Mrs. Chickenstalker and the Pitcher of Flip by Charles Green (p. 145). 1912. 7.5 x 10.5 cm, vignetted. Dickens's The Chimes, Pears Centenary Edition, in which the plates often have captions that are different from the titles in the "List of Illustrations" (p. 15-16). Specifically, Mrs. Chickenstalker and the Pitcher of Flip has a lengthy caption that is quite different from its title in the "List of Illustrations"; the textual quotation that serves as the caption for this illustration of the genial groceress followed by the neighbours is "'Married, and not tell me, Meg! . . . So here I am; and as it's New Year's Eve, and the Eve of your wedding too, my dear, I had a little flip made, and brought it with me'." "Fourth Quarter," p. 145 — the passage realised is immediately above the illustration, so that one reads through the text and picture to the same passage. There is no equivalent illustration in the 1844 first edition of the novella.

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Passage Illustrated

They were ready for a dance in half a second (Meg and Richard at the top); and the Drum was on the very brink of feathering away with all his power; when a combination of prodigious sounds was heard outside, and a good-humoured comely woman of some fifty years of age, or thereabouts, came running in, attended by a man bearing a stone pitcher of terrific size, and closely followed by the marrow-bones and cleavers, and the bells; not the Bells, but a portable collection on a frame.

Trotty said, "It's Mrs. Chickenstalker!" And sat down and beat his knees again.

"Married, and not tell me, Meg!" cried the good woman. "Never! I couldn't rest on the last night of the Old Year without coming to wish you joy. I couldn't have done it, Meg. Not if I had been bed-ridden. So here I am; and as it's New Year's Eve, and the Eve of your wedding too, my dear, I had a little flip made, and brought it with me."

Mrs. Chickenstalker's notion of a little flip did honour to her character. The pitcher steamed and smoked and reeked like a volcano; and the man who had carried it, was faint. ["Fourth Quarter," pp. 145-146, 1912 edition]

Commentary

The kindly shop-keeper who extends credit to her neighbours leads a procession in Green's illustration, and is not carrying the pitcher herself, but has apparently acquired an assistant. Immediately after her arrival, Trotty introduces her to Meg and Lilian Fern, whereupon she recognizes Lilian as the daughter of a now-dead friend. Thus, Dickens piles one improbability on top of another, resolving the main problems in a manner reminiscent of William Harrison Ainsworth in Auriol; or, The Elixir of Life, published serially earlier in 1844 as Revelations of London. Adding to the unlikelihood of much of the preceding action having been a dream, Dickens then uses coincidence to resolve Uncle Will's quest in London. Excusing or glossing over both facile solutions to the novella's plot, Green focuses on Mrs. Chickenstalker as a sort of benign Madame Defarge, a community leader whose store, like the wineshop of St. Antoine in A Tale of Two Cities (1859), is the node of all orbits in this "something for Christmas."

Illustrations from the first edition (1844) and the Charles Dickens Library Edition (1910)

Left: John Leech's scene of Trotty dancing with Mrs. Chickenstalker, The New Year's Dance. Right: Harry Furniss's study of Trotty's seeing his daughter, her fiance, Lilian, and Mrs. Chickenstalker happily dancing in his dream, from which he appears to be awakening, Trotty's Dream. [Click on images to enlarge them.]

References

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. 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. (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 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.

Solberg, Sarah A. "'Text Dropped into the Woodcuts': Dickens' Christmas Books." Dickens Studies Annual 8 (1980): 103-118.

Thomas, Deborah A. Dickens and The Short Story. Philadelphia: U. Pennsylvania Press, 1982.

Welsh, Alexander. "Time and the City in The Chimes." Dickensian 73, 1 (January 1977): 8-17.


Last modified 17 April 2015