The Return of Alfred Heathfield
10.3 x 7.7 cm. exclusive of frame
Dickens's The Battle of Life, The Pears' Centenary Edition, vol. 4, page 99.
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He dismounted from the chaise, and telling the driver — even that was not easy in his agitation — to remain behind for a few minutes, and then to follow slowly, ran on with exceeding swiftness, tried the gate, scaled the wall, jumped down on the other side, and stood panting in the old orchard.
There was a frosty rime upon the trees, which, in the faint light of the clouded moon, hung upon the smaller branches like dead garlands. Withered leaves crackled and snapped beneath his feet, as he crept softly on towards the house. The desolation of a winter night sat brooding on the earth, and in the sky. But, the red light came cheerily towards him from the windows; figures passed and repassed there; and the hum and murmur of voices greeted his ear sweetly.
Listening for hers: attempting, as he crept on, to detach it from the rest, and half believing that he heard it: he had nearly reached the door, when it was abruptly opened, and a figure coming out encountered his. It instantly recoiled with a half-suppressed cry.
"Clemency," he said, "don't you know me?"
"Don't come in!" she answered, pushing him back. "Go away. Don't ask me why. Don't come in."
"What is the matter?" he exclaimed.
"I don't know. I — I am afraid to think. Go back. Hark!" ["Part the Second," 1912 Pears Edition, p. 100]
The illustration's short title on page 14 ("The Return of Alfred Heathfield") is augmented by a passage of quoted dialogue beneath the actual illustration: "'Clemency,' he said, 'don't you know me?'" (page 99, and, in the text, at the bottom of the next page). The picture of Clemency, pushing back against the well-dressed youth (whose clothing is nonetheless insufficient for cold weather), is proleptic, placed so that it causes the reader to anticipate the arrival of Alfred, whose consciousness is being communicated to the reader on the facing page, as the lone traveller makes his way through the familiar churchyard towards Dr. Jeddler's cottage. In this facing text, Alfred is 'yearning' and 'weary'; in the facing illustration, he is surprised and curious. Thus, between the text and the illustration the reader is privileged to comprehend the full range of the youthful wayfarer's emotions as he approaches home and fiancée, and then learns that, after three years away, he is inexplicably unwelcome.
Whereas the original novella showed the aftermath of Marion's disappearance — its impact upon her father and sister, as well upon Alfred and Clemency — Green here initially focusses on Alfred's response as Clemency attempts to keep him out of the substantial cottage that is the only home he has ever known, and from his fiancée. Rather than responding specifically to Richard Doyle's Part The Second to focus upon the emotional conflicts of Alfred and Clemency, Green contrasts the conflicting emotions and motivations of the servant and the returning fiancé, a lithograph which is the climax of a series of illustrations, beginning with that on page 83, Marion with Clemency, and continuing with that on page 86, Michael Warden's Nocturnal Interview with Marion. Green's Clemency here, as in the previous plates, is much more serious, and appears somewhat older than in her earlier appearances. But now the male whom she opposes is not the outsider by virtue of class and family, Michael Warden, but the adopted son of the house, coming outof the darkness towards the light of the open door.
Although he is the pivotal figure in the story's romantic triangle, Alfred has appeared only twice up to this point, his first appearance being at the table amongst the other diners in the frontispiece, Breakfast in Dr. Jeddler's Orchard. This is the first instance in which Green has turned his focus upon Alfred, who will appear prominently in the subsequent illustrations Alfred Learns theTidings of Marion's Sudden Flight (p. 101) and Alfred,Grace, and their Little Daughter in the Orchard (p. 130). In other words, this illustration marks a shift from having Marion as the focal character to making Alfred the informing consciousness, a shift that occurs in the text as Alfred arrives home. Marion,having appeared in eight illustrations in the first two parts of the narrative, now vanishes, only to reappear in a single illustration in "Part the Third," namely the climactic Marion's Return to her Home and Grace (p. 132).
Although Green was undoubtedly responding to the original, "double-scene" John Leech plate dropped into the letterpress, The Night of the Return, which contrasts the social, communal world of the dance and the dark, outer world of the lovers, a more effective vehicle for comparison is the large-scale Fred Barnard wood-engraving "What is the matter?" he exclaimed. "I don't know. I — I am afraid to think. Go back. Hark!". Barnard's penultimate illustration for The Battle of Life, like Green's twenty-first of his thirty illustrations, realizes the return of Alfred Heathfield and the simultaneous discovery of Marion's disappearance. In this regard, both the Green and Barnard illustrations are more faithful to both the text and Dickens's intention than Leech's The Night of the Return in that it does not erroneously stipulate that Michael Warden has been instrumental in the flight of Alfred's fiancée on the eve of his return from medical studies. Leech had misinterpreted the plot-line as many a reader would if he or she were simply to assess the situation realised in Daniel Maclise's The Secret Interview and assume that an elopement would result (as Dickens seems to imply) prior to Alfred's return. Omitting the country dance which Leech shows in progress in the upper register, Barnard's illustration is not effective in contrasting the binary opposites of the inner, "social" world of the familial celebration — the familiar world of village and beloved sibling that Marion now abandons, and the "outer" world (the night, nature, and experience of the greater world beyond the confines of the village) — but neither does it make the error of depicting Michael Warden leading Marion into the night as Leech's illustration does. Although Green avoids any suggestion that there actually has been an elopement and leaves the mystery Marion's disappearance unresolved, the emotions of both Clemency and Alfred are muted, in comparison to the drama of the Barnard rendition. Although the swirling snowflakes in Green's illustration impart an effective tension to the scene, Barnard's rendition is far more dramatic — and his costuming better thought out as his Alfred appears in a late eighteenth-century great-coat and hat.
Relevant Illustrations from the 1846 and later Editions
Left: Richard Doyle's dramatic illustration of the confusion attendant upon the discovery of Marion's disappearance, Part the Second. 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