Mr. Bumble and Mrs. Corney
14.2 x 9.5 cm vignetted
Sixteenth illustration for The Adventures of Oliver Twist in Oliver Twist and A Child's History of England, Charles Dickens Library Edition (1910), vol. 3, facing 168.
Dickens's original illustrator, George Cruikshank in the January 1838 number of Bentley's Miscellany provided a number of studies of the self-important bully Mr. Bumble, the parish beadle who acts as the agent for the trustees of the workhouse in which Oliver's mother dies at the beginning of the novel. The parallel study to Furniss's here is Cruikshank's Mr. Bumble and Mrs. Corney taking tea (February 1838).[Click on illustration to enlarge it.]
Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham.
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"The tea was made, and handed in silence. Mr. Bumble, having spread a handkerchief over his knees to prevent the crumbs from sullying the splendour of his shorts, began to eat and drink; varying these amusements, occasionally, by fetching a deep sigh; which, however, had no injurious effect upon his appetite, but, on the contrary, rather seemed to facilitate his operations in the tea and toast department.
"You have a cat, ma'am, I see," said Mr. Bumble, glancing at one who, in the centre of her family, was basking before the fire; "and kittens too, I declare!"
"I am so fond of them, Mr. Bumble, you can't think," replied the matron. "They're so happy, so frolicsome, and so cheerful, that they are quite companions for me."
"Very nice animals, ma'am," replied Mr. Bumble, approvingly; "so very domestic."
"Oh, yes!" rejoined the matron with enthusiasm; "so fond of their home too, that it's quite a pleasure, I'm sure."
"Mrs. Corney, ma'am," said Mr. Bumble, slowly, and marking the time with his teaspoon, "I mean to say this, ma'am; that any cat, or kitten, that could live with you, ma'am, and not be fond of its home, must be a ass, ma'am.
"Oh, Mr. Bumble!" remonstrated Mrs. Corney.
"It's of no use disguising facts, ma'am," said Mr. Bumble, slowly flourishing the teaspoon with a kind of amorous dignity which made him doubly impressive; "I would drown it myself, with pleasure."
"Then you're a cruel man," said the matron vivaciously, as she held out her hand for the beadle’s cup; ‘and a very hard-hearted man besides."
"Hard-hearted, ma’am?’ said Mr. Bumble. ‘Hard?’ Mr. Bumble resigned his cup without another word; squeezed Mrs. Corney’s little finger as she took it; and inflicting two open-handed slaps upon his laced waistcoat, gave a mighty sigh, and hitched his chair a very little morsel farther from the fire.
It was a round table; and as Mrs. Corney and Mr. Bumble had been sitting opposite each other, with no great space between them, and fronting the fire, it will be seen that Mr. Bumble, in receding from the fire, and still keeping at the table, increased the distance between himself and Mrs. Corney; which proceeding, some prudent readers will doubtless be disposed to admire, and to consider an act of great heroism on Mr. Bumble's part: he being in some sort tempted by time, place, and opportunity, to give utterance to certain soft nothings, which however well they may become the lips of the light and thoughtless, do seem immeasurably beneath the dignity of judges of the land, members of parliament, ministers of state, lord mayors, and other great public functionaries, but more particularly beneath the stateliness and gravity of a beadle: who (as is well known) should be the sternest and most inflexible among them all.
Whatever were Mr. Bumble's intentions, however (and no doubt they were of the best): it unfortunately happened, as has been twice before remarked, that the table was a round one; consequently Mr. Bumble, moving his chair by little and little, soon began to diminish the distance between himself and the matron; and, continuing to travel round the outer edge of the circle, brought his chair, in time, close to that in which the matron was seated.
Indeed, the two chairs touched; and when they did so, Mr. Bumble stopped.
Now, if the matron had moved her chair to the right, she would have been scorched by the fire; and if to the left, she must have fallen into Mr. Bumble’s arms; so (being a discreet matron, and no doubt foreseeing these consequences at a glance) she remained where she was, and handed Mr. Bumble another cup of tea.
