The Costuming and Set Design of Plays Adapted from The Christmas Books: Edward Stirling's A Christmas Carol or, Past, Present and Future, C. Z. Barnett's A Christmas Carol or, The Miser's Warning!, Mark Lemon and Gilbert A. A'Beckett's The Chimes, and Albert Smith's The Battle of Life (1844-1846): Realisations of the Christmas Book Illustrations.
he following essay discusses the costuming and set design of plays derived from the Christmas Books of Charles Dickens in the 1840s that scrupulously follow the descriptions in the original novellas and, in particular, the plates of the Christmas Book illustrators Leech, Maclise, Doyle, and Stanfield (the latter artist also being a noted theatrical scene-designer). Although one might expect the costume lists in such penny-dreadfuls as numbers 722, 819, and 1,001 in the Dicks' Standard Plays series (which, according to Bolton, were printed as late as 1886 and 1887) to reflect later productions, the directions in the Dicks' plays remain virtually identical to those in earlier printed texts in such series as Webster's, Lacy's, and Duncombe's, and are further substantiated by contemporary reviews and plates in such periodicals as The Illustrated London News. Evidence suggests that all four dramatic adaptations, like those of the other novellas in the series (The Cricket on the Hearth of 1845 and The Haunted Man of 1848) exhibit a fidelity to the illustrations; further, the adaptations of A Christmas Carol, The Chimes, and particularly of The Battle of Life exhibit a consciousness of period style in theatrical costuming new to the British stage. The cause was partly that the illustrators of the original works were attempting to achieve a greater historical accuracy and partly that the new dramaturgy was emphasizing the principle of realization in attempting to create stage effect.
Although William Macready's Shakespeare revivals at Drury Lane attempted the enliven a rediscovery of the Bard's texts with costuming and sets informed by the new technique of historical research with respect to set design and costuming, the work of the Minor Theatres with respect to these three Christmas Books was comparatively straight-forward, owing to the period accuracy of the original illustrations. Charles Dickens himself took great interest in the fidelity of his dramatic adaptors — sanctioned and unsanctioned — to his original intentions. Realizing that the recently-published A Christmas Carol would be fair game for the piratical hacks at London's minor theatres, early in 1844 Dickens agreed to advise the stage's most prolific pilferer of Boz, Edward Stirling, in the Adelphi's production, which opened Monday, February 5th for a run of forty-two performances. Although the script was never printed, the Lord Chamberlain's manuscript indicates that Stirling attempted to realize the various plates in the novella, as had been his practice when placing The Pickwick Papers on the City of London stage in March, 1837. Duncombe's No. 26
shows him feeling his way toward the method of presenting a novel through the tableau realization of the illustrations. His tendency through much of the play is to use the plates for setting and costume, and to render them as action, with at most some passing point of rough realization. (Meisel 252)
Dickens himself was quick to notice this practice of the new dramaturgy in George Almar's adaptation of Oliver Twist given at the Adelphi Theatre on 19 November 1838. To Forster he wrote that, despite his chagrin at seeing his story placed on the stage without his permission, he found "The tableaux formed from Browne's Sketches exceedingly good" (Letters, I, 460). From the outset of the serialization of The Pickwick Papers, Dickens was highly particular about the plates for his works; in the 1840s, he took great care in orchestrating the illustrations for Martin Chuzzlewit and the Christmas Books. In fact, in 1846 he set The Battle of Life in the age of Oliver Goldsmith's The Vicar of Wakefield (that is, the last quarter of the eighteenth century) "for the sake of anything good in the costume" (Letters, IV, 648).
The plate accompanying the Illustrated London News' review of Stirling's drama in three staves indicates that the "jolly Giant, glorious to see" (Christmas Carol, Penguin, p. 86), the Ghost of Christmas Present, was costumed in the play exactly as described in the original work, while Scrooge appeared in nightcap, slippers, and gown. However, Stirling has set the discovery of Ignorance and Want against the backdrop of moor and mountain, and not (as suggested in both the text of the Christmas Book and Leech's plate) a blighted urban setting with sooty, leafless trees in the foreground and factory smokestacks in back. Also, the children in the play are less ragged and ill-kempt than those in Leech's celebrated plate in the novella.
