Dr. Jeddler reads Alfred's Letter
8.1 x 4.7 cm. vignetted
Dickens's The Battle of Life, The Pears' Centenary Edition, vol. 4, page 72.
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Dying of curiosity, the Doctor's female servant, Clemency Newcome, delivers a recently arrived letter to her master from Alfred Heathfield, a letter which she strongly suspects is announcing his return home after three years abroad pursuing medical studies. As in the previous illustration of him in the study, Dr. Jeddler is in his "private" costume: slippers, dressing-gown, and night-cap.
"Britain was riding by on a errand," she chuckled, handing it to the Doctor, "and see the mail come in, and waited for it. There's A. H. in the corner. Mr. Alfred's on his journey home, I bet. We shall have a wedding in the house — there was two spoons in my saucer this morning. Oh Luck, how slow he opens it!"
"All this she delivered, by way of soliloquy, gradually rising higher and higher on tiptoe, in her impatience to hear the news, and making a corkscrew of her apron, and a bottle of her mouth. At last, arriving at a climax of suspense, and seeing the Doctor still engaged in the perusal of the letter, she came down flat upon the soles of her feet again, and cast her apron, as a veil, over her head, in a mute despair, and inability to bear it any longer.
"Here! Girls!" cried the Doctor. "I can't help it: I never could keep a secret in my life. There are not many secrets, indeed, worth being kept in such a — well! never mind that. Alfred's coming home, my dears, directly."
"Directly!" exclaimed Marion.
"What! The story-book is soon forgotten!" said the Doctor, pinching her cheek. "I thought the news would dry those tears. Yes. "Let it be a surprise," he says, here. But I can't let it be a surprise. He must have a welcome."
"Directly!' repeated Marion.
"Why, perhaps not what your impatience calls 'directly,' returned the doctor; "but pretty soon too. Let us see. Let us see. To-day is Thursday, is it not? Then he promises to be here, this day month."
"This day month!" repeated Marion, softly.
"A gay day and a holiday for us," said the cheerful voice of her sister Grace, kissing her in congratulation. "Long looked forward to, dearest, and come at last."
She answered with a smile; a mournful smile, but full of sisterly affection. As she looked in her sister's face, and listened to the quiet music of her voice, picturing the happiness of this return, her own face glowed with hope and joy. ["Part the Second," 1912 Pears Edition, p. 71-72]
The title "Dr. Jeddler reads Alfred's Letter" (p. 13) is a synopsis of the actual caption beneath the thumbnail on page 72, "Seeing the Doctor still engaged in the perusal of the letter" — a line that establishes the perspective as Clemency's. In the 1846 edition of the novella, there is no equivalent illustration of Dr. Jeddler's receiving Alfred's letter, just after Marion's breaking down while reading aloud a passage about a daughter's abandoning the sacred precincts of home.
Of the illustrations of her prior to Green's in 1912, 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 adaptation 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.
Relevant Illustrations of Dr. Jeddler from the 1846 and later Editions
Left: Richard Doyle's cartoonish realisation of Dr. Jeddler and his daughters in the orchard, Part the First. Right: Fred Barnard's elegant realisation of male, 18th c. fashion in "Bye-the-bye," and he looked into the pretty face, still close to his, "I suppose it's your birthday." [Click on images to enlarge them.]
Above: E. A. Abbey's 1876 wood-engraving of the scene in which the Doctor wishes Alfred goodbye, "Meat?" said Britain, approaching Mr. Snitchey, with the carving knife and fork in his hands, and throwing the question at him like a missile. [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 19 May 2015