Mrs. Bumble turns Mr. Bumble out
13.9 x 8.9 cm vignetted
Twenty-second 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. 272.
Once again, Furniss has based an illustration in his 1910 sequence on a steel engraving by Dickens's original illustrator, George Cruikshank. Like Cruikshank's illustration, this one depicts Mrs. Bumble's utilising the women in the workhouse to get the better of her new husband, who cowers before her. [Click on illustration to enlarge it.]
Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham.
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"Hem!" said Mr. Bumble, summoning up all his native dignity. "These women at least shall continue to respect the prerogative. Hallo! hallo there! What do you mean by this noise, you hussies?"
With these words, Mr. Bumble opened the door, and walked in with a very fierce and angry manner: which was at once exchanged for a most humiliated and cowering air, as his eyes unexpectedly rested on the form of his lady wife.
"My dear," said Mr. Bumble, "I didn’t know you were here."
"Didn't know I was here!" repeated Mrs. Bumble. "What do you do here?"
"I thought they were talking rather too much to be doing their work properly, my dear," replied Mr. Bumble: glancing distractedly at a couple of old women at the wash-tub, who were comparing notes of admiration at the workhouse-master's humility.
"You thought — they were talking too much?" said Mrs. Bumble. "What business is it of yours?"
"Why, my dear —" urged Mr. Bumble submissively.
"What business is it of yours?" demanded Mrs. Bumble, again.
"It's very true, you're matron here, my dear," submitted Mr. Bumble; "but I thought you mightn't be in the way just then."
"I’ll tell you what, Mr. Bumble," returned his lady. "We don't want any of your interference. You're a great deal too fond of poking your nose into things that don't concern you, making everybody in the house laugh, the moment your back is turned, and making yourself look like a fool every hour in the day.
"Be off; come!"
Mr. Bumble, seeing with excruciating feelings, the delight of the two old paupers, who were tittering together most rapturously, hesitated for an instant. Mrs. Bumble, whose patience brooked no delay, caught up a bowl of soap-suds, and motioning him towardsthe door, ordered him instantly to depart, on pain of receiving the contents upon his portly person.
What could Mr. Bumble do? He looked dejectedly round, and slunk away; and, as he reached the door, the titterings of the paupers broke into a shrill chuckle of irrepressible delight. It wanted but this. He was degraded in their eyes; he had lost caste and station before the very paupers; he had fallen from all the height and pomp of beadleship, to the lowest depth of the most snubbed hen-peckery.
[Chapter 37, "In Which the Reader May Perceive a Contrast Not Uncommon in Matrimonial Cases," p. 274-275]
Left: Sol Eytinge, Junior's "Mrs. Corney and Mr. Bumble". Right: George Cruikshank's original serial illustration (1838) "Mr. Bumble degraded in the eyes of the Paupers". [Click on images to enlarge them.]
Furniss has based his illustration upon a steel engraving by Dickens's original illustrator, George Cruikshank, that appeared in the July 1838 Bentley's Miscellany — Mr. Bumble degraded in the eyes of the Paupers. Two months after their marriage, Bumble is chagrined to discover that the former Mrs. Corney is not prepared to follow meekly his commands, and that he is a husband with no authority over his wife. The scene of the contretemps is the feminine sphere of her workplace, the laundry-room of the parish workhouse, and the amused audience is the pauper women who are the Matron, Mrs. Corney's subordinates. Stripped of his parochial authority and now plain "Mr." Bumble, he finds himself neither, loved, honoured, or obeyed by his wife, who has suddenly become self-assertive and even obstinate. 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 shortly develop into mutual torment and antipathy that justly rewards them for their ill-treatment of Oliver. Thus, the scene of Bumble's inevitable humiliation in Furniss is doubly amusing as it occurs before an audience of workhouse crones, from whose perspective the reader views Bumble's hasty retreat as Mrs. Bumble douses him.
It is informative to consider the adjustments that Furniss has made to Cruikshank's Mr. Bumble degraded in the eyes of the Paupers. Furniss's choosing to revise the Cruikshank orginal was indeed daring as the 1838 would seem to be a triumph of the earlier artist's visual satire. The five cartoon-like washerwomen of the original become three disembodied heads in the diaphonous backdrop and two emaciated but fully shown spectators whose perception of their social "superiors" is, implies Furniss, normative.
