Passage: Pp. 86-87 in the Penguin edition of A Christmas Carol

JOHN LEECH (1817-64), the English caricaturist, was a Londoner of Irish descent, son of a coffee-house proprietor. Educated at Charterhouse with W. M. Thackeray, Leech enjoyed a life-long friendship with that novelist (near whom he lies buried at Kensal Green, London), but is more commonly associated with Charles Dickens. Leech early abandoned the study of medicine for art and publishing, beginning with Etchings and Sketchinqs by A. Pen, Esq. (1835) when he was just 18. From 1841 he contributed hundreds of sketches of middle-class life and political cartoons to such periodicals as Punch, the Illustrated London News, and Once a Week.

Plate 5 [Click on image for larger picture]: Most noteworthy in the collaborative relationship between Dickens and Leech are the latter's eight plates (four of which were hand-coloured) for A Christmas Carol (published by Chapman and Hall, London, on 17 December 1843). Particularly interesting is Leech's illustration "The Ghost of Christmas Present" (Penguin ed., p. 88), complementing the text (p. 86-7).

Questions for Discussion

1. What is the precise moment in the text that Leech has chosen to depict?

2. What clues in the illustration enabled you to determine the precise passage realized?

3. Illustrated fiction had existed since Smollett's Sir Launcelot Greaves (1760-2), so that nineteenth-century-readers were highly adept at 'reading' pictures accompanying a printed text. Given the placement of this etching relative to the passage illustrated, how would the reader of 1843 have mediated picture and text? What would be his or her reaction on turning the page and encountering the plate?

4. What evidence do text and plate offer to support Philip Collins's contention that here "Dickens is making up his Christmas mythology as he goes"?

5. What qualities of Leech as given in the biographical note above do you detect in this plate?

Last modified May 21, 2003