Christmas Stories, 121. Dickens's The Battle of Life: A Love Story was first published for Christmas 1846.by E. A. Abbey. 10 x 13.4 cm framed. The Household Edition (New York: Harper & Bros., 1876) of Dickens's
Context of the Illustration:
There was a sudden tumult in the house. She put her hands upon her ears. A wild scream, such as no hands could shut out, was heard; and Grace — distraction in her looks and manner — rushed out at the door.
"Grace!" He caught her in his arms. "What is it! Is she dead!"
She disengaged herself, as if to recognise his face, and fell down at his feet.
A crowd of figures came about them from the house. Among them was her father, with a paper in his hand.
"What is it!" cried Alfred, grasping his hair with his hands, and looking in an agony from face to face, as he bent upon his knee beside the insensible girl. "Will no one look at me? Will no one speak to me? Does no one know me? Is there no voice among you all, to tell me what it is!"
There was a murmur among them. "She is gone." ["Part The Second," Bradbury & Evans edition, 117-19; the Household Edition by Chapman & Hall, 143; Harper & Bros., 130]
Relevant Illustrations from the 1846 and 1878 Editions
Left: Fred Barnard's handling of the scene, "What is the matter?" he exclaimed. "I don't know. I — I am afraid to think. Go back. Hark!", with Alfred Heathfield supporting a distracted Clemency Newcome (1878). Centre: Richard Doyle's Part the Second, in which the Doctor, Alfred, Clemency, and Grace respond in very different ways to Marion's disappearance. Right, John Leech's The Night of the Return, with a pair of contrasting but synchronous scenes, inside and outside the Doctor's home (1846).
Comparison of the Three Illustrations of the Shocked Reaction to Marion's Disappearance
In the entirely new series of illustrations for the fourth Christmas Book, both E. A. Abbey and Fred Barnard chose different strategies for providing visual adjuncts to Dickens's description of the melodramatic disappearance of Marion Jeddler, originally realised in Part the Second and The Night of the Return. Abbey seems to be reacting to and Barnard seems to be rejecting the work of Dickens's 1846 illustrators. In this case, both Household Edition illustrators have corrected Leech's famous misstep in the original edition, and in a somewhat theatrical manner have focussed on the family's and guests' varying responses to Marion's clandestine departure and explanatory note. Not wishing to repeat Doyle's Part the Second proleptic illustration, Leech had inadvertently provided for a false resolution to the mystery; he should have realised that Marion's departure occurs somewhat after the hour at which Michael Warden had to catch the tide to begin his voyage to the Continent. As Jane Rabb Cohen notes,
Leech apparently read only as much of the narrative as he thought essential to his purpose. Consequently he was deceived into thinking, as Dickens intended his readers but not his artists to be, that Marion Jeddler had eloped with Michael Warden when in fact she had only run away to her aunt. The mistake was viewed by Dickens with particular anguish, doubtless compounded by Browne's representation of Paul and Mrs. Pipchin in Dombey. "Of course, I need not tell you, my dear fellow," Dickens cried to Forster [who, in Dickens's absence in Switzerland, was acting as Dickens's London agent in managing the book's production details], "Warden has no business in the elopement scene. He was never there!" [?12 December 1846; cited in Cohen, 147]
Since John Forster in writing his Life of Charles Dickens (1872-74) almost twenty-five years later called attention to Leech's translating his misreading the situation on the night of Alfred's return into the lower register of The Night of the Return, both Household Edition illustrators, Barnard and Abbey, have addressed rather than replicated the error. And each illustrator provides an admirable solution: avoiding entirely the cause of Marion's disappearance in order to sustain the mystery concocted by Dickens, Barnard realises the exact moment of Alfred's arrival at the doctor's door, just as a frantic Clemency opens it, aware that Marion has just disappeared from the dance (shown in the panel above in Leech's illustration). Too late to catch the girl, by coincidence she runs into Alfred, well muffled against the cold, windy night, suggested by the swirling skirts of Clemency (an older woman in respectable eighteenth-century attire who looks nothing like the awkward servant of the original publication) and the agitated leaves in the tree by the door. Barnard has her look to the left, rather than at Alfred directly, as she grabs him with her left hand. She raises her right hand in agitation, as if to call out and make herself heard above the wind. A nice bit of detailing is Alfred's fitted travelling coat and small-brimmed hat, both consistent with the fashions of the late eighteenth century, signifying the passage of time since he left the village for medical school, and perhaps even the current fashions of the Continent. Alfred is alarmed, but looks to Clemency for an answer, rather than in the direction of her earnest glance. Thus, Barnard's illustration reflects a moment several pages earlier, and analeptically focuses the reader's attention on Alfred's initial reaction to Marion's disappearance.
