonal dramatic form of the pantomime, a mixed entertainment designed to please adults and children alike. The "double" illustration presenting two discrete narrative moments simultaneously (as in a cartoon, a medium in which Leech proved his expertise at Punch) accords well with the dream-like character of the seasonal novella, and prepares the reader for the ensuing vision of the Spirits of the Chimes which the tale's Rip van Winkle figure, Trotty Veck, beholds while in the Tower of the Chimes. In contrast, Fred Barnard's treatment ("The Poor Man's Friend") in the Chapman and Hall Household Edition in the new manner of the Sixties is relentlessly realistic, although he disposes the figures in the scene somewhat theatrically and again, using sheets to cover the furniture, provides little depth of field. In these respects, Furniss's treatment assimilates the theatricality of Leech's plate and the somewhat exaggerated, bombastic characters of Sir Joseph and Lady Bowley while modelling the four figures in the realistic manner of Barnard.

Departing from Leech and Barnard both, Furniss has reversed the positions of the four figures, so that, whereas the earlier illustrations have the pompous Sir Joseph to the left, the secretary (Mr. Fish) rear of right-centre, and Lady Bowley and Trotty (a study in contrasting fashions) to the right, the 1910 wood-engraving has a less-than-attractive and much overdressed Lady Bowley to the right, Trotty centre (the open door of the library indicating that he has just entered upper right), a stuffed chair and Sir Joseph dictating a letter) right of centre, and the secretary (idfentified by his quill pen and wastebasket full of papers) lower right. Whereas the 1844 illustration had only a few books (above Lady Bowley, upper centre) to suggest the setting, Furniss includes a glass-doored cabinet (presumably containing books), a fireplace and screen, and even the foot of the portrait hanging over the fireplace, as in Dickens's text. While Lady Bowley is indeed "stately" and richly dressed in Furniss's illustration, she is hardly the young (albeit, aloof) beauty of Fred Barnard's version, in which Trotty looks directly at the aristocrats, rather than down, as in Leech's, in humility before such grand folk. Bowley's considerable paunch, covered by a double-breated white waistcoat, should remind the reader of the userer in Furniss's earlier "Phantoms in the Street" and the same corpulent banker in Leech's Christmas Carol illustration "Ghosts of Departed Usurers". A telling detail in Furniss's revision is Lady Bowley's lorgnette, which implies her inability to see such insignificant street persons as the humble ticket-porter. One may also note how each artist has dressed Sir Joseph in the latest upper-class fashion so that his early Victorian tailcoat, stirrup pants, and waistcoat morph into their late Victorian equivalents in Barnard and a fin de siecle mode in Furniss. Trotty is consistently dressed according to his occupation, but is rather balder in Furniss's illustration — as is Sir Joseph.

Whereas in A Christmas Carol Dickens had focussed on Scrooge's attitudes as hostile to the welfare of the working class, in The Chimes he details particular members of the political establishment (urban Tory, Alderman Cute, landed aristocrat Sir Joseph, and the statistician Filer, for example) as conspiring against such upstarts of labour as Will Fern. Although the original book's illustrations delineate effectively all these pasteboard villains, the later illustrators either miss Sir Joseph (as is the case with E. A. Abbey) or Alderman Cute (as is the case with Fred Barnard), thereby reducing the original work's social criticism by omitting the down-and-out Richard, and even (with the exception of Barnard) the "fallen" Lilian and the incendiary Will Fern, a poor Dorset labourer who becomes a rick-burner and agitator.

Related Illustrations from Earlier Editions

Left: John Leech's "Trotty before Sir Joseph" (1844); Right: Fred Barnard's "The Poor Man's Friend" (1878). [Click on images to enlarge them.]

Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham. [You may use this image 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.]


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, Daniel Maclise, Richard Doyle, and Clarkson Stanfield. London: Bradbury and Evans, 1844.

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 20 June 2013