Bumble surprises Noah and Charlotte
14.2 x 9.5 cm vignetted
Seventeenth 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 p. 192.
Dickens's original illustrator, George Cruikshank in the February 1838 number of Bentley's Miscellany provided a study of the self-important bully Mr. Bumble, the parish beadle, interrupting the romantic and gustatory idyll of apprentice Noah Claypole and the Sowerberrys' maid, the flirtatious and smitten Charlotte, in what constitutes an Anglicized version of a French farce. [Click on illustration to enlarge it.]
Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham.
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Now, Mr. and Mrs. Sowerberry having gone out to tea and supper: and Noah Claypole not being at any time disposed to take upon himself a greater amount of physical exertion than is necessary to a convenient performance of the two functions of eating and drinking, the shop was not closed, although it was past the usual hour of shutting-up. Mr. Bumble tapped with his cane on the counter several times; but, attracting no attention, and beholding a light shining through the glass-window of the little parlour at the back of the shop, he made bold to peep in and see what was going forward; and when he saw what was going forward, he was not a little surprised.
The cloth was laid for supper; the table was covered with bread and butter, plates and glasses; a porter-pot and a wine-bottle. At the upper end of the table, Mr. Noah Claypole lolled negligently in an easy-chair, with his legs thrown over one of the arms: an open clasp-knife in one hand, and a mass of buttered bread in the other. Close beside him stood Charlotte, opening oysters from a barrel: which Mr. Claypole condescended to swallow, with remarkable avidity. A more than ordinary redness in the region of the young gentleman's nose, and a kind of fixed wink in his right eye, denoted that he was in a slight degree intoxicated; these symptoms were confirmed by the intense relish with which he took his oysters, for which nothing but a strong appreciation of their cooling properties, in cases of internal fever, could have sufficiently accounted.
"Here's a delicious fat one, Noah, dear!" said Charlotte; "try him, do; only this one."
"What a delicious thing is a oyster!" remarked Mr. Claypole, after he had swallowed it. "What a pity it is, a number of 'em should ever make you feel uncomfortable; isn't it, Charlotte?"
"It's quite a cruelty," said Charlotte.
"So it is," acquiesced Mr. Claypole. "An't yer fond of oysters?"
"Not overmuch," replied Charlotte. "I like to see you eat 'em, Noah dear, better than eating 'em myself."
"Lor!" said Noah, reflectively; 'how queer!"
"Have another," said Charlotte. "Here's one with such a beautiful, delicate beard!"
"I can't manage any more," said Noah. "I'm very sorry. Come here, Charlotte, and I'll kiss yer."
"What!" said Mr. Bumble, bursting into the room. "Say that again, sir."
Charlotte uttered a scream, and hid her face in her apron. Mr. Claypole, without making any further change in his position than suffering his legs to reach the ground, gazed at the beadle in drunken terror.
"Say it again, you wile, owdacious fellow!" said Mr. Bumble. "How dare you mention such a thing, sir? And how dare you encourage him, you insolent minx? Kiss her!' exclaimed Mr. Bumble, in strong indignation. "Faugh!"
"I didn't mean to do it!" said Noah, blubbering. "She's always a-kissing of me, whether I like it, or not."
"Oh, Noah," cried Charlotte, reproachfully.
[Chapter 27, "Atones for the Unpoliteness of a Former Chapter; Which Deserted a Lady , Most Unceremoniously," p. 201-202]
Dickens regards the temporary romance of workhouse matron Mrs. Corney and parish beadle Mr. Bumble not merely as ridiculous, but as setting the stage for their nemesis, just as the clandestine affair between the Sowerberrys' maid, Charlotte, and the charity boy apprentice Noah Claypole will develop into mutual torment and antipathy that justly rewards them for their ill-treatment of Oliver. Thus, the scene of Noah's amorous oyster consumption in Furniss as in Cruikshank is preceded by the middle-aged flirtatiousness of Bumble and Mrs. Corney, Furniss's model here being Mr. Claypole as he appeared when his master was out (Part 12, March 1838).
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. 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. In the Furniss treatment, however, Bumble is not merely peeping through the window (rear in Cruikshank); rather, he has burst in upon the lovers at a moment in the text when the infatuated Charlotte is about to kiss Noah. Subtly, Furniss has adjusted the scene so that the maid is no longer positioned to kiss her fellow-servant.
Bumble Surprises Noah and Charlotte, positioned in the volume some ten pages ahead of the scene realised, sets up a deliciously comedic anticipation in the reader as he or she progresses through Chapter 27 to pages 202-203. In her shock at being discovered by the parochial official in a compromising situation, Charlotte has lifted both feet off the floor as she has covered her embarrassment with the sign of her domestic status, her servant's apron. Although Noah is slow in reacting to Bumble's bursting in upon his oyster repast and romantic idyll (it cannot have been lost on readers that oysters were regarded as aphrodisiacs), Charlotte, already having screamed, has dropped an oyster and the bread-and-butter knife (lower left). Furniss makes the apron obvious as it is the outward and visible sign of Charlotte's inferior social status, her badge as a servant.
