Mr. Bumble and Mrs. Corney
Sol Eytinge, Jr.
Dickens's The Adventures of Oliver Twist, also, Pictures from Italy, and American Notes for General Circulation Diamond Edition)
Although George Cruikshank made the most of his opportunities to satirize the arch hypocrite Bumble, the venial Beadle of Oliver's home parish., and his wife, formerly the widow Mrs. Corney, subsequent illustrators such as Sol Eytinge have continued the visual satire of the pair.
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"Mrs. Corney," said the beadle, smiling as men smile who are conscious of superior information, "out-of-door relief, properly managed, ma'am: is the porochial safeguard. The great principle of out-of-door relief is, to give the paupers exactly what they don't want; and then they get tired of coming."
"Dear me!" exclaimed Mrs. Corney. "Well, that is a good one, too!"
"Yes. Betwixt you and me, ma'am," returned Mr. Bumble, "that's the great principle; and that's the reason why, if you look at any cases that get into them owdacious newspapers, you'll always observe that sick families have been relieved with slices of cheese. That's the rule now, Mrs. Corney, all over the country. But, however," said the beadle, stopping to unpack his bundle, "these are official secrets, ma'am; not to be spoken of; except, as I may say, among the porochial officers, such as ourselves. This is the port wine, ma'am, that the board ordered for the infirmary; real, fresh, genuine port wine; only out of the cask this forenoon; clear as a bell, and no sediment!"
Having held the first bottle up to the light, and shaken it well to test its excellence, Mr. Bumble placed them both on top of a chest of drawers; folded the handkerchief in which they had been wrapped; put it carefully in his pocket; and took up his hat, as if to go. [Chapter 23, "Which contains the substance of a pleasant conversation between Mr. Bumble and a Lady; and shows that even a Beadle may be susceptible on some points," p. 100]
Sol Eytinge, Junior, in the 1867 Diamond Edition volume that Dickens himself may very well have perused on his second American reading tour, depicts Bumble in full uniform presenting Mrs. Corney with the bottle of port that technically is not his property, implying his abuse of authority. However, Eytinge's dual study lacks the amorous overtones of the Cruikshank serial plate, Mr. Bumble and Mrs. Corney taking tea (February 1838). In contrast, Household Edition illustrator James Mahoney realised the same room and figures, although not precisely the same scene as Cruikshank's in the round, but transforms the playful cats into tranquil felines dozing before the fire as Mr. Bumble prepares to propose to the widow, tearfully considering her single marital status. Sentiment has unfortunately replaced humour, and Bumble in this illustration seems genuinely concerned about the lachrymose widow (when in fact he has just scrutinized her silverware and china). However, in 1910 Harry Furniss reinjected the humorous element and the playful cats in his visual satire of the corpulent agents of the Poor Law. He even retains the background portrait and birdcage, adding, moreover, a grandfather clock, perhaps to represent Mrs. Corney's apprehension that, at her age, she is unlikely to replace the lamented Mr. Corney — certainly it implies her affluence. Conspicuous in his drawing, however, is the door to the rear at which the knocking will shortly come, interrupting the tender moment between two venial characters who very much deserve one another. Both Cruikshank and Furniss depict the breakdown in this marriage as Mrs. Corney, still the matron of the workhouse, asserts her authority over her hapless husband.
Relevant Illustrations from the serial edition (1838), Household Edition (1871), and Charles Dickens Library Edition (1910)
Left: George Cruikshank's Mr. Bumble and Mrs. Corney taking tea (1838). Right: James Mahoney's "Don't sigh, Mrs. Corney" (1871). [Click on images to enlarge them.]
Left: Harry Furniss's Charles Dickens Library Edition illustration Mr. Bumble and Mrs. Corney; right: Furniss's depiction of the breakdown of the marriage in Mrs. Bumble turns Mr. Bumble out (1910). [Click on images to enlarge them.]
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Last modified 15 October 2014