Redlaw and the Boy

Little of Leech's usual sense of comedy and caricature appears in this plate. However, he allows a strongly felt emotion to dominate, as in his "Scrooge and the Spirit of Christmas Yet To Come" in A Christmas Carol. Redlaw has entered, raising the lamp as the street urchin invited in by Milly cowers in the corner: "A bundle of tatters, held together by a hand, in size and form almost an infant's, but in its greedy, desperate little clutch, a bad old man" (47). The precise moment realised is as one turns the page: "Used, already, to be worried and hunted like a best, the boy crouched down as he was looked at, and looked back again, and interposed his arm to ward off the expected blow" (47-48). Neither has yet spoken.

The centre of the printed page describes the child exactly as we see him in the plate, right. Is he, as John Butt suggests, a more realistic treatment of the boy Ignorance in the Carol plate? Leech's allegorical child in "The Second of the Three Spirits" is a head shorter than his sister, Want, and shivers in the cold, his clothing in tatters, his feet bare, despite the season. The street urchin here has more hair, and his face a mask of savagery rather than an impassive façade. The street child cowers before the blow he anticipates that Redlaw will deliver, rather than from the elements. The industrial smokestacks behind Ignorance and Want are symbols supplied by the radical Punch cartoonist to connect these social problems with the factory system and Scrooge's Malthusian doctrine of "surplus population." in "Redlaw and the Boy," Leech has placed a stack of folios on the chair that separates the pair, books that have no counterparts in the printed text. Perhaps they mutely assert the upward climb that Redlaw has made from childhood through education: "I strove to climb!" (Penguin 267), since, at a realistic level, the boy can hardly have placed them there in order to steal something from the bare wainscotting. The books, then, serve to connect the unloved child Redlaw once was with the deprived child he sees before him. The Boy, if he is any sort of abstraction, is Hunger. However, the boy is merely "like some small animal of prey" (Penguin 274). Dickens does not employ metaphor ("wolfish") or allegorical terms ("Where angels might have sat enthroned, devils lurked"), and the artist has charged this boy with a feeling (well conveyed by the pose) quite absent from his Christmas Carol plate. The nameless child has speech (unlike his mute counterpart in the Carol plate), but does not immediately recognize the meaning of "live."

The closed curtain from the sixth plate becomes the just-opened curtain behind Redlaw (left), joining the two scenes. The printed text focuses on the "heavy curtain in the wall, by which he was accustomed to pass into and out of the theatre where he lectured, -- which adjoined his room" (Penguin 271-2). Both artist and novelist emphasize the palpable reality of the ghetto child: "A baby savage, a young monster, a child who had never been a child, a creature who might live to take the outward form of man, but who, within, would live and perish a mere beast" (47). Redlaw, with money, position, and education, has the ability, as Scrooge has, to change the prediction.

Created 19 October 2004

Last modified 29 December 2019