Michael Warden's Nocturnal Interview with Marion
12.7 x 10.8 cm. vignetted
Dickens's The Battle of Life, The Pears' Centenary Edition, vol. 4, page 86.
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"Let me go out," said Clemency, soothing her. "I'll tell him what you like. Don't cross the door-step to-night. I'm sure no good will come of it. Oh, it was an unhappy day when Mr. Warden was ever brought here! Think of your good father, darling — of your sister."
"I have,' said Marion, hastily raising her head. 'You don't know what I do. I must speak to him. You are the best and truest friend in all the world for what you have said to me, but I must take this step. Will you go with me, Clemency," she kissed her on her friendly face, "or shall I go alone?"
Sorrowing and wondering, Clemency turned the key, and opened the door. Into the dark and doubtful night that lay beyond the threshold, Marion passed quickly, holding by her hand.
In the dark night he joined her, and they spoke together earnestly and long; and the hand that held so fast by Clemency's, now trembled, now turned deadly cold, now clasped and closed on hers, in the strong feeling of the speech it emphasised unconsciously. When they returned, he followed to the door, and pausing there a moment, seized the other hand, and pressed it to his lips. Then, stealthily withdrew.
The door was barred and locked again, and once again she stood beneath her father's roof. Not bowed down by the secret that she brought there, though so young; but, with that same expression on her face for which I had no name before, and shining through her tears. ["Part the Second," 1912 Pears Edition, p. 85]
The short title on page 14 ("Michael Warden's Nocturnal Interview with Marion") is augmented by a direct quotation beneath the actual illustration: "Into the dark and doubtful night that lay beyond the threshold, Marion passed quickly, holding by her hand" (page 86, and, in the text, in the middle of the previous page).
After the scene of Britain and Clemency in the Kitchen (p. 76), in which the comic servants seem to be approaching an understanding about sharing a future, Dickens continues to develop the notion that a putative elopement between Michael Warden and Marion Jeddler is afoot; Marion's request to Clemency to open the door only serves to confirm the reader's impression that the young aristocrat is about to snatch Marion away in the middle of the night. The surprise is that, after all, the pair do not elope, and that another month goes by, untilthe night of Alfred's return from abroad.
One may readily appreciate Leech's mistake as Dickens made suggestions in "Part the Second" about a supposed elopement, beginning with Michael Warden's stating to his attorneys that his marrying an heiress such as Marion would resolve his financial difficulties and enable him to remain in England — and, quite by coincidence, of course — Warden leaves the village at approximately the same date that Marion vanishes.
Whereas the original novella showed but one scene at the Jeddlers' door — Daniel Maclise's The Secret Interview — to demonstrate the emotional conflicts of Marion and Clemency, Green underscores this internal conflict in two such illustrations, the first on page 83, Marion with Clemency, and this one on page 86. Green's Clemency here, as in the previous plate, is much more serious, and appears somewhat older than in her earlier appearances. Again, mysterious darkness suggestive of an uncertain (and perhaps immoral) future fills the space behind the dark-clad suitor, and Marion reluctantly turns away from him, her headpiece implying that she is a Vestal Virgin, torn between her love for Warden and her dedication to her father's service and her sister's future happiness with Alfred. The wastrel's absconding with the dutiful daughter of the house, not actually realised in this 1846 novella, is a plot gambit that Dickens utilised with James Steerforth's running off to the Continent with Little Em'ly in David Copperfield, even though she engaged to marry her cousin, Ham Peggotty. Here, however, the young woman enlists the assistance of the faithful family servant, who therefore will subsequently feel complicit in the elopement.
The contrast between the two, pillar-like female figures and the substantial dynamicmasculine figure in a petitioning posture sets up the scene as an interesting extensionof the text. In fact, in this 1912 edition, this illustration replaces Part the Second by Richard Doyle as an proleptic sign of the trouble that will afflict the Jeddler household over the course of the second movement of the story. That Green's sign (unlike that of Doyle)is false or at least misleading is nevertheless consistent with Dickens's intention to mislead the reader into believing that the anguished Marion's inner turmoil, which gradually becomes evident in "Part the Second," is the signifier of her decision to elope with the young aristocrat whom fortune (the horseback-riding mishap) had placed under the Jeddlers' roof. Again, as in the previous illustration inside the house, in this exterior scene a Rembrandtesque chiaroscuro engulfs the left third of the illustration and associates Michael Warden's figure with the unknown destiny that threatens thedomestic felicity of Dickens's nuclear family. Thus, Green's interpretation of the 1846illustration The Secret Interview by academician Daniel Maclise renders the melodramatic moment with almost photographic realism which enforces the reader to believe that there is a romantic relationship between Michael and Marion, and that the logical outcome of this scene will be an elopement a month later, on the night of the Christmas party and Alfred's return.
Since the full-page lithograph is situated across from the transitional sentence "A month soon passes, even at its tardiest pace" (87), the illustration connects the events of the autumn evening — Marion's emotional breakdown while reading, the kitchen "proposal" scene involving Benjamin Britain and Clemency Newcome, and the clandestine interview — and the climactic disappearance of Marion. It therefore enforces belief in the supposed elopement and in Michael Warden as the inferred causeof Marion's internal conflict. If one may quibble, in attempting to invest the composition with a serious stillness Green has made all three figures too old. On the other hand, his positioning Marion exactly between the wooer and the chaperone epitomizes her dubious position; furthermore, the light from the internal effectively contrasts the sacred precincts of hearth and home (right) and the outer darkness and its exponent, the young aristocrat whose intentions may be less than honourable, as the chapter has established Warden's pecuniary motivations — as he has been a poor custodian ("warden") of his patrimony, so he move prove an exploitative partner. The white garments of the women (in contrast to his dark-grey suit) suggest their purity — and their vulnerability. Marion and Clemency, however, present stoicism in the postures and visages, while the reader must construct Michael Warden's facial expression. Conspicuous in his eighteenth-costume are the pockets of his frock-coat, reminding the reader subliminally of the young man's desperate need of personal property to stave off financial ruin.
Relevant Illustrations from the 1846 and later Editions
Left: Daniel Maclise's elegant illustration of the clandestine conversation between the supposed lovers, The Secret Interview. Right: Harry Furniss's intimation that Michael Warden and Marion are eloping, For Alfred's Sake (1910). [Click on images to enlarge them.]
Above: E. A. Abbey's 1876 wood-engraving of the scene outside Dr. Jeddler's home as Alfred discovers that Marion is missing, And sunk down in his former attitude, clasping one of Grace's cold hands in his own. [Click on image to enlarge it.]
Above: Fred Barnard's 1878 wood-engraving of the scene in which Alfred, just arrived, learns that Marion has vanished into the night: "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 25 May 2015