Britain and Clemency in the Kitchen
7.8 x 7.6 cm. framed
Dickens's The Battle of Life, The Pears' Centenary Edition, vol. 4, page 76.
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Clemency Newcome, in the meantime, having accomplished her mission and lingered in the room until she had made herself a party to the news, descended to the kitchen, where her coadjutor, Mr. Britain, was regaling after supper, surrounded by such a plentiful collection of bright pot-lids, well-scoured saucepans, burnished dinner-covers, gleaming kettles, and other tokens of her industrious habits, arranged upon the walls and shelves, that he sat as in the centre of a hall of mirrors. The majority did not give forth very flattering portraits of him, certainly; nor were they by any means unanimous in their reflections; as some made him very long-faced, others very broad-faced, some tolerably well-looking, others vastly ill-looking, according to their several manners of reflecting: which were as various, in respect of one fact, as those of so many kinds of men. But they all agreed that in the midst of them sat, quite at his ease, an individual with a pipe in his mouth, and a jug of beer at his elbow, who nodded condescendingly to Clemency, when she stationed herself at the same table.
"Well, Clemmy," said Britain, "how are you by this time, and what's the news?"
Clemency told him the news, which he received very graciously. A gracious change had come over Benjamin from head to foot. He was much broader, much redder, much more cheerful, and much jollier in all respects. It seemed as if his face had been tied up in a knot before, and was now untwisted and smoothed out.
"There'll be another job for Snitchey and Craggs, I suppose," he observed, puffing slowly at his pipe. "More witnessing for you and me, perhaps, Clemmy!"
"Lor!" replied his fair companion, with her favourite twist of her favourite joints. "I wish it was me, Britain!"
"Wish what was you?"
"A-going to be married," said Clemency.
Benjamin took his pipe out of his mouth and laughed heartily. "Yes! you're a likely subject for that!" he said. "Poor Clem!" Clemency for her part laughed as heartily as he, and seemed as much amused by the idea. "Yes," she assented, "I'm a likely subject for that; an't I?" ["Part the Second," 1912 Pears Edition, p. 76-77]
The title "Britain and Clemency in the Kitchen" (p. 13) is a synopsis of the actual caption beneath the cameo on page 76, "Lor!" replied his fair companion, with her favourite twist of her favourite joints. "I wish it was me, Britain!" — a line that establishes the central figure as Clemency. In the 1846 edition of the novella, there is no equivalent illustration of the servants' mulling over the implications of Alfred's announced return, a piece of comic relief that Dickens has positioned just after the "upstairs" scene in which Marion breaks 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, few have shown servants in their "below-stairs" personas, gossiping about their employers, and considering a future for themselves beyond service. Rightly called "The Proposal" (which the artless Clemency nevertheless elicits from the dour Benjamin Britain), this realisation of the dialogue effectively renders the sideboard and pewter-ware, and even makes Britain look more pleasant than other representations of him, cleverly reflecting the line immediately above the picture, "A gracious change had come over Benjamin from head to foot" (76).
Relevant Illustrations of Clemency and Britain from the 1846 and later Editions
Left: John Leech's cartoonish realisation of the breakfast in the orchard, The Parting Breakfast. Right: Harry Furniss's dynamic dual character study of the comic servants Clemency and Britain (1910). [Click on images to enlarge them.]
Above: E. A. Abbey's 1876 wood-engraving of the scene in the couple's parlour when a tanned, fit-looking stranger has just alighted from his horse at portal of their inn, The Nutmeg Grater, seeking news of the Jeddlers, A gentleman attired in mourning, and cloaked and booted like a rider on horseback, who stood at the bar-door. [Click on image to enlarge it.]
Above: Fred Barnard's 1878 wood-engraving of the scene in the couple's parlour when Michael Warden returns to the village, Guessed half aloud "milk and water," "monthly warning," "mice and walnuts" — and couldn't approach her meaning. [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