Michael Warden recognized by Aunt Martha
11 x 7.5 cm. vignetted
Dickens's The Battle of Life, The Pears' Centenary Edition, vol. 4, page 142.
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Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham.
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A stranger had come into the orchard, after Mr. Snitchey, and had remained apart, near the gate, without being observed by any of the group; for they had little spare attention to bestow, and that had been monopolised by the ecstasies of Clemency. He did not appear to wish to be observed, but stood alone, with downcast eyes; and there was an air of dejection about him (though he was a gentleman of a gallant appearance) which the general happiness rendered more remarkable.
None but the quick eyes of Aunt Martha, however, remarked him at all; but, almost as soon as she espied him, she was in conversation with him. Presently, going to where Marion stood with Grace and her little namesake, she whispered something in Marion's ear, at which she started, and appeared surprised; but soon recovering from her confusion, she timidly approached the stranger, in Aunt Martha's company, and engaged in conversation with him too. ["Part the Third," p. 141-143, 1912 Pears edition]
The short title on page 14 ("Marion's Return to her Home and Grace") is augmented by a direct quotation beneath the actual whole-page illustration: "He stood alone, with downcast eyes. None but the quick eyes of Aunt Martha remarked him at all; but, almost as soon as she espied him, she was in conversation with him" (page 142, immediately below the lithograph in fine print, but also occurring in the text at the top of the facing page). Thus, the reader encounters Dickens's description of the chastened Michael Warden twice over the course of pages 142-143, emphasizing as the original text does not the conversation between the apologetic aristocratic and Marion's aunt.
Thus, the final illustration in Charles Green's narrative-pictorial sequence subtly suggests to the reader that the trajectory of the "romance" is towards a thoroughly sentimental ending in which Grace apparently forgives her supplicating sister, who eventually marries a redeemed Michael Warden, a Prodigal Son to complement Marion as the returned Prodigal Daughter. In focussing on the relationship between Grace and Marion, as in Daniel Maclise's The Sisters, previous illustrators have neglected the fate of Michael Warden, whose incipient romance with Marion seems unresolved. Green's focussing on Aunt Martha's private conversation offers the reader possible closure in that it tantalizes the reader with a projected marriage between the virtuous, middle-class Marion and the reformed wastrel Michael Warden — a possible "happy ending" that the text would seem to support:
TIME — from whom I had the latter portion of this story, and with whom I have the pleasure of a personal acquaintance of some five-and-thirty years' duration — informed me, leaning easily upon his scythe, that Michael Warden never went away again, and never sold his house, but opened it afresh, maintained a golden means of hospitality, and had a wife, the pride and honour of that countryside, whose name was Marion. But, as I have observed that Time confuses facts occasionally, I hardly know what weight to give to his authority. THE END. 
In the final plate, Warden (wearing a hat since the scene is outside, although Green offers no further clue as the setting), eyes downcast in shame is juxtaposed against a concerned and sympathetic elderly lady whom no other illustrator has included in the narrative-pictorial sequence: Aunt Martha. Since Green has her take the young man's hand in sympathy, the illustrator seems to be implying that she will act as his advocate with her brother and her niece, and subsequently prove instrumental in Warden's wooing and winning Marion — as Dickens suggests. Although his youthful image here is not wholly consistent with Dickens's description of the seasoned horseman sporting a moustache, the illustration is nevertheless effective in preparing the reader for the possibility of an entirely happy conclusion. As the final character to speak is Michael Warden, it is appropriate that the last illustration should feature his change of heart.
Relevant Illustrations from the 1846 and later Editions
Left: Richard Doyle's interpretation of the tearful reunion of the sisters, Part the Third. Right: Daniel Maclise's tender moment closing the story of the everyday battles of life, The Sisters. [Click on images to enlarge them.]
Dickens, Charles. The Battle of Life: A Love Story. Illustrated by John Leech, Richard Doyle, Daniel Maclise, and Clarkson Stanfield. London: Bradbury and Evans, 1846.
___. The Battle of Life: A Love Story. Illustrated by John Leech, Richard Doyle, Daniel Maclise, and Clarkson Stanfield. (1846). Rpt. in Charles Dickens's Christmas Books, ed. Michael Slater. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1971, rpt. 1978.
___. The Battle of Life. Illustrated by Charles Green, R. I. London: A & F Pears, 1912.
___. Christmas Books. Illustrated by Sol Eytinge, Jr. The Diamond Edition. Boston: Ticknor and Fields, 1867.
___. Christmas Books, illustrated by Fred Barnard. Household Edition. London: Chapman and Hall, 1878.
___. Christmas Books, illustrated by A. A. Dixon. London & Glasgow: Collins' Clear-Type Press, 1906.
___. Christmas Books. Illustrated by Harry Furniss. The Charles Dickens Library Edition. London: Educational Book, 1910.
___. Christmas Stories. Illustrated by E. A. Abbey. The Household Edition. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1876.
Last modified 4 June 2015