Since the Webb and Barnett versions of the Carol opened on the same night as the Adelphi's, neither Fernie and Bailey at Sadler's Well's nor the wardrobe-crew of the Surrey had the advantage of being able to copy the costumes in the Stirling production. However, since all three plays appeared seven weeks after the novella's publication, all three playhouses had the plates as models for costume design. The costume lists and illustrations in the Dicks and Duncombe editions indicate that, while Marley's Ghost appears to a living partner who is fully-dressed (although wearing a night cap), a wretched Scrooge attired in a nightgown but sans cap appeals for mercy to the Ghost of Christmas to Come in a scene that reasonably may be said to realise Leech's plate in the novella.
It may be argued that the cover illustrations for these little pulp publications are based on each of the novellas' plates directly, rather than on the costumes and sets of the actual productions. If so, then the cover illustrations should accord closely with the book's plates. However, since Scrooge is fully-dressed in Duncombe, one should be inclined to credit the illustration as based on the actual performance of the script, in which Barnett has the dead partner's ghost appear to Scrooge in his office, rather than in his bedroom, as in the novel. The artist responsible for the engraving of the Duncombe frontispiece is given as a "Mr. Findlay" (Barnett, 3) and his work is supposedly based on "a Drawing taken expressly in the Theatre." Although the Dicks' edition does not mention that it is the text of the play as given in "the prompter's book" (Duncombe, 3), its cover plate is graphically more effective, with bolder lines and larger scale, and it mentions that the play was "First Produced at the Royal Surrey Theatre, Feb. 5th, 1844" (Barnett, 1). The initials "DHF" which appear bottom right on Scrooge's tombstone may indicate that Mr. Findlay was also responsible for the Dicks' cover. Although the evidence for the authenticity of this plate is inconclusive, the play's cover-plate deviates somewhat from Leech's "The Last of the Sprints" in that it does not show a tree, has moved the church's window down and to the left, has increased the height of the area railing, has inserted two further grave-markers, and has enlarged Scrooge's marker considerably. Leech's plate emphasizes the mute Ghost's gesture and is static; the Dicks' plate emphasizes the dynamic attitude of Scrooge as he clutches at the spirit's veil in desperation.
In The Victorian Theatre: A Pictorial View, Richard Southern reprints an illustration from the Adelphi's production (as originally given in The Pictorial Times) that indicates both costuming and scenery very similar to those on the Dicks' cover, although the cemetery is more rustic, with two trees (a bushy deciduous tree to the right, and a large conifer haloing the figure of Christmas to Come) and the end of a church in the background. However, the plate's important details are Scrooge's nightcap and dressing gown, which accord perfectly with those items of dress depicted in the plate printed in the Illustrated London News for an earlier scene. The only play for which a list of costumes is readily available, unfortunately, is the C. Z. Barnett "unauthorized" version of A Christmas Carol staged at the Surrey. Dicks' and Duncombe's editions give these descriptions:
SCROOGE. — Brown old-fashioned coat, tea colour breeches, double-breasted white waistcoat, Second dress: Dressing-gown and slippers. FRANK. — Private dress. MR. CHEERLY. — Blue coat, cord breeches, and gaiters. MR. HEARTLY. — Green coat, black breeches, top boots. BOB CRATCHIT. — Black old-fashioned coat, black trousers. DARK SAM. — Dark green shooting coat and breeches, ragged. Second dress: Shabby black coat. EUSTON. — Shabby private clothes. MR. FEZZIWIG. — Black coat, black breeches, double breasted waistcoat, and striped stockings. MARLEY'S GHOST. — Slate-coloured coat, waistcoat, and pantaloons, black boots, white frill, white band. CHRISTMAS PAST. — White dress trimmed with summer flowers, rich belt, fleshings and sandals. CHRISTMAS PRESENT. — Long green robe, trimmed with ermine, flesh body and legs, wreath round head. CHRISTMAS TO COME. — Very long black gown. TINY TIM. — Blue jacket and trousers. ALL THE LADIES. — Modern dresses. (Dicks, p. 2; Duncombe, p. 4).
