Ignorance and Want
Full-page illustration for Dickens's Christmas Carol: Ignorance and Want
Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham.
[You may use this image without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the person who scanned the image and (2) link your document to this URL.]
Leech's whimsical style, although it may be described as caricature verging at times on cartoon, was more rigorously realistic and less emblematic than Browne's; perhaps the finest example of his work in this vein for Dickens is "Ignorance and Want" in A Christmas Carol. The street urchins, although symbols of the forces unleashed by the factory system and the new capitalistic applications of Malthusian population theories, are shockingly real, while the desiccated trees and smoking factory chimneys in the background constitute a heightened realism amounting to visual commentary on Dickens's scene to reveal Scrooge as the exemplar of the entire upper-middle class. Undoubtedly, along with Fred Walker, an illustrator working in the manner of Daniel Vierge and other French illustrators of the mid-century, Leech was instrumental in shaping the new "Sixties'" style, of which George Du Maurier, Marcus Stone, and Fred Barnard were the leading exponents. As Steig remarks in Dickens and Phiz (1978),
Leech was never really comfortable in Browne's and Cruikshank's favorite technique, etching. He became known primarily as the designer of straightforward, humorous, wood-engraved cartoons — in our modern sense — for Punch. In turn, Leech's art influenced Punch artists and illustrators including Tenniel, Du Maurier, and Keene, while simultaneously the dominant mode of book illustration by these artists and such others as Marcus Stone, Fred Walker, and John Everett Millais became by the 1860s almost totally divorced from Browne's mode. Thus, wood engraving replaced etching, a quasi-caricatural way of drawing characters became a blander, rather idealized style, and emblem and allusion disappeared almost totally. It is not insignificant that some of these younger artists had pretensions to high art, nor that Millais in particular may have been slumming (though for very good pay) when he did illustrations for Trollope and others. (10-11)
In the cartoon "Substance and Shadow" (1843), Leech criticized artists for ignoring social issues such as poverty. One may assume that his depiction of the allegorical but intensely realised figures of Ignorance and Want in A Christmas Carol (1843) is a graphic exemplar of how the artist with a social conscience may address such issues. Resident artist at Punch, Leech perhaps had insufficient leisure to illustrate full-length Dickens novels; furthermore, he always had so many irons in the fire, so to speak, that he was notoriously unreliable when it came to delivering his drawing on time to publisher, a fact that may have deterred Phiz from agreeing to work with him on the illustrations for Martin Chuzzlewit (1843-44).
Steig, Michael. Dickens and Phiz. Bloomington & London: Indiana U.P., 1978. [e-text in the Victorian Web.]
Last modified 14 July 2010