[Chapter 23, "Which contains the substance of a pleasant conversation between Mr. Bumble and a lady; and shews that even a beadle may be susceptible on some points," 171-172]
Dickens regards Mrs. Corney and Mr. Bumble as irresponsible public servants who exploit positions of trust for personal gain. For Dickens poetic justice is ultimately served by placing the couple as inmates into the workhouse they had once administered. They are justly punished for attempting to suppress the truth of Oliver's birth by secreting the locket that belonged to his mother. Furniss depicts them in the manner of caricature, satirizing their complacency, their love of comfort, and their lack of concern for anyone but themselves. As in the text, in the Furniss illustration tea is poured, Bumble expresses his devotion and amorousness with eye and gesture, and a family of cats play at their feet. On the sideboard (upper left) are the two bottles of wine that Bumble has expropriated from the stock ordered for the workhouse infirmary, a detail that reveals Furniss's appreciation of Dickens's pointed criticism of these self-serving "parochial officers" (169). Furniss exploits the possibilities of illustration by placing it in the in the midst of the text describing Mr. Bumble's visit to the widow, leaving the reader to anticipate by its caption ("Mr. Bumble brought his chair, in time, close to that in which the matron was seated. Indeed, the two chairs touched; and when they did so, Mr. Bumble stopped.") as well as by the closeness of the figures that Bumble is about to pop the marital question.
Although George Cruikshank took obvious delight in depicting the budding romance of the parish beadle and the workhouse matron (a match made in the bureaucracy of the Poor Law, if not in Heaven), having already depicted the self-satisfied humbug in Oliver Escapes Being Bound Apprentice to the Sweep (Part 2, March 1837), he now shows Bumble in love — or as much in love with somebody else as an acquisitive character such as the parish beadle can be. With an eye for the grotesque from his former career as a political cartoonist in the Regency, Cruikshank must have found the notion of the courtship of Mrs. Corney by the arrogant, ridiculous Bumble irresistible, a scene which he echoed subsequently in the adolescent romance of the infatuated housemaid Charlotte and the greedy undertaker's apprentice Noah Claypole, Mr. Claypole as he appeared when his master was out (Part 12, March 1838), in which the fatuous Bumble has a minor role, indignantly peering in at the window. Cruikshank in both instances undercuts the romance by the leering, smirking faces of the would-be lovers. We note in the Cruikshank version of the tea-drinking scene at Mrs. Corney's the effective detailism of the furnishings and theatrical properties, including a teakettle singing on the hob. Admiring Cruikshank's choice of scene as well as his handling of it, Harry Furniss in The Charles Dickens Library Edition (1910) revisits both of these unlikely romance scenes, undoubtedly enjoying the opportunity to show the exploiters in love. Hat and rod, symbols of his office and public persona put aside temporarily (down left), Bumble reveals a side of his personality not seen before, and becomes utterly ridiculous in consequence in Furniss's illustration. Pailthorpe in his 1886 representation of Bumble reveals his motivation as strictly avaricious and not in the least amorous when he does a jog as he inspects Mrs. Corney's possessions while she is out of room.
The flirtatiousness of both Mrs. Corney and Charlotte is particularly delightful in these illustrations. The couple actually become charming under Charles Pears' sentimentalizing pencil, and almost serious players in Oliver's drama in James Mahoney's rendition of the same scene. Caricaturist Kyd, however, views Bumble with a probing, satirical eye, perhaps as Dickens would have us view the pompous, calculating, hypocritical embodiment of the most callous aspects of the 1834 New Poor Law.
Relevant Illustrations from the serial edition (1837-39), Diamond Edition (1867), Household Edition (1871), Waverley Edition (1912), and Kyd's "Character Studies from Dickens" (1890, 1910)
Left: George Cruikshank's Mr. Bumble and Mrs. Corney taking tea. Centre: Sol Eytinge, Junior's Mrs. Corney and Mr. Bumble. Right: Charles Pears' more naturalistic treatment of the same scene, Mr. Bumble and Mrs. Corney taking tea (1912). [Click on images to enlarge them.]
Above: James Mahoney's Mahoney's Household Edition illustration "Don't sigh, Mrs. Corney". (1871). [Click on images to enlarge them.]
Left: J. Clayton Clarke's 1890 full-length portrait of the beadle Mr. Bumble (1890). Centre: Kyd's Player's Cigarette card no. 3, Mr. Bumble (1910). Right: F. W. Pailthorpe's Inexplicable conduct of Mr. Bumble when Mrs. Corney left the room (1886). [Click on images to enlarge them.]
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Last modified 9 February 2015