Over-Reacher Noah Claypole's Surprise; or, The Charity Boy's Downward Progress
The gangly Noah, has been taken unawares as the beadle bursts into the shop's back-parlour from the space defined as "commercial" (off left) into this private space. He is still lolling awkwardly in the easy chair (presumably his master's seat) with both a pot of porter and a wine bottle strategically ready to hand between himself and Charlotte, seated rather than standing, right. Although somewhat cramped in order to accommodate the furnishings and the comic principals, the shop's back parlour seems well appointed, with prints on the walls, a cabinet surmounted by books (behind Noah), a small clock and assorted bric-a-brac (including a miniature coffin) on the fireplace mantle, behind the maid servant. The centrepiece of the interrupted feast, the small wooden keg of oysters, sits on the table behind Charlotte (right). The accumulation of these smaller items plus the figures of the lovers balances the large figure of the uniformed beadle, staff of office in hand (left). Noah is so stunned by Bumble's unexpected intrusion that he appears oblivious to the fact that his left hand is near the candle flame (centre), a symbol of sexual ardour suddenly cooled.
The glass window of the shop's parlour in the Furniss illustration has become a door with multiple panes. Behind Noah is yet another door, presumably connecting the parlour and the kitchen below stairs, where Charlotte and Noah ought to be conducting their gustatory tryst. Theatrically, the set and properties are otherwise exactly as specified in the text, although the room is of much smaller dimensions. Since Dickens has little to say about the indignant authority figure (who supervises the moral climate of the parish), Furniss has supplied such details of costume as Bumble's traditional hat, top coat, breeches. and staff of office from earlier textual descriptions. The juxtaposition of all three incommoded figures intensifies the farce, although the illustrator has avoided any suggestion of sexually tinged French situation comedy by not depicting Charlotte about to kiss Noah.
As John O. Jordan has pointed out, the clothing of all three points to their social status, real (as in the case of Bumble and Charlotte) or assumed (as in the case of the pretentious Noah). Bumble's authority as the executive arm of the parochial boards is vested in "his beadle's cocked hat, laced coat, and cane" (
Relevant Illustrations from the serial edition (1837-39), Diamond Edition (1867), Household Edition (1871), the Robson & Kerslake Edition (1896), and Kyd's "Character Studies from Dickens" (1890, 1910)
Left: George Cruikshank's Mr. Claypole as he appeared when his master was out. Centre: Sol Eytinge, Junior's Noah and Charlotte. Right: Frederic W. Pailthorpe's ridiculing of the cowardly Noah, Noah running for Mr. Bumble (1886). [Click on images to enlarge them.]
Left: Kyd's Noah Claypole. Right: F. W. Pailthorpe's Inexplicable conduct of Mr. Bumble when Mrs. Corney left the room (1886). [Click on images to enlarge them.]
As John O. Jordan has pointed out, the clothing of all three points to their social status, real (as in the case of Bumble and Charlotte) or assumed (as in the case of the pretentious Noah). Bumble's authority as the executive arm of the parochial boards is vested in "his beadle's cocked hat, laced coat, and cane" (173-174). Noah is a poser and an over-reacher, affecting a swagger and assuming a status to which, as a charity boy, he is hardly entitled by wearing the fashionable clothing of a regency "buck" and by engaging in a sexual and culinary idyll with the maid. As distinct from the illegitimate workhouse boy, Oliver, Noah is an orphan, legitimate by birth but still a case for parish charity — but still fellow apprentice Oliver's social superior. Thus, Noah, with his sense of entitlement, has been affronted by Sowerberry's promoting his rival to the role of funeral mute. Noah feels that Oliver threatens his status, although Noah is really just another lowly apprentice. He appropriates the master's chair and parlour, consumes his porter and wine, and makes love to the housemaid in the master's space rather than below stairs. He appropriates what is not his, and exploits Charlotte for sexual and culinary favours, particularly the luxury dish, the raw oysters. Having pilfered the master's liquor cabinet, Noah is well on his way to emptying the office till and absconding with both the couple's cash and their maidservant, who subsequently becomes his beast of burden on their flight to London, as in Eytinge's Noah and Charlotte, in which the illustrator emphasizes Noah's loss of cast by his countryman's smockfront having replaced his stylish regency clothing. The illustrator of the Household Edition, Volume 3, James Mahoney, emphasizes this downward social spiral in his depiction of Noah's shadowing Nancy to new London Bridge in When she was about the same distance in advance as she had been before, he slipped quietly down. Here, Noah has donned a Fagin-provided disguise as a carter. Thus, Noah's appropriation of his master's property (the parlour and alcohol) and authority is consistent with his earlier hectoring of Oliver which resulted in his being beaten, with Bumble's chastising him for his presumption, and with his absconding with the Sowerberrys' maid and money, and ultimately with his descending to the status of underworld spy.
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Last modified 20 February 2015