Although Dicks and Duncombe perceived their market to be amateur theatrical groups, the above costume list reflects both the original's descriptions and plates, as well as the plates of the Adelphi production printed in the popular press. Furthermore, certain details of costuming suggest a scrupulous attention to historical accuracy. For example, to the modern audience it would seem natural enough that old Fezziwig, who employed Scrooge in his youth as a clerk, should not appear attired in "modern dress," since he appears in a vision of the past, but rather should be seen at his Christmas ball wearing habiliments from the first decade of the 19th c. The costume described above for Fezziwig is consistent with that which he wears in Leech's "Mr. Fezziwig's Ball." From the 1750s the fashion for gentlemen had not been trousers, which "Apart from artisans and a few eccentrics were not worn by civilians" (Cunnington, 214) until late in the Regency, but "breeches quartered below the knee over the stocking" (Cunnington, 232), exactly as in Leech's plate and the Dicks and Duncombe costuming directions. The striped stockings specified reveal that the ward robe mistress and costume designer were aware that this sort of leg-wear was "popular in the 1780s and 1790s; vertical stripes commoner in the former, horizontal in the latter decade" (Cunnington, p. 232). Since it is this latter type that Leech depicts, the scene is to be dated some forty years prior to Scrooge's present. The waistcoat that Fezziwig wears in Leech's illustration is not the double-breasted model called for in the costuming directions, but is still perfectly consistent with late eighteenth-century fashion, whereas a contemporary waistcoat would have been "of embroidered or brocaded silk, . . . [with] roll collar and lapels, and pointed waist" (Foster, 63). This abandoning of the traditional practice of costuming in "modern dress" dates back to Planché's designing historically-accurate costumes for John Kemble's King John in 1823, and his publishing British Costume in 1834. In the case of the Christmas Book adaptations, however, innovative costume design proved unnecessary because the original works offered reliable guides to costuming in the ac companying plates. Curiously, all the ladies — including, presumably, Mrs. Fezziwig — wear "Modern dresses," although Leech's colourized plate of the ball indicates that she, too, should be in period costume. In fact, the published scripts of Barnett's play delineate the costumes of the male characters in far more detail than those of the females (admittedly all secondary characters in the Carol). Perhaps because their wearers are more important to the dramatic actions of Lemon and A'Beckett's The Chimes (1844) and Smith's The Battle of Life (1846) — and perhaps because Dickens himself served as consultant for these officially-sanctioned adaptations at the Adelphi and the Lyceum respectively — the women's costumes are described in as great detail as those of the men. For The Chimes the list runs as follows:
PROLOGUE. — White shirt, trimmed with holly; head dress, and a holly wreath; fleshings. TOBY VECK. — Dark green short coat; brown breeches; gray vest; black gaiters; short white apron, with porter's ticket attached; high-crowned black hat; gray hand mufflers. ALDERMAN CUTE. — BLACK frock coat; white vest; brown striped trousers. FILER. — Blue coat; white vest; gray trousers. CHOKER. — Large blue coat; white vest; green plaid trousers. RICHARD. — First dress: Check shirt, sleeves turned up; red waistcoat; fustian trousers; blue stockings; laced-up boots; leather apron; brown cloth cap. Second dress: Shabby black coat; torn trousers; old shoes; and an old white hat. Third dress: Brown body coat; striped vest; light gray trousers. JABEZ. — Torn trousers; dirty shoes; red waistcoat; an old white great-coat; a comforter round his neck; an old white hat with a sprig of holly stock in it. JOHN. — Modern livery. TUGBY. — First dress: Blue livery coat; yellow vest and breeches, trimmed with silver. Second dress: Brown body coat; buff-striped vest; black breeches; holland sleeves. SIR JOSEPH BOWLEY, BART., M.P. — Dark green body coat; white vest; white trousers; and white broad-brimmed hat. MR. FISH. — Modern black suit. WILL FERN. — First and third dresses Smock frock; velveteen breeches; striped vest; splashed long leather gaiters; highlows; and black hat. Second dress: Ibid.; smock frock torn. MR. LINT. — lain black suit. GOBLIN OF THE BELL. — Long gray serge gown; gray muslin draperies. GOBLINS. — Ibid. MEGGY VECK. — First and fifth dresses: Blue spotted cotton gown; small check apron; straw bonnet. Second dress: Brown stuff dress; white apron. Third dress: Widow's dress and cap. Fourth dress: Spotted cotton dress. MRS. CHICKENSTALKER. — Cotton dress; white apron; scarlet handkerchief; large leghorn bonnet, trimmed with scarlet ribbons. LADY BOWLEY. — A handsome modern dress. LILIAN. — First dress: Brown frock; straw bonnet. Second dress: Brown net over silver tissue. LILIAN (aged eighteen). — Brown stuff dress and white muslin handkerchief. In the third quarter: A bonnet and handsome shawl. VILLAGERS, PEASANTS, AND VISITORS. — Modern costume. (Dicks, 2; Webster, 3-4)
Whereas the costume lists for The Carol and The Battle reveal some concern for historical authenticity, that for The Chimes shows instead an intense interest in colour and style because in this production these aspects of costume serve to differentiate between the present reality at beginning and end and the envisioned future. Only Leech through costuming Richard in seedy garb in "Richard and Margaret" in the novella follows a similar practice, and (to save expense) none of the plates in the second Christmas Book was coloured. However, the stage adaptation did attempt to follow the plates in the play's costuming, if the costume list and the plates in the Illustrated London News are to be credited. The female characters in the second Christmas Book play, as in the first, wear "Modern Dress," a term which when applied to ladies wear meant
Full sleeves and short round waists still linger among the elderly and unfashionable in the early 1840s, though for the up-to-date skirts are set in tight low gathers. . . . (Ginsburg, 167)
The gauging of the material to the waist produces the "characteristic dome-shaped skirt" (Foster, 62) seen in Leech's "New Year's Dance" on The Chimes' Mrs. Chickenstalker, as well as on Meggy Veck in illustrations of the play run in the Illustrated London News (4 Jan., 1845, p. 16; 11 Jan., 1845, p. 29) to accompany articles on the Adeiphi's production. Whereas such a dress was inappropriate for Mrs. Fezziwig in the C. Z. Barnett adaptation of the Carol Leech's plate of her dancing with her husband is the only one in the novel depicting the past and the Surrey may not have felt scrupulous authenticity necessary for the women's costumes.
The officially-sanctioned dramatic adaptation of The Chimes, however, seems to have paid far greater attention to all aspects of costume implied by the cuts of Maclise, Doyle, Leech, and Stanfield that had been dropped right into the printed text. For example, Lilian, the child from the country, is distinguished by a "short-sleeved dress of linen, cotton, or wool, which reveals unfashionably bare arms" (Foster, p. 72), in both the novella's and the Illustrated London News's plates — like the country labourer's wife in Collinson's Answering the Emigrant's Letter (1850). The man in that painting wears the same old-fashioned breeches seen on Tugby (as part of his servant's livery), Will Fern, and Trotty Veck. The gaiters worn by Fern and Veck mark the former as country-bred and the latter as sartorially conservative (as is appropriate to his ticket-porter's dress, which is a kind of uniform). By contrast, young Richard the blacksmith, who is no socially better than they, consistently wears trousers that reveal him to be younger and London-bred.
