Old Cheeseman's Marriage

Old Cheeseman's Marriage by Harry Furniss. 1910. 4.8 x 7.5 cm. Dickens's Christmas Stories, volume 16, The Charles Dickens Library Edition, facing page 25. [Click on image to enlarge it.]

Passage Illustrated

It was two or three months afterwards, when, one afternoon, an open carriage stopped at the cricket field, just outside bounds, with a lady and gentleman in it, who looked at the game a long time and stood up to see it played. Nobody thought much about them, until the same little snivelling chap came in, against all rules, from the post where he was Scout, and said, "It's Jane!" Both Elevens forgot the game directly, and ran crowding round the carriage. It was Jane! In such a bonnet! And if you'll believe me, Jane was married to Old Cheeseman.

It soon became quite a regular thing when our fellows were hard at it in the playground, to see a carriage at the low part of the wall where it joins the high part, and a lady and gentleman standing up in it, looking over. The gentleman was always Old Cheeseman, and the lady was always Jane.

The first time I ever saw them, I saw them in that way. There had been a good many changes among our fellows then, and it had turned out that Bob Tarter's father wasn't worth Millions! He wasn't worth anything. Bob had gone for a soldier, and Old Cheeseman had purchased his discharge. But that's not the carriage. The carriage stopped, and all our fellows stopped as soon as it was seen.

"So you have never sent me to Coventry after all!" said the lady, laughing, as our fellows swarmed up the wall to shake hands with her. "Are you never going to do it?"

"Never! never! never!" on all sides. ["The Schoolboy's Story," 23-24.]


In "Cheeseman's Marriage," the former social isolate and impoverished Latin master returns to the school's playing fields in his own baroche, accompanied by his new bride, Jane, the school's former seamstress. Although the illustration intimates that the story's climax is the triumphant return of Old Cheeseman in style, in fact his earlier appearance, shortly after he has received his inheritance, when he forgives his tormentors is the true climax of "The Schoolboy's Story." Thus, although the illustration telegraphs the rags-to-riches story line, Furniss once again misleads the reader into classifying the piece as a romance.

Several months prior to the arrival of the fashionably dressed couple in the open carriage, Dickens has the former Latin master confront the ringleaders of the conspiracy against him and Jane Pitt in a climactic scene of benevolence and forgiveness. This scene at the cricket pitch is not the climax, then, but the beginning of the dénoument, in which the narrator, with no home to go to for the holidays, goes to the Cheesemans'. To make the story conform to the expectations of the fin de siecle reader of magazine romance, perhaps, Furniss implies by his captions and selections of subjects for "The Schoolboy's Story" — Old Cheeseman's Only Friend and Old Cheeseman's Marriage — that the story's climax is the poor Latin master's marrying the school seamstress, whereas this second moment realised in the Furniss sequence is a mere epilogue in the actual story.

The game in progress in the distance (upper centre) might as easily be rugby as cricket, and the carriage is not terribly convincing, but Furniss has drafted the horses, the sign of Old Cheeseman's having entered the monied class, effectively. Moreover, the silk top hat worn by the carriage driver and his wife's millinery both imply their new-found social status, for both were without hats of any kind in the previous plate. The rest of the composition is highly impressionistic, but for the tree and fence (right) which connect this composition structurally to the earlier illustration for the story, Old Cheeseman's Only Friend, five pages earlier. The playground has receded in dimensions as the boys who plagued the young master are reduced in significance and power in the eyes of the narrator. The epilogue no longer concerns the boys' mistrust of their former classmate; rather, the narrator, who now describes himself as a "new boy" but tenuously connected to the seniors who have plagued Old Cheeseman, becomes an intimate of the newly-rich family.

Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham. [You may use these images without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the photographer and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one.]


Davis, Paul. Charles Dickens A to Z: The Essential Reference to His Life and Work. New York: Facts On File, 1998.

Dickens, Charles. Christmas Stories. Il. Harry Furniss. Charles Dickens Library Edition. 18 vols. London: Educational Book Company, 1910. Vol. 16.

Dickens, Charles. Christmas Stories from "Household Words" and "All The Year Round". Centenary Edition. 36 vols. London: Chapman and Hall; New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1911.

Dickens, Charles. Christmas Stories. Il. Edward Dalziel, Harry French, F. A. Fraser, James Mahoney, Townley Green, and Charles Green. The Oxford Illustrated Dickens. Oxford, New York, and Toronto: Oxford U., 1956, rpt. 1989.

Dickens, Charles. Christmas Stories. Il. E. A. Abbey. The Household Edition. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1876.

Dickens, Charles. Christmas Stories from "Household Words" and "All the Year Round". Il. E. G. Dalziel. The Household Edition. London: Chapman and Hall, 1877. Rpt., 1892.

Schlicke, Paul, ed. "Christmas Stories." The Oxford Companion to Dickens. Oxford and New York: Oxford U. , 1999. 100-01.

Thomas, Deborah A. Dickens and The Short Story. Philadelphia: U. Pennsylvania Press, 1982.

Last modified 27 August 2013