Mrs. Cratchit and Martha: "'Why, bless your heart alive, my dear, how late you are!' said Mrs. Cratchit."
10.5 x 7.6 cm. vignetted
Dickens's A Christmas Carol, The Pears' Centenary Edition of The Christmas Books, vol. 1, page 80.
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Then up rose Mrs. Cratchit, Cratchit's wife, dressed out but poorly in a twice-turned gown, but brave in ribbons, which are cheap and make a goodly show for sixpence; and she laid the cloth, assisted by Belinda Cratchit, second of her daughters, also brave in ribbons; while Master Peter Cratchit plunged a fork into the saucepan of potatoes, and getting the corners of his monstrous shirt collar (Bob's private property, conferred upon his son and heir in honour of the day) into his mouth, rejoiced to find himself so gallantly attired, and yearned to show his linen in the fashionable Parks. And now two smaller Cratchits, boy and girl, came tearing in, screaming that outside the baker's they had smelt the goose, and known it for their own; and basking in luxurious thoughts of sage and onion, these young Cratchits danced about the table, and exalted Master Peter Cratchit to the skies, while he (not proud, although his collars nearly choked him) blew the fire, until the slow potatoes bubbling up, knocked loudly at the saucepan-lid to be let out and peeled.
"What has ever got your precious father then?" said Mrs. Cratchit. "And your brother, Tiny Tim; And Martha warn't as late last Christmas Day by half-an-hour."
"Here's Martha, mother," said a girl, appearing as she spoke.
"Here's Martha, mother!" cried the two young Cratchits. "Hurrah! There's such a goose, Martha!"
"Why, bless your heart alive, my dear, how late you are!" said Mrs. Cratchit, kissing her a dozen times, and taking off her shawl and bonnet for her with officious zeal.
"We'd a deal of work to finish up last night," replied the girl, "and had to clear away this morning, mother." ["Stave Three: The Second of The Three Spirits," p. 79-81]
The third of the six scenes that Green has included for the third stave is a vignette of Mrs. Cratchit and her seamstress daughter; whereas most of cinematic and television adaptations have depicted a Martha in mid-adolescence or early womanhood, Green has elected to make her rather younger — a mere child who is doing her best to help her family financially in the midst of the Hungry Forties. Of all the Cratchit children, only Tiny Tim appeared in previous programs of illustration — and in the original eight illustrations by the socially conscious John Leech no Cratchit child appears, nor Mrs. Cratchit, for that matter, and Bob is relegated to a single appearance in the small-scale tailpiece, Scrooge and Bob Cratchit, or The Christmas Bowl, which projects an image of Bob as Scrooge's subordinate and now his personal confidant, rather than of Bob as a devoted husband and father.
Whereas Leech has taken a caricatural approach to Bob, Green humanizes all of the Cratchits. And whereas in his thirty-four large- and small-scale illustrations in the 1868 edition of the novel, Sol Eytinge, Jr. offers two scenes of Bob as the pater familias, only in Bob's homecoming does the American artist include Martha, albeit in marginal position, in Bob Cratchit at Home. In the Cratchit family's post-prandial toast in the American Household Edition of 1876, Martha is again a young woman, grouped with the other Cratchit females to the right, in E. A. Abbey's "Mr. Scrooge!" said Bob; "I'll give you Mr. Scrooge, the Founder of the feast!" Consequently, Green's treatment of Martha as a character in her own right having a personal relationship with her mother is unusual in the 19th c. canon of illustrated Carols, which tend to focus on the male characters and neglect the Cratchit family.
Green's illustration highlighting the relationship between the lower-middle-class mother and daughter (the Cratchits except Bob being entirely absent in the 1843 edition, as if the illustrator regarded them as being merely anciliary to the plot) reminds us that Dickens will utilize such figures again in the Christmas Books, notably through the Tetterbys in The Haunted Man. Martha, the young seamstress, will reappear in Meggy Veck and Lilian Fern in The Chimes — and more significantly in works beyond the Christmas Books with Em'ly Peggotty and Martha Endell (who, like Lilian, represents the type of the Fallen Woman) in David Copperfield. Thus, the figure of the overworked and underpaid young needlewoman who is a tertiary character in the first Christmas Book is part of a series of exploited females that includes the quirky, assertive Jenny Wren of Our Mutual Friend. With a supportive, extended family and a close relationship with her mother, seamstress Martha Cratchit will not likely the fate of Martha Endell.
Illustrations from the original (1843), the Ticknor & Fields (1868), and American Household Editions (1876)
Left: John Leech's vision Scrooge's becoming a friend as well as an employer, Scrooge and Bob Cratchit, or The Christmas Bowl. Right: Sol Eytinge, Junior's realisation of Bob's homecoming, with a cheeky Martha hiding (right), Bob Cratchit at Home. [Click on images to enlarge them.]
Above: E. A. Abbey's 1876 engraving of the Cratchit family ironically attributing the bounty which they have enjoyed to Bob's parsimonious employer, "Mr. Scrooge!" said Bob; "I'll give you Mr. Scrooge, the Founder of the feast!". [Click on the image to enlarge it.]
Dickens, Charles. 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.
____. A Christmas Carol in Prose, Being a Ghost Story of Christmas. Illustrated by John Leech. London: Chapman and Hall, 1843.
____. A Christmas Carol in Prose: Being a Ghost Story of Christmas. Illustrated by Sol Eytinge, Jr. Boston: Ticknor & Fields, 1868.
____. A Christmas Carol in Prose, Being A Ghost Story of Christmas. Illustrated by John Leech. (1843). Rpt. in Charles Dickens's Christmas Books, ed. Michael Slater. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1971, rpt. 1978.
____. A Christmas Carol. Illustrated by Charles Green, R. I. London: A & F Pears, 1912.
____. A Christmas Carol. Illustrated by Arthur Rackham. London: William Heinemann, 1915.
____. Christmas Stories. Illustrated by E. A. Abbey. The Household Edition. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1876.
Created 18 August 2015