The Boy before the Fire

In "The Christmas Books," John Butt describes the Boy as neither a type nor an abstraction like "Ignorance" in A Christmas Carol, but "a clearly recognizable slum child" (147). This child, for example, experiences various emotions: before, confronted by Redlaw, he was cringing in terror; here, he gives himself over to whole-hearted enjoyment of food, fire, and money. This is the sort of fire, a fire of blazing coals in a grate, that Scrooge initially forbids Bob Cratchit from building, but in conclusion exhorts him to construct with a newly-purchased coal-scuttle: in Stave One, Bob cannot "replenish it, for Scrooge kept the coal-box in his own" (Penguin I: 47). Coal is thus established in the Carol's printed text as an expensive luxury, but only in the pictorial text of The Haunted Man.

Leech's Boy, then, is no mere abstraction, but a child whose realism is conveyed through his various emotions and his size relative to the chair. The artist has given him tumbling mounds of hair, trousers far too short for his legs, and bare feet to emphasize his poverty, The passage illustrated is immediately above the plate, but the artist has positioned the Boy sitting as near as possible to the fire, his feet approaching the fender. We have just read about an old man being reduced to an egocentric sensualist by Redlaw's gift, desiring to be waited on and fed, and seeing no merit in the holly-berries because they are inedible. He is more savage than the urchin because humanizing memory does not soften him as the physical warmth does the Boy.

References

Butt, John. Pope, Dickens, and Others. London: 1951.


Victorian Web Charles Dickens Victorian Book Illustration John Leech next

Last modified 19 October 2004