The Wedding Dinner at Greenwich by Marcus Stone. Wood engraving by Dalziel. 9 cm high x 13.6 cm wide, vignetted. Second illustration for the sixteenth monthly number of Our Mutual Friend, Chapter Four, "A Runaway Match," in the fourth book, "A Turning." The Authentic edition, facing p. 580. [This part of the novel originally appeared in periodical form in August 1865.] 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.]
The "runaway match" alluded to in the chapter title is that of Bella Wilfer and John Rokesmith, who clandestinely meet and are married in the church at Greenwich, with Bella's father, R. W., and a pensioner of the Greenwich Naval Hospital ("Gruff and Glum" as they mentally nickname him) as witnesses. Having informed Mrs. Wilfer of the fact through the penny post, the couple and R. W. enjoy a wedding breakfast at Rokesmith's rented cottage on Blackheath, not far from Greenwich in Lewisham (curiously enough, the site is associated with Wat Tyler's ill-fated rebellion, to which Dickens alludes earlier in the instalment — Book Four, Chapter One). Later in the day, in a scene chosen by Marcus Stone as the subject of the second August 1865 illustration, the newlyweds and the "Cherub," Bella's father, have a celebratory dinner at a hotel in Greenwich overlooking the Thames, the connecting thread between so many characters and situations in the novel. The precise moment depicted is the groom's consulting the head waiter about beverages to be served with the ensuing meal, the day's offerings of wine and spirits presumably being on the list that John Rokesmith holds in his left hand as he confers with the waiter:
The appearance of dinner here cut Bella short in one of her disappearances: the more effectually, because it was put on under the auspices of a solemn gentleman in black clothes and a white cravat, who looked much more like a clergyman than the clergyman, and seemed to have mounted a great deal higher in the church: not to say, scaled the steeple. This dignitary, conferring in secrecy with John Rokesmith on the subject of punch and wines, bent his head as though stooping to the Papistical practice of receiving auricular confession. Likewise, on John's offering a suggestion which didn't meet his views, his face became overcast and reproachful, as enjoining penance. [579-580]
Again, the charm and vivacity of Dickens's prose is not adequately reflected in Stone's composition, and the humourous sentiments on the conduct of the elder and younger waiters are entirely absent — in fact, the awkward understudy of "the Archbishop of Greenwich" does not appear at all in the dining scene. The whole piece in the text is a delicate farce, but the otherwise realistic drawing of the wedding dinner lacks even a suggestion of comedy. Bella, turning aside From her husband's deliberations with the waiter, seems strangely isolated, and the "cherub" lacks any animation. Stone has patiently recorded the details given and invented others such as the salvers that are plausible enough, but the reader may well complain that Stone could have selected a far more entertaining moment in the proceedings of the wedding dinner for elaboration, particularly Bella's attempting to create the impression (despite her obvious happiness) that they have enjoyed a number of anniversary celebrations prior to this.
Davis, Paul. Charles Dickens A to Z: The Essential Reference to His Life and Work. New York: Checkmark and Facts On File, 1998.
Dickens, Charles. Our Mutual Friend. Illustrated by Marcus Stone. Volume 14 of the Authentic Edition. London: Chapman and Hall; New York: Charles Scribners' Sons, 1901.
Last modified 21 July 2011