Such attention to costuming detail begins in the plays from the Christmas Books with the attire worn by Marley's ghost in C. Z. Barnett's Carol. Taking as his model the outfit worn by Marley in Leech's plate for the novella, Barnett describes this character wearing slate-coloured pantaloons, a garment something between eighteenth-century breeches and nineteenth-century trousers. The Duncombe cover plate is consistent with the play's description of Marley's costume in that the figure in that cut wears both the pantaloons and high, black boots. Planché in British Costume, which was beginning to serve as a valuable source of information on period costume in the theatre, dated the fashion for pantaloons and Hessian boots to the period which saw the outbreak of the French Revolution. It was at this historical point, the 1790s, that Planche ceased to describe the development of men's fashions because anything subsequent to that decade would be (as he remarks) in the recollection of most of [his] readers. Short boots and loose trousers, the result of the visit of the Cossacks to London, have, together with frock-coats, rendered our costume more convenient and less formal. . . . (316) Marley's high boots in Leech's illustration, and subsequently in the Barnett adaptation, are a deliberate attempt, then, to evoke for the public a figure from an earlier era, for, although the death of Marley occurred a mere seven years before the story's opening, the costume he wears seems to be what he might have worn in youth. The boot-tops obscure precisely whether his pantaloons end at or just above the ankles, but reveal that Marley is definitely wearing neither breeches like Scrooge in the Duncombe plate, nor trousers such as those indicated in the costume list for the younger Bob Cratchit, whose old-fashioned coat bespeaks his poverty. While several of the male characters in The Chimes wear "Modern suits" and Euston and Frank in the Carol wear "Private dress" — which may both refer to the "Fashionable day dress" of Higgins's painting Unknown Gentleman, 1842 — the costuming of the Barnett play seems less contemporary. For example, while two of the male characters in the Carol wear trousers, five are designated as wearing breeches, unfashionable in the metropolis since the advent of pantaloons but worn by countrymen as late as the mid-nineteenth-century. By contrast, in The Chimes only Trotty, Tugby, and Fern (a poor, old town-man; a servant; and a rustic) wear breeches, six males wear trousers. Furthermore, with respect to materials and details of feminine dress, the costume list for The Chimes is, as has been noted, far more specific. The plaids, checks, and stripes of the fabrics mentioned clearly point to contemporary styles. Even allowing for Will Fern's smock-frock, the usual garment of the rural labourer throughout the 19th c., the costumes of The Chimes reveal a consistent sense of taste, style, and design. The dearth of information about such matters as patterns and fabrics, as well as the prevalence of breeches, indicates that Barnett's Carol was suggesting a setting in the previous decade, a period of transition in male attire. Two interesting pieces of attire referred to in the Barnett play are the apocryphal Dark Sam's "Dark green shooting coat" (Dicks, p. 2; Duncombe, p. 4) and the canonical Bob Cratchit's "four and ninepenny gossamer" (Dicks, p. 4; Duncombe, p. 8), neither of which appear in the original novella. While the former article of male apparel was neither smart nor up-to-date, the latter was both. The chief feature of such a garment as the pickpocket, Dark Sam (a character borrowed from melodrama by Barnett, who was undoubtedly thinking of the underworld characters of Oliver Twist), wears would be its plentiful and capacious pockets. These were originally intended to serve as receptacles for a huntsman's powder flask and percussion caps, and so forth, with "two large 'hare' (later known as "poacher's pockets in the skirt linings" (Cunnington & Mansfield, 196). Such a garment, originally intended for the well-to-do sportsman, would have proved of great efficacy in the Artful Dodger's trade, especially while haunting wintry streets in London. Dark Sam's is appropriately "ragged," presumably second- or third-hand, but is nevertheless a castoff version of the type of garment popularized by George (Beau) Brummel at the beginning of the century.
