"Christmas Day at Bob Cratchit's" by Charles Green (p. 86). 1912. 11 x 14.4 cm, framed. Dickens's A Christmas Carol, Pears Centenary Edition, in which the plates often have captions that are different from the titles in the "List of Illustrations" (p. 15-16). Specifically, Christmas Day at Bob Cratchit's has a caption that is quite different from the title given in the "List of Illustrations"; the textual quotation that serves as the caption for this illustration of the agreeable family gathering is "Then Bob proposed: 'A Merry Christmas to us all, my dears. God bless us." Which all the family re-echoed. "God bless us every one!" said Tiny Tim, the last of all" (p. 86, verbatim from the centre of the preceding page) in "Stave Three, The Second of the Three Spirits." Although there is no equivalent illustration in the 1843 first edition of the novella, in later editions, many illustrators have included such a scene, notably E. A. Abbey, focussing on the joyful family gathering, "Mr. Scrooge!" said Bob; "I'll give you Mr. Scrooge, the Founder of the feast!" However, as a British artist Charles Green simply may not have had access to a volume published across the Atlantic; Abbey and Green, however, would have shared another resource: Forster's The Life of Charles Dickens, and therefore would have realised that the Cratchits resemble the John and Elizabeth Dickens family of the 1820s.

Passage Illustrated

At last the dinner was all done, the cloth was cleared, the hearth swept, and the fire made up. The compound in the jug being tasted, and considered perfect, apples and oranges were put upon the table, and a shovel-full of chestnuts on the fire. Then all the Cratchit family drew round the hearth, in what Bob Cratchit called a circle, meaning half a one; and at Bob Cratchit's elbow stood the family display of glass. Two tumblers, and a custard-cup without a handle.

These held the hot stuff from the jug, however, as well as golden goblets would have done; and Bob served it out with beaming looks, while the chestnuts on the fire sputtered and cracked noisily. Then Bob proposed:

"A Merry Christmas to us all, my dears. God bless us."

Which all the family re-echoed.

"God bless us every one!" said Tiny Tim, the last of all.

He sat very close to his father's side upon his little stool. Bob held his withered little hand in his, as if he loved the child, and wished to keep him by his side, and dreaded that he might be taken from him. ["Stave Three: The Second of the Three Spirits," page 85]

Commentary: "The Founder of the Feast"

Although Dickens undoubtedly concurred with John Leech that, for the original edition, the image of the Cratchits' family dinner was a less significant group scene than Mr. Fezziwig's Ball, generations of Victorian readers gradually embraced the Cratchits as the quintessential Victorian family, a middle-class family with whom readers of all classes could identify, so that later illustrators such as Charles Green, with a larger number of illustrations to provide,have tended to regard Bob Cratchit as a secondary protagonist whose family fortunes constitute an important thread in the novella from the present into the future.

Three of the six illustrations which E. A. Abbey produced for the Harper and Brothers Household Edition of 1876, for example, depicts the Cratchits, including a picture of the family circle dominated by Bob and his two sons as they toast "the Founder of the Feast" (Davis, The Lives and Times of Ebenezer Scrooge, 83). As Davis, notes, Dickens's denying Mrs. Cratchit even a Christian name does tend to relegate her to the status of supporting character at best; certainly, she and her children do not appear at all in Leech's original sequence; and only Tiny Tim among the six younger Cratchits appears in Barnard's five woodcuts for the Chapman and Hall Household Edition of 1878; She and the children except Tim are generally overshadowed by the outgoing, bustling Bob in those series in which she does make an appearance. Here, as in Abbey's version of the fireside scene after dinner, however, she is presented as nearly equal in size and importance to Bob, and she has already appeared in Mrs. Cratchit and Martha on page 80. In the comparable wood-block engraving by E. A. Abbey, as in Green's lithograph, she sits well to the right-hand margin, a slightly younger, more attractive, less careworn matron presiding over the distaff side of the familial hearth. Although she is accorded greater prominence in Eytinge's 1868 series — welcoming her husband home, her back towards the viewer in Bob Cratchit at Home, and seen only in profile as she serves The Wonderful Christmas Pudding — she is decidedly of lesser importance. Even in the deathbed scene Poor Tiny Tim! she is curiously absent, as if even Tim's imagined death is a male-bonding, gender-restricted experience.

