Mrs. Lirriper's Lodgings
E. G. Dalziel
Framed, 13.8 x 9.1 cm
Frontispiece in The Illustrated Library Edition of Dickens's Works, Christmas Stories, vol. 2.
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Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham.
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It may have been only the darkness and quiet of the Adelphi that caused her to strike into it but she struck into it much as readily as if she had set out to go there, which perhaps was the case. She went straight down to the Terrace and along it and looked over the iron rail, and I often woke afterwards in my own bed with the horror of seeing her do it. The desertion of the wharf below and the flowing of the high water there seemed to settle her purpose. She looked about as if to make out the way down, and she struck out the right way or the wrong way — I don't know which, for I don't know the place before or since — and I followed her the way she went.
It was noticeable that all this time she never once looked back. But there was now a great change in the manner of her going, and instead of going at a steady quick walk with her arms folded before her, — among the dark dismal arches she went in a wild way with her arms opened wide, as if they were wings and she was flying to her death.
We were on the wharf and she stopped. I stopped. I saw her hands at her bonnet-strings, and I rushed between her and the brink and took her round the waist with both my arms. She might have drowned me, I felt then, but she could never have got quit of me.
Down to that moment my mind had been all in a maze and not half an idea had I had in it what I should say to her, but the instant I touched her it came to me like magic and I had my natural voice and my senses and even almost my breath.
"Mrs. Edson!" I says "My dear! Take care. How ever did you lose your way and stumble on a dangerous place like this? Why you must have come here by the most perplexing streets in all London. No wonder you are lost, I'm sure. And this place too! ["Towards the River," pages 21-22]
Although this early Dalziel illustration does not convey the differences between the rescuer (the amiable Mrs. Lirriper, the rooming-house landlady) and her suicidal lodger (the desperate Mrs. Edson, whose husband has abandoned her in London) effectively, Dalziel has picked a crucial moment of melodrama in the 1863 Christmas Story. The scene is the London docks, no many blocks from the rooming house.
Although it lacks the naturalism of E. A. Abbey and Harry Furniss, Edward Dalziel's frontispiece captures a moment of high drama in the 1863 Christmas Story when, like David and Mr. Peggotty in David Copperfield Mrs. Lirriper and the Major (not depicted by Dalziel) follow a desperate young woman from the rooming-house at "Number Eighty-one Norfolk Street Strand" (232) and prevent her from drowning herself in the Thames after she has been abandoned. In Hablot Knight Browne's The River ("Martha," Chapter 47, August 1850), the former seamstress with compromised virtue stands on the slimy shore of the Thames, about to do away with herself; Dickens recreates the scene in its essentials in Mrs. Lirriper's Lodgings, but Dalziel's realisation of the desperately depressed Mrs. Edson is not equal to Phiz's plate either in its detail (indeed, Dalziel only suggests a wharf, and offers little else to establish its setting) or its characterizations of the desperate young woman and her determined rescuer.
In the original version of the Christmas Story as published in the Extra Christmas number (12 December 1863) for All the Year Round, Dickens supplemented the opening and closing (the only portions that he actually wrote) with five by "other hands," namely additional stories by Elizabeth Gaskell ("How the First Floor Went to Crowley Castle"), Andrew Halliday ("How the Side-Room was Attended by a Doctor"), regular contributor Edmund H. Yates ("How the Second-Floor Kept a Dog"), Amelia B. Edwards ("How the Third-Floor Knew the Potteries"), and Dickens's son-in-law Charles Allston Collins ("How the Best Attic was Under a Cloud").
Diamond, Household, and Charles Dickens Library Edition (1867-68, 1876-77, and 1910) Illustrations Relevant to "Mrs. Lirriper's Lodgings" (1863)
Household Edition. Left: E. A. Abbey's "She prayed a good good prayer and I joined in it poor me." (1876). Right: E. G. Dalziel's "Willing Sophy down upon her knees scrubbing early and late and ever cheerful but always smiling with a black face (1877). [Click on images to enlarge them.]
Left: Sol Eytinge, Junior's "Mrs. Lirriper and The Major" (1867). Right: Harry Furniss's "Jemmy and the Major" (1910). [Click on images to enlarge them.]
A Note on the 1911 Text
The two volumes containing the Christmas stories do not indicate where they fall in the 36-volume sequence. The "Bibliographical Note" on the verso of the title-page makes reference to the Charles Dickens Edition of 1871, although this text has been augmented by five stories from "Reprinted Pieces" and two others, "What Christmas Is As We Grow Older" and "The Lazy Tour of Two Idle Apprentices," "which were not always included in the collected works of the novelist."
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Dickens, Charles. Christmas Books and The Uncommercial Traveller. Illustrated by Harry Furniss. Charles Dickens Library Edition. 18 vols. London: Educational Book Company, 1910. Vol. 10.
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Schlicke, Paul, ed. "Christmas Stories." The Oxford Companion to Dickens. Oxford and New York: Oxford U. P., 1999. Pp. 100-101.
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Last modified 17 April 2014