Clemency Signing her Name
7.5 x 5.6 cm. vignetted
Dickens's The Battle of Life, The Pears' Centenary Edition, vol. 4, page 47.
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Clemency and Britain, the doctor's servants, are witnessing their employer's transferring the balance of the trust fund to Alfred Heathfield, up to this point Dr. Jeddler's ward, as he has now reached the age of majority, and henceforth will be managing his own financial affairs. Barely literate, Clemency and Benjamin have difficulty affixing their signatures to the papers which Snitchey and Craggs have brought with them to the parting breakfast, honouring the fact that Alfred is about to embark upon a three years' tour of medical schools on the Continent. Dickens describes Clemency thus:
She was about thirty years old, and had a sufficiently plump and cheerful face, though it was twisted up into an odd expression of tightness that made it comical. But, the extraordinary homeliness of her gait and manner, would have superseded any face in the world. To say that she had two left legs, and somebody else's arms, and that all four limbs seemed to be out of joint, and to start from perfectly wrong places when they were set in motion, is to offer the mildest outline of the reality. To say that she was perfectly content and satisfied with these arrangements, and regarded them as being no business of hers, and that she took her arms and legs as they came, and allowed them to dispose of themselves just as it happened, is to render faint justice to her equanimity. Her dress was a prodigious pair of self-willed shoes, that never wanted to go where her feet went; blue stockings; a printed gown of many colours, and the most hideous pattern procurable for money; and a white apron. She always wore short sleeves, and always had, by some accident, grazed elbows, in which she took so lively an interest, that she was continually trying to turn them round and get impossible views of them. In general, a little cap placed somewhere on her head; though it was rarely to be met with in the place usually occupied in other subjects, by that article of dress; but, from head to foot she was scrupulously clean, and maintained a kind of dislocated tidiness. Indeed, her laudable anxiety to be tidy and compact in her own conscience as well as in the public eye, gave rise to one of her most startling evolutions, which was to grasp herself sometimes by a sort of wooden handle (part of her clothing, and familiarly called a busk), and wrestle as it were with her garments, until they fell into a symmetrical arrangement.
Such, in outward form and garb, was Clemency Newcome; who was supposed to have unconsciously originated a corruption of her own Christian name, from Clementina . . . . [29-30]
Clemency Newcome, in an ecstasy of laughter at the idea of her own importance and dignity, brooded over the whole table with her two elbows, like a spread eagle, and reposed her head upon her left arm as a preliminary to the formation of certain cabalistic characters, which required a deal of ink, and imaginary counterparts whereof she executed at the same time with her tongue. Also, how, having once tasted ink, she became thirsty in that regard, as tame tigers are said to be after tasting another sort of fluid, and wanted to sign everything, and put her name in all kinds of places. ["Part the First," 1912 Pears Edition, 47-48]
The British Household Edition of The Christmas Books, which provides realistic images with modelled figures in the manner of the Sixties school illustrators, all too often fails to match the visual interest of the original 1846 small-scale illustrations. Compare, for example, Fred Barnard's realistic interpretation of the comic servant, Clemency Newcome, and John Leech's thumbnail of the same character in the opening garden scene, The Parting Breakfast, and Richard Doyle's more elegant version of Clemency in The Secret Interview.
Of the illustrations of her prior to Green's, perhaps the most satisfactory is that by Harry Furniss in the Charles Dickens Library's anthology of The Christmas Books (1910). Indeed, Furniss apparently adapted an actual newspaper illustration of a scene in the 1846 adaption for the Lyceum Theatre, London, by Albert Smith, Scene from The Battle of Life, — "The Proposal Scene" — at the Lyceum Theatre: Clemency, Mrs. Keeley; Britain, Mr. Keeley. Mrs. Maryanne Keeley's animated impersonation of Clemency was one of the highpoints of the production, according to The Illustrated London News for Saturday, 26 December 1846 (p. 413). The spirited performance must somehow have come to Furniss's notice, for his Clemency and Britain. The smiling, youthful Clemency of the newspaper depiction of comedienne Maryanne Keeley in the role is the basis for Furniss's cheerful woman in late youth, but both are in total contrast to the serious, elderly companion of Fred Barnard's much more serious depiction of the comic woman of the melodrama, satisfactory as his eighteenth-century costuming of her may be.
Green's depiction of her in The Frontispiece is consistent with Furniss's in terms of her age and servant's attire, but is rather more realistic and less caricatural than the Leech original, harking back to Doyle's depiction of her in The Secret Interview. She should, of course, be a thoroughly Dickensian "character," a comic contrast to the lovers Alfred, Grace, Marion, and Michael. She appears in Green's sequence a full nine times in the thirty illustrations, a sign that Green recognized her importance as a foil to the serious, young lovers and the philosophical Dr. Jeddler. For the sake of visual continuity, Green consistently depicts her in servant's garb, including white apron and cloth hat, but nevertheless sees her as a real person rather than a Leech caricature.
Relevant Illustrations from the 1846 and later Editions
Left: Daniel Maclise's stylish realisation of Michael Warden's chaperoned interview with Marion, The Secret Interview. Right: Harry Furniss's description of the comic servants Benjamin Britain and Clemency Newcome in Clemency and Britain. [Click on images to enlarge them.]
Above: Fred Barnard's 1878 engraving of the scene in which Alfred meets Clemency at the door on the night of his return, after Marion has supposedly eloped with Michael Warden, "What is the matter?" he exclaimed. "I don't know. I — I am afraid to think. Go back. Hark!" [Click on image to enlarge it.]
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. Hardmondsworth: 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 10 May 2015