The other immediate sources for Green (sources to which Green would definitely have had access), the British Household Edition illustrations by Fred Barnard and the Harry Furniss illustrations in the Charles Dickens Library Edition (1910), offered the illustrator of the 1912 Pears' Centenary Edition little inspiration for the Cratchit family scene, in which Green places Bob in the dominant position, just left of centre, the largest figure in the composition (his height extended by the picture on the wall behind his head), with the two oldest children beside him, a juxtaposition which has enabled Green to underscore the familial likeness in the profiles of the three. At the precise centre is the character whose fortunes are inexplicably linked to Scrooge's, Tiny Tim with his crutch, stationed at his father's knee. The younger children, including the two younger female Cratchits, share the right-hand register with their mother, who sits in an armchair immediately beside the fireplace. Since, like Fred Barnard and E. A. Abbey, Charles Green would have access to John Forster's The Life of Charles Dickens (3 volumes, 1872-4; revised in 1876 and published in two volumes), he like the American Household Edition illustrator would likely have realised the correspondences between Bob Cratchit and John Dickens, Mrs. Cratchit and Elizabeth Barrow Dickens, the author's parents, and the author's siblings: Belinda (beside Bob) and Martha (behind Tiny Tim) are Letitia (born 1816) and Fanny Dickens (born 1810); the young daughter in front of her mother would be Harriet Dickens (born 1819); Timothy would have corresponded to Alfred Dickens (born 1822); and Peter Cratchit (in the over-sized collar, right rear) would have been young Charles Dickens himself; the remaining boy, beside Mrs. Cratchit, would be the equivalent of Frederick (born 1820). Since the Dickens family lived at 16 Bayham Street, Camden Town, in 1822, the ages of the Dickens children correspond only approximately to the Cratchits of Camden Town; Charles would have been slightly younger than Master Peter Cratchit when in 1824 his father was committed to the Marshalsea for debt (late February 1824). As Green suggests, the Dickens family were a closely knit group, and their days in Camden Town would have been among their most pleasant together, just prior to the debtors' prison experience and Charles's exile to Warren's Blacking, Hungerford Stairs. Born in 1785, John Dickens would have been only thirty-seven at the time of the Camden Town residence, whereas Green's Bob looks markedly older, as does Mrs. Cratchit (Elizabeth Dickens having been born in 1789), than their counterparts in the Dickens family of the early 1820s. However, distributing the eight family members across the space in groups, Green has avoided the effect of a school-photo, giving each family member a unique pose, and breaking up the juxtapositions with chairs (left), toys (centre rear) the hearth-guard (right) and the picture (left of centre, rear); we note, however, that only Bob and the two oldest children toast Mr. Scrooge in an alcoholic punch as the benefactor of the feast (a visual censoring of Dickens's text). They are a rather serious group when one compares to Green's Cratchits.

Relevant Illustrations from the 1868 and 1876 American Editions

Left: Sol Eytinge, Junior's interpretation of the scene in which the family welcomes Bob home, Bob Cratchit at Home. Right: The same artist's interpretation of the Cratchit family Christmas dinner, The Wonderful Pudding. [Click on images to enlarge them.]

Above: E. A. Abbey's reinterpretation of Bob's ironic toast to his employer's being the founder of the Cratchit dinner, "Mr. Scrooge!" said Bob; "I'll give you Mr. Scrooge, the Founder of the feast!" (1876). [Click on image to enlarge it.]

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 in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one.]

References

Davis, Paul. Charles Dickens A to Z: The Essential Reference to His Life and Work. New York: Checkmark and Facts On File, 1999.

Davis, Paul. The Lives and Times of Ebenezer Scrooge. New Haven: Yale UP, 1990.

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. Hardmondsworth: 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 26 August 2015