Nurse and Mother
13.8 x 8.8 cm framed
Dickens's Christmas Stories, Part Two, Vol. 16 of Charles Dickens Library Edition, facing page 8.
The 1867 Extra Christmas Number's fiction offering in All the Year Round is a Victorian thriller on the Collins model rather than, as its predecessors in Dickens's journals, a framed tale of some seven or eight separate short stories connected by The fortuitous meeting of their various narrators, as in The Seven Poor Travellers. In the numerous illustrated editions, the story has consistently been the subject of illustration. [Commentary continued below.]
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Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham.
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"You do understand. What are the names they have given my poor baby? I ask no more than that. I have read of the customs of the place. He has been christened in the chapel, and registered by some surname in the book. He was received last Monday evening. What have they called him?"
Down upon her knees in the foul mud of the bye-way into which they have strayed — an empty street without a thoroughfare giving on the dark gardens of the Hospital — the lady would drop in her passionate entreaty, but that Sally prevents her.
"Don't! Don't! You make me feel as if I was setting myself up to be good. Let me look in your pretty face again. Put your two hands in mine. Now, promise. You will never ask me anything more than the two words?"
"Walter Wilding." ["The Overture," pages 3-4 in the second half of vol. 16]
Relevant Illustrated Library Edition (1868) and Household Edition (1877) Illustrations
Left: E. G. Dalziel's "He became roused to the knowledge that Obenreizer had set upon him, and that they were struggling desperately in the snow." (1877). Right: Charles Green's dramatic 1868 illustration of the struggle in "No Thoroughfare". [Click on images to enlarge them.]
After Doctor Marigold's Prescriptions, Dickens' interest in what had become the traditional Christmas number apparently declined. In Mugby Junction, as its table of contents indicates, he added the stories by other writers as a kind of inevitable supplement at the end of his own contributions. With No Thoroughfare, the holiday production for the following year, he dropped his usual format and leaned heavily on the help of Wilkie Collins. In 1868, he jettisoned the Christmas number altogether. [Thomas 152-153]
The seasonal offering for 1866, Mugby Junction, proved to be the last of Dickens's "framed tales for Christmas," since 1867's No Thoroughfare is a tightly organised joint venture with just one other writer, Wilkie Collins, who had not contributed any short stories whatsoever to Dickens's seasonal offerings since 1861. Thomas is rather dismissive of the 1867 novella, for which Dickens contributed just the "Overture" and "Act Three," although he collaborated with Collins on the first and fourth acts. She describes the work as
a technically unremarkable tangle of mistaken identity, murder, love, and larceny. Its form is that of a single story, narrated in the third person, without any interpolated pieces. [Thomas 108]
The dramatic scene involving the struggle between the young English wine merchant George Vendale and the villainous Swiss embezzler, Jules Obenreizer, on the snow-covered mountain in the Alps has been particularly suitable for illustration, but, with a larger program at his disposal, Harry Furniss went well beyond his predecessors in the subjects he illustrated in No Thoroughfare. The Illustrated Library Edition of 1868 contained a single, elegant illustration for the 1867 novella: Charles Green's No Thoroughfare, there having been an edition British readers likely never saw the year before, issued by Dickens's American agents, Ticknor and Fields of Boston, and illustrated by their house artist, Sol Eytinge, Junior. The 1876 Harper and Brothers edition of Christmas Books, illustrated by E. A. Abbey, does not contain the novella. Edward Dalziel was Chapman and Hall's chosen illustrator for its own Household Edition volume the year following the publication the Harper and Brothers volume. The British volume, more extensively illustrated, is dedicated entirely to the Christmas Stories from "Household Words" and "All the Year Round". E. G. Dalziel's execution of the illustrations for No Thoroughfare focuses on the characters, but except for He became roused to the knowledge that Obenreizer had set upon him, and that they were struggling desperately in the snow, these are surprisingly prosaic and static for so tension-filled a narrative. Because the novella comprises five parts — "The Overture" and four "Acts" — Furniss has provided four illustrations: Nurse and Mother for "The Overture" (although it is positioned in the first act); Obenreizer for "Act One: The Curtain Rises"; Marguerite for "Act One: The Curtain Rises," but positioned in the second act; and The Struggle on the Mountain for "Act Three: On The Mountain."
It is entirely possible that this novella in its original periodical context was one of the first Dickens works that Harry Furniss, born in 1854, read; arriving in London in the early 1870s, he probably did not see the story performed as a play at the New Adelphi in December 1867. Harry Furniss might have caught one of the few performances of the play at London's Olympic Theatre in November 1875, since he had already been living in the city some two years by that time. However, having had the benefit of seeing both the 1868 and 1877 British illustrated editions of the novella in Chapman and Hall anthologies called Christmas stories, in his own illustrations he is certainly reacting to those earlier, illustrated editions, as well as to his own initial adolescent impressions of the novella.
With four scenes available to him for realisation, Furniss elected to emphasize the interview between the young nurse at London's Foundling Hospital and the abandoned child's mother, to which the authors ascribe a specific date and time: 30 November, 1835, just after 10:00 P. M. As the text suggests, the young women are of approximately the same age, but the mother (right) is better dressed, suggesting that she occupies a higher rank in society. In the background Furniss has placed the lit windows of the Hospital for Foundling Children, and the gas-lamp (right) suggests the time. Although Furniss has not included them, the two women are looking at the young mother's present to Sally, two guineas wrapped in paper — a sizeable sum in the 1830s. The illustrator therefore intensifies the mystery as to why a young woman of obvious means would give up her infant son. Clearly, she has bribed Sally so that, over the years, she may follow the boy's progress. Her incorrect identification of another's son as "Walter Wilding" leads to subsequent plot complications.
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Bolton, H. Philip. Dickens Dramatized. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1987.
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 and The Uncommercial Traveller. Il. Sol Eytinge, Jr. The Diamond Edition. 16 vols. Boston: Ticknor and Fields, 1867.
Dickens, Charles. Christmas Stories. Il. Harry Furniss. Charles Dickens Library Edition. 18 vols. London: Educational Book Company, 1910. 2 vols.
Dickens, Charles. Christmas Stories from "Household Words" and "All The Year Round". Il. Fred Walker, F. A. Fraser, Harry French, E. G. Dalziel, J. Mahony [sic], Townley Green, and Charles Green. Centenary Edition. 36 vols. London: Chapman & Hall; New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1911. Volume Two.
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.P., 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. P., 1999. Pp. 100-101.
Thomas, Deborah A. Dickens and The Short Story. Philadelphia: U. Pennsylvania Press, 1982.
Last modified 15 October 2013