In a stage managed scene worthy of Dion Boucicault's spectacular melodramas, E. A. Abbey realises the subsequent atmospheric and emotionally charged "group" tableau, just after Grace's fainting. Having incorrectly at first surmised that Marion has died, Alfred begins to comprehend that Marion has fled rather than confront him about their engagement, and the merrymakers search in vain in the darkness for any trace of the doctor's daughter. In essence, Abbey has revitalised Doyle's earlier illustration, "Part the Second" by making the reactions of the characters more consistent with Dickens's text and eliminating Clemency. In Doyle's 1846 picture, Alfred bends over a Jeddler daughter (as yet unidentified), and Dr. Jeddler holds aloft a candle and scans the night for any trace of Marion. Dickens's supporting this choice of opening illustration for the second part of the story in that her supported telegraphing to the reader than one of the daughters would disappear by the end of the chapter. In Abbey's reworking of Doyle's illustration (which also includes a thumbnail of Warden's earlier riding accident), the distraught Dr. Jeddler (left) has evidently read the note that she has left, and vainly calls out, while Alfred has sunk down, crying as he holds Grace's hand; in total, this is a memorable tableau to close the second part, the darkness engulfing the orchard in the background, and the chiaroscuro created by the unseen, open doorway (the reader's vantage point) highlighting Grace's period dress — with a rose representative of her innocence in the bodice.
Reading the illustration is insufficient to determine which of the sisters lies senseless on the ground, so that the reader must mediate between the text on page 130 and the image, which occupies the central half of page 131 facing. The former scenes of domestic bliss recalled by the denuded fruit tree (a presence shrouded by the darkness in the background, in the field between Dr. Jeddler and Alfred) have been exploded by anarchic feelings, but whether of passion, self-sacrifice, or utter wilfulness the reader cannot at this point determine, and must read on. The springtime idyll of the opening scene in the orchard is recalled by the tree in the background, which now spreads barren limbs in the background as an emotionally overwrought Alfred collapses over the senseless body of Grace (right) and the doctor (hardly the tower of masculine presence of mind holding a candle aloft, as in Doyle's illustration), holds his own head in his hands (left).
In eliminating the lively interior scene of the Christmas dance Abbey has missed an opportunity to contrast the joy of the communal gathering with the clandestine departure of Marion into the outer darkness — but to do so would have required the artist to give up part of the mystery of Marion's disappearance, for he would have had to depict the girl leaving without the assistance of Michael Warden. Although neither Leech in "The Night of the Return" nor Doyle in "Part the Second" nor Abbey here realizes the wintry backdrop as effectively as Fred Barnard, Abbey's treatment of the composition is highly effective in his juxtaposing seven figures in individualised poses to suggest the range of emotions, from shock and grief (the Doctor, Alfred, and Grace) to the curiosity of less emotionally engaged onlookers (right). In this regard, Leech's handling of the physical setting seems particularly inept since, in order to show Marion's youthful figure to advantage, Leech has her depart into a cold winter's night without a coat or even a hooded cloak, and he has omitted the snow and wind that Barnard so ably suggests.
Accordingly, the scenes presented in the Household Edition volumes published in New York and London are an improvement on the original realisations by Richard Doyle and John Leech in the first edition. Moreover, the wood engravings by Barnard and Abbey would have made effective "curtains" in the serial novel that Dickens had at one point contemplated, the nineteen-month novel that the Christmas novella The Battle of Life might have become, had he not been so focussed on the composition of Dombey and Son.
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.]
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Created 21 December 2012