Sam's only victim on Christmas Eve is the homeward-bound Bob Cratchit, who, having just been paid, had left his office "feel as light as four and ninepenny gossamer." The metaphor was originally the advertised name of "a make of silk hat recommended as extremely light; hence, used jocularly for a hat generally," according to the Oxford English Dictionary. In British Costume (1834), James Robinson Planché had complained of the weight and attendant discomfort of the Beaver, so that by the mid-1830s Dickens's Sam Weller was sporting a "wentilation gossamer" in the twelfth chapter of The Pickwick Papers. As to the price which Barnett's Bob Cratchit quotes, Mayhew in The London Labourer, II, 43 (1851), reports that he had "sold hats from 6d. to 3s. 6d., but very seldom 3s. 6d. The 3s. 6d. ones would wear out two new gossamers." By 1867, Captain Hawtree in Tom Robertson's Caste wears a fourteen-and-six-penny gossamer" (p. 58) in contrast to Sam's common, working-class cloth cap, which he apparently even fails to recognize as a hat at all in Act One. While Dickens's underpaid clerk is a thread-bare family-man in Dickens's story, C. Z. Barnett's adaptation suggests that Bob Cratchit (played by comedian Samuel Vale at the Surrey) is decidedly middle-class, for his headgear establishes him as thoroughly a thoroughly respectable bourgeois, albeit under constrained financial circumstances.
The initial Smith adaptation, The Cricket on the Hearth (1845), although the highwater of the deluge of Dickens's novels on the early Victorian stage, offers little that is noteworthy in its costuming. At one point, however, in the Lyceum production Samuel Emery as John Peerybingle appeared at the doorway of his cottage in the genuine garb of a carrier, an actual wagon visible behind him. For the second Smith adaptation, Dickens provided a domestic tale lacking the usual supernatural machinery of ghosts, goblins, or pantomime fairies. Nevertheless, this foreshortened novel, The Battle of Life was the vehicle for authentic historical costuming. Although the manuscript does not give the play's date as "about One Hundred Years ago" (Dicks, p. 1) as on the Dicks cover, the costumes indicated in the topboots worn by Warden and the smalls by Britain give the drama's chronological setting as the one that Dickens proposed to Forster when writing the book (Letters IV, 648). Specifically, the novelist was considering the "coats and gowns of dear old Goldsmith's day" for the illustrations. The costumes of the characters in the novella's plates, apparently imitated by the Lyceum production, date the action of the story to the 1770s, the same period in which Oliver Goldsmith set his (The Vicar of Wakefield (published posthumously, in 1776), which Dickens mentioned to Forster in September 1846 as a possible textual model for his new Christmas Book, another possible model of duplicity and misapprehensions, (She Stoops to Conquer having been produced in 1773, the year before Goldsmith's death. These are the Dicks' costuming notes:
DR. JEDDLER. — First dress Old-fashioned black suit. Second dress: Dark brown. ALFRED. — First dress Green suit; white waistcoat. Second dress Dark drab. SNITCHEY. — First dress Snuff-coloured suit. Second dress: Dark green. CRAGGS. — Light blue coat; black smalls; white vest. BEN. — First dress Old-fashioned livery. Second dress: Green coat; drab smalls; and red vest. WARDEN. — First dress: Blue coat, trimmed with lace; buff vest; high boots. Second dress: All black. MARION. — First dress: White dress; wreath. Second dress: Black. GRACE. — First dress: Light blue. Second dress: Gray silk. MRS. SNITCHEY. — Drab silk dress. MRS. CRAGGS. — Red silk dress. CLEMENCY. — First dress: Chintz dress; blue petticoat Second dress: Red gown; brown petticoat. (p. 2)
