Meg and Richard
7.5 x 7.5 cm. vignetted
Dickens's The Chimes, The Pears' Centenary Edition, vol. 2, page 109.
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Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham.
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"May I come in, Margaret?"
"Yes! Come in. Come in!"
It was well that Trotty knew him before he spoke; for with any doubt remaining on his mind, the harsh discordant voice would have persuaded him that it was not Richard but some other man.
There were but two chairs in the room. She gave him hers, and stood at some short distance from him, waiting to hear what he had to say.
He sat, however, staring vacantly at the floor; with a lustreless and stupid smile. A spectacle of such deep degradation, of such abject hopelessness, of such a miserable downfall, that she put her hands before her face and turned away, lest he s hould see how much it moved her.
Roused by the rustling of her dress, or some such trifling sound, he lifted his head, and began to speak as if there had been no pause since he entered.
"Still at work, Margaret? You work late."
["Third Quarter," p. 108, 1912 edition]
Neither The Chimes: A Goblin Story of Some Bells That Rang An Old Year Out and a New Year In (1844) has a precise equivalent for this scene, when Richard, dissolute and dispirited, visits Meg, who supports herself with her needle, in Richard and Margaret. However, John Leech has separated the two figures, so that the Richard is approaching Meg's door (bottom), while Meg is engaged in her needlework (above) — two continents of experience. Green extends this notion of apartness even as he shows them together in a scene reminiscent of George Gissing's short fiction, for Richard seems lost in himself, and a stern Meg extends him no sympathy.
Whereas one reads the static illustration nine pages after encountering the passage that it realizes (analeptically) in Furniss, in Green's interpretation as in the original volume, the illustration is positioned close the passage. In each case, then, the artist has us "read" the plate and text simultaneously. Moreover, there is not the air of utter hopelessness about Furniss's or Green's Richard that one detects by Richrd's posture, neglected beard, and careless hair style in the Leech original. Meg still has her youthful beauty and elegant figure in Furniss's version, whereas Leech depicts her as careworn and engaged in sheer drudgery, sewing by the light of a single candle in a scantily furnished garret, and Green shows her past her youth. There is no comparable scene in either of the Household Edition volumes or in Eytinge's Diamond Edition volume. Details from illustrations realising other moments in the two Household Editions reveal very different conceptions of the working-class couple (effectively suggested in Abbey's illustration by Richard's cloth cap and Meg's shawl) after Trotty's death and a steep decline in the fortunes of his daughter and her fiancé. In Green's turn-of-the-century interpretation, Meg appraises Richard without emotion, perhaps even judgmentally, and Richard seems quite withdrawn. Drawn without Leech's sympathy or Furniss's sympathy, Green's couple might well be a pair of Gissing characters from one of his failed romances, making Meg's upper-floor garret, with the roofline intruding, a symbol of her limited lifestyle and opportunities: no wonder she looks reprovingly at Richard.
Illustrations from the first edition (1844), the British Household Edition (1878), and the Charles Dickens Library Edition (1910)
Left: John Leech's scene that reveals to Trotty what became of his daughter and her fiancé nine years after his death, Richard and Margaret. Right: Harry Furniss's study of Trotty's seeing the same scene, Margaret and Richard. [Click on images to enlarge them.]
Above: Fred Barnard's 1878 wood-engraving of Lilian's return to Meg to ask her foregiveness, and melodramatically to die in her arms, "Never more, Meg; never more! Here! Here!" [Click on images to enlarge them.]
Dickens, Charles. The Chimes. Introduction by Clement Shorter. Illustrated by Charles Green. The Pears' Centenary Edition. London: A & F Pears, [?1912].
Dickens, Charles. The Chimes: A Goblin Story of Some Bells That Rang An Old Year Out and a New Year In. Illustrated by John Leech, Richard Doyle, Clarkson Stanfield, and Daniel Maclise. London: Bradbury and Evans, 1844.
Dickens, Charles. The Chimes: A Goblin Story of Some Bells That Rang An Old Year Out and a New Year In. Illustrated by John Leech, Richard Doyle, Clarkson Stanfield, and Daniel Maclise. (1844). Rpt. in Charles Dickens's Christmas Books, ed. Michael Slater. Hardmondsworth: Penguin, 1971, rpt. 1978. Pp. 137-252.
Dickens, Charles. Christmas Books. Illustrated by Fred Barnard. The Household Edition. London: Chapman and Hall, 1878.
Dickens, Charles. Christmas Books. Illustrated byHarry 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 6 May 2015