In the 1838 steel engraving, Cruikshank makes husband and wife in the centre the largest figures and the twin focal points of the comic scene: already Mrs. Bumble is forcing her astonished husband towards the right margin (in which Furniss locates a door), much to amusement of the gaunt laundresses (left). This is no longer the demure, tea-drinking matron of Cruikshank's earlier Mr. Bumble and Mrs. Corney taking tea, in which she was very much to the left of centre in a private setting while her suitor dominated the composition, leaning in rather than, as in this later illustration, turning away; here, in a scene played out before her institutional charges, the matron seems to have grown in size and stature, having exchanged her diminutive teacup for a large saucepan. In her workplace identity, she is no longer a prim Victorian widow; rather, in her office she fills the scene, becoming a vessel of war (with billowing sail) or figurehead who commands rather than demures — a veritable virago. Whereas the tea-drinking scene occurs in the confines of a domestic space defined by the furnishing and bric-a-brac typical of a nineteenth-century parlour, Cruikshank and Furniss present no background details to establish the size or nature of the laundry room in the workhouse, so that the figures of the Bumbles stand out against the vapour and suds which obscure the upper register of both the 1838 and 1910 illustrations.
The expectations of the formerly haughty Bumble regarding the obedience of his wife, the former Mrs. Corney, two months after their marriage are dashed by her face-saving ploy in front of her female charges at the workhouse, for such refuges for the destitute, infirm, and unemployed practiced gender segregation, even to the point of dividing families. (Although the underlying intention of workhouse guardians was simply to prevent procreation among the poor, the vast majority of inmates were elderly and infirm.) The incident is not a mere comeuppance for the beadle in that it marks a shift in his erstwhile alliance with the matron of the workhouse. Retreating from his wife's sphere of influence, which the presence of numerous laundry women defines as an Amazonian space, to the masculine sanctuary of a nearby public house, Bumble is approached by a well-dressed, enigmatic stranger who is looking for information about Oliver's mother. Thus, the contest of wills between the formerly self-confident husband and formerly unassertive wife sets up the plot-oriented scene involving Monks and the secret of Oliver's birth in Harry Furniss's sequence.
Furniss in The Charles Dickens Library Edition (1910) revisits the comedic scene so deftly handled by Cruikshank, undoubtedly enjoying the opportunity to show the exploiters falling out. In the Furniss treatment, the retreating Bumble is derived from Cruikshank's highly theatrical composition. Whereas James Mahoney in the Household Edition has deliberately selected for illustration scenes involving Mrs. Corney and Mr. Bumble that relate them only to the plot and do not indulge in his predecessor's penchant for visual satire and character comedy, Harry Furniss again pays homage to the original scene selected by Dickens and Cruikshank for the serial. Indeed, Furniss has borrowed the costumes, juxtapositions, properties, poses, and expressions of Cruikshank's couple, but in a Baroque manner has altered the perspective so that the pauper women, the delighted audience of the momentary domestic comedy, are no longer stage right, but in fact are downstage, so that Furniss's viewer surveys the routing of former beadle (no longer habited as such) from behind the angular, ill-fed women and their washtubs. As in the earlier illustration, clouds of steam (suggestive of Mrs. Bumble's frothing ill-temper) envelop the upper register, but in Furniss's treatment Bumble is only partially visible as he is already abandoning the field of battle to the fairer sex, even as his wife pours the suds on him. He begins by criticizing female unruliness, buts ends engulfed in soap suds, symbol of domestic labour. Thus, Furniss's energetic realisation completes the action begun in Cruikshank's. Furniss expands the role of the female audience, foregrounding the normative observers and relegating the battling principals to the rear of the arena of conflict, the wash-house.
Illustrations from the serial edition (1837-39), Diamond Edition (1867), and Household Edition (1871)
Left: James Mahoney's "The Evidence Destroyed". Right: James Mahoney's "Were you looking for me," he said, "when you peered in at the window?". [Click on images to enlarge them.]
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Last modified 25 February 2015