Although by twentieth-century production standards there seems to be nothing exceptional about such details as "smalls" and "high boots" to denote an eighteenth-century setting, "modern dress" had been the standard mode of costuming on the English stage from the Elizabethan era through the eighteenth century, "a kind of rummage — neither accurate nor consistent" (Bailey, p. 7), in 1824 John Philip Kemble had instructed J. R. Planché to research historically- accurate costumes for staging Shakespeare's King John and Henry IV. The theatrical husband-and-wife team of Matthews and Vestris had followed the new method of costuming for Boucicault's London Assurance in 1841 at Covent Garden, having their cast wear "elegant contemporary clothing instead of the grotesque outfits usual to comedy." However, since this new practice was somewhat expensive, the minor theatres had not been swift to emulate the majors. It was, then, in the new manner of Planche's British Costume (1834) that Dickens had conceived of costuming his characters in the illustrations, which, in turn, would be the basis for the sets and costumes of the dramatisation to be staged at the Lyceum for Christmas, 1846, by his theatrical friends, the comedians Robert and Mary Keeley. Dickens himself reports that the couple were prepared to make considerable expenditure in staging the production, laying out "money with bold hearts" ( IV, 673) early in December on "one or two expensive notions of [ about Scenery" ( IV, 662) that involved the installation of a sinking stage. Evidence suggests that the Keeleys did not stint themselves in providing historically-accurate costumes for their theatrical adaptation of the story, set in the eighteenth century by Dickens. The opening scene as described in the directions at the head of Act One, with "and Marion . . . dancing together on the grass before the house to the music of a harp and fiddle" (Smith ms, p. 513) 16 corresponds to Maclise's "Frontispiece" (Penguin, Vol. 2, p. 128). This plate, in turn, illustrates the apple-picking scene (Penguin, Vol. 2, p. 141) which is in progress as Dr. Jeddler gives the lines that open the play. However, in the novella, the sisters are immediately beneath the tree, and to their left are a fiddler and a harpist. In the Dicks' cover plate, the harpist has been placed beside the porch (stage right), the fiddler has disappeared, and the countryside — in particular, the spire of a church — is visible in the back ground. Furthermore, the Dicks composition is much more static in composition: Dr. Jeddler stands quietly, stage right, while Grace puts flowers in Marion's hair, centre, and Clemency is just visible, up right, in the apple tree. The plate for the play corresponds not to the very opening, in which the sisters are dancing, but to a point a few minutes into the scene. The cover illustration realizes the first scene's opening set description precisely:
The Stage represents an Orchard, attached to an old stone House S E. R., with a honeysuckle porch and terminating in a view of a picturesque open country, with Church, Watermill, Cornfields &c. [Dicks, p. 3]
From the position he occupies down right, Dr. Jeddler may well have just entered through the porch, as indicated in the opening directions. In Maclise's "Frontispiece," one of the servants holds a ridiculously small straw basket full of fruit; in the Dicks cover plate, two much more realistic baskets have been provided the apple-pickers: one is being held up to receive the fruit from Clemency; the other, almost full, is at the foot of the ladder. All together, the details of the plate on the Dicks cover seem more consistent with the requirements of the opening scene of the play rather than with the first illustration of the novella. That the Dicks cover illustration is based on the stage production rather than on the plates by Maclise, Doyle, Stanfield, and Leech is suggested by certain details of costume also. The sisters, for example, wear period dresses with fuller skirts; and neither dress has the darker bodice one of the sisters wears in Maclise's "Frontispiece," which shows Marion and Grace dancing beneath the apple tree. Furthermore, the crowning of Marion by Grace in the novella's plate "Part The First" transpires with the former seated, and their father to their left. The Dicks cover shows the sisters in a pose reminiscent of that of the three Graces in Botticelli's painting "Primavera." The novella's illustrations are themselves somewhat in consistent — for example, while Maclise shows both sisters as fair-haired, Doyle shows Marion as dark-haired — but the figure of Dr. Jeddler agrees from plate to plate in the book. The wig and costume worn by the Doctor, however, are more elaborate in the Dicks plate than in the novella's five illustrations of him, and his waistcoat in the Dicks plate protrudes further than it does in Doyle's "Part The First," indicating that the model for the picture may have been an actual actor (Frank Matthews).
