The Tetterby's Temper

The Tetterby's Temper by Harry Furniss. 1910. 9 x 14 cm vignetted. Dickens's Christmas Books, Charles Dickens Library Edition, facing p. 353. [Click on image to enlarge it.]

Passage Realised

"Ah, dear me, dear me, dear me!" said Mrs. Tetterby. "That's the way the world goes!"

"Which is the way the world goes, my dear?" asked Mr. Tetterby, looking round.

"Oh, nothing," said Mrs. Tetterby.

Mr. Tetterby elevated his eyebrows, folded his newspaper afresh, and carried his eyes up it, and down it, and across it, but was wandering in his attention, and not reading it.

Mrs. Tetterby, at the same time, laid the cloth, but rather as if she were punishing the table than preparing the family supper; hitting it unnecessarily hard with the knives and forks, slapping it with the plates, dinting it with the salt-cellar, and coming heavily down upon it with the loaf. ["Chapter Two: The Gift Diffused," p. 355]


Dickens had specifically designed the Tetterby scenes with Punch illustrator John Leech in mind. In consequence, given the very different proclivities of the other illustrators that Dickens had recruited for The Haunted Man in the autumn of 1848, the book is "a baffling mixture of intensity and eccentricity" (Cohen 148), with the domestic comedy of the news agent's family and the Swidgers sharply contrasting the melodrama of the haunted chemistry professor. Providing five illustrations for the 1848 volume, Leech deals with all three sets of characters, but seems most comfortable with mining the vein of domestic comedy: "The very looseness of Leech's lines in his pictures of Johnny coping with baby Moloch at home and abroad reinforces the good humor" (Cohen 149). Thus, although Leech could easily be surpassed by later illustrators in his handling of Redlaw and the boy, his Tetterby illustrations were a challenge for the Diamond Edition illustrator (Sol Eytinge, Jr.), the Household Edition illustrators E. A. Abbey and Fred Barnard, as well as for Harry Furniss. Although Furniss probably had not have seen the 1867 Diamond Edition illustration entitled The Tetterbys, Eytinge's version, like Furniss's, is especially successful at capturing the single-minded concentration of the usually genial Adolphus Tetterby as he attempts read, oblivious to the antics his various offspring in the overcrowded parlour. Abbey's Tetterby, in contrast, is anything but benevolent in his confrontation with Johnny.

Furniss is making the scene acceptable to early twentieth century tastes has radically adjusted the composition; moved Tetterby from left to right and Mrs. Tetterby from centre to far left; and modelled the three chief figures: the substantial Mrs. Tetterby (left), Johnny carrying the weighty Sally (centre, instead of far right in Leech's composition), and Adolphus Tetterby, Sr. (far right), swinging around in his chair as he attempts to read the large newspaper sheet, folded in half. Gone entirely is the familial hearth and mantelpiece, from the vantage point of which we witness the scene; accordingly, Harry Furniss offers none of the homey bric-a-brac from John Leech's version. More significantly, whereas Leech's figures were amusing caricatures verging on the actors of a cartoon, these Tetterbys — two adults and nine children — coexist in a larger space, despite the small dining table. Furniss has also taken pains to incorporate Mr. Tetterby's newspaper screen (upper right). He manages all his characters and properties with artistic aplomb, but fails to communicate as Leech does the essential humour in the scene, which is not nearly so chaotic as that of the 1848 original and is much closer in spirit to the realistic treatment of E. A. Abbey in the 1876 American Household Edition. Like Abbey, Furniss gives us a respectably clad, thoroughly middle-class Tetterby, rather than Leech's frowsy, harassed, ill-kempt news agent trying to read a news sheet in the midst of domestic turmoil.

Pertinent Illustrations in Earlier Editions: 1848, 1867, 1876, and 1878

Left: John Leech's "The Tetterbys"; centre, John Leech's "Johnny and Moloch" (1848); right: Sol Eytinge, Jr.'s "The Tetterbys"; E. A. Abbey's "'You bad boy!' said Mr. Tetterby" (1876); and Fred Barnard's "It roved from door-step to door-step, in the arms of little Johnny Tetterby, and lagged heavily at the rear of troops of juveniles who followed the Tumblers" (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. "John Leech." Charles Dickens and His Original Illustrators. Columbus, Ohio: Ohio U. P., 1980. Pp. 141-151.

Dickens, Charles. The Haunted Man and The Ghost's Bargain. Il. John Leech, John Tenniel, Frank Stone, and Clarkson Stanfield. London: Bradbury and Evans, 1848.

Dickens, Charles. Christmas Books. Il. Fred Barnard. The Household Edition. London: Chapman and Hall, 1878.

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 Stories. Il. E. A. Abbey. The Household Edition. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1876.

Thomas, Deborah A. Dickens and The Short Story. Philadelphia: U. Pennsylvania Press, 1982.

Last modified 30 July 2013