That the picture of Ben Britain in the Illustrated London News on p. 413 (26 December 1846), agrees in general with the costuming of that character in both the Dicks costume directions and Leech's "The Parting Breakfast" in the novella once again seems to suggest that the stage production has followed the novella's plates. Robert Keeley's Ben Britain in the News, however, does seem a little stouter than the novella's. Ironically, while Dickens was generally "shocked" (Letters, Vol. 4, p. 12) by most of the illustrations in The Battle of Life and had reported himself "bothered to death by this confounded dramatization of the Xmas Book" (Letters , Vol. 4, 680) several days prior to its opening, he pronounced the little supper scene between Benjamin and Clemency, shown in the Illustrated London News as "quite perfect, even to me" (Letters, Vol. 4, 681). Although he still had his reservations about some of the cast on opening night, he again praised the Keeleys' costumes and sets as "very good indeed, and they have spent money on it liberally" ( IV, 682). After the best efforts of both the Keeley management and Dickens to stage The Battle of Life so faithfully, it is sad that the piece on stage "was somewhat wearisome; and once or twice hung in a very dangerous manner between success and condemnation" (ILN 26 Dec. 1846, p. 413). Perhaps it is no coincidence that Dickens involved him self only one more time in such a venture — Mark Lemon's adaptation of The Haunted Man at the Adelphi for Christmas, 1848 — after the cool reception accorded The Battle of Life in the theatre. However, he had helped establish a vital principle of realization, that of employing the novel's plates as models for stage costumes and sets. The previous practice had been to utilize whatever contemporary costumes were available. Often these were provided, as Laurence Olivier recalls in his autobiography Confessions of An Actor (1982), by the Thespians themselves: well into this century, "all 'artistes' were expected to provide their own wardrobe, and the more extensive this was, the more likely one was to get work" (p. 28). The new practice of realization required both research and considerable temporal and financial expenditure.
The extra gain for the play, however, is in the pleasure of recognition, and the atmosphere of authenticity such realization gives. The beneficiary is the larger enterprise of realization which is the rationale of the novel dramatized. (Meisel, p. 265)
Behind the extra effort in realizing the costuming of the novel's plates lay the expectation that such verisimilitude would translate into longer runs and larger houses, even for seasonal pieces like those produced from Dickens's Christmas Books. The theatrical management that tackled such an adaptation in the 1840s, moreover, would have done so in the know ledge that competition would be stiff. Even though Barnett's Carol opened a full month after the close of Christmas season, for example, it had seven competitors in the metropolis by mid-February 1845. While the sanctioned production at the Adelphi enjoyed a modest success ("about 42 performances," according to Bolton, p. 237) and Webb's at the Strand lasted for thirty, Barnett's did not fare so well. The highwater-mark of the popularity of Dickens's Christmas Books on stage in Dickens's own time was attained by Albert Smith's official adaptation of The Cricket on the Hearth which opened 20 Dec., 1845, for a run of sixty-one performances, its nearest competitor, Stirling's at the Adelphi, managing a respectable twenty-five. Although the Lyceum company lavished far more care and expenditure on the staging of The Battle of Life the following year, the vogue for such entertainment was on the wane. The six rival adaptations averaged runs of barely a week each, while the Keeleys' "unequalled acting" (Illustrated London News, 26 Dec. 1846, p. 413) kept their production on the boards for forty-two performances (21 Dec. to 6 Feb.). Clearly, then, even the new method of realization in costuming and scenery could not compensate for the quality of the cast, though it assisted in establishing a taste for effect based on the illustrations and descriptions in the novel itself that only considerable financial outlay on sets and costumes could satisfy in the theatre-going, novel-reading public.
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Last Modified 18 March 2019