Two Versions of Marley's Ghost cover

Two Versions of Marley's Ghost


Numerous artists illustrated early editions of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. Here we look at two in particular: John Leech, who illustrated the first edition, and Fred Barnard.
The Victorian Web

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Two Versions of Marley's Ghost

John Leech emphasized the importance to the story of this ghostly visitation seven years to the night of Jacob Marley's death by making it one of the book's four coloured illustrations.

Barnard may well have intended the reader to compare his vigorous and three-dimensional treatment of the scene with the rather cartoonish version by Leech, with such interesting details as the biblical Dutch tiles in the fireplace (recalling the Christian's division of time as "Before Christ" and "Anno Domini"), the side table with barleycane-twist legs, and the large bowl of gruel next to Scrooge's easy-chair.

Fred Barnard, 1878

Although he omits the gruel and considerably reduces the size of the table in order to focus on the characters, Barnard has included the dying candle flame's leaping up momentarily, as if in recognition of Old Marley, whose spirit has just passed through the heavy door.

The three-quarter-page woodcut actually occurs after the moment realised:

His colour changed though, when, without a pause, it came on through the heavy door, and passed into the room before his eyes. Upon its coming in, the dying flame leaped up, as though it cried, "I know him; Marley's Ghost!" and fell again.

The same face: the very same. Marley in his pigtail, usual waistcoat, tights and boots; the tassels on the latter bristling, like his pigtail, and his coat-skirts, and the hair upon his head. The chain he drew was clasped about his middle. It was long, and wound about him like a tail; and it was made (for Scrooge observed it closely) of cash-boxes, keys, padlocks, ledgers, deeds, and heavy purses wrought in steel. His body was transparent, so that Scrooge, observing him, and looking through his waistcoat, could see the two buttons on his coat behind.

Scrooge had often heard it said that Marley had no bowels, but he had never believed it until now. [Stave One, Household Edition, p. 6]

John Leech, 1843

Scrooge seems curious rather terrified in Leech's original illustration. The commonality between the Leech and Barnard illustrations is the precise moment realised, and each artist's careful attention to the detailed description of Marley in Regency dress, encumbered by a chain of commercial symbols, suggesting that he is as much a prisoner in death as he was in life to the capitalist system.

Although Dickens does not mention that Marley is wearing top-boots, Leech has provided such a detail, and Barnard has subsequently emulated Leech's costuming details, although Barnard has added "the two buttons on his coat behind" that Scrooge can see through his ghostly waistcoat.

Thus, the first spirit is both a conventional ghost, dressed in death exactly as Scrooge remembers his partner dressed in life, and a symbol of capitalistic enterprise, an allegorical figure suggestive of a modern businessman's being wedded to his job.



Barnard realizes that the first ghostly visitor must create for the reader a special atmosphere, part supernatural (the cloth wrapped around the jaw, the dated costume, and in particular the leaping candle flame and swirling draperies, agitated by the force of the spirit as he enters the room) and part natural, even mundane (cash-boxes, keys, padlocks, ledgers, deeds, and heavy purses).

All four apparitions carry, too, a certain moral conviction, as they implicitly extol Victorian family values and denigrate the Utilitarian credo of "The greatest good for the greatest number." Barnard realizes, too, that the reader must simultaneously accept the ghost as the dead partner and as an imaginary being or delusion. Like Leech, Barnard makes his figure both amusing and dreadful, although Barnard's modelling renders the ghost a three-dimesional Jacob Marley.

In terms of scale and style, the realists of the sixties, Barnard and Eytinge, are much closer in their closeups of the mortal and the spirit. In their dual character studies there is none of the lightness or humour of John Leech, a caricaturist of the earlier school of Victorian illustration whose members included Cruikshank, Seymour, and Hablot Knight Browne.

Thematically, Leech's "Marley's Ghost" underscores Scrooge's materialistic notions about the consolations of property: the Punch cartoonist shows the miser by his fireside surrounded by furnishings. Leech suggests in his figure of Jacob Marley the enslavement of the individual by his own material concerns.

However, without the modelling common in the work of the sixties illustrators, Leech's pleasant, colourful illustration lacks moral weight or gravity. Leech's Scrooge is an unmoved spectator, his ghost a stick-figure dragging the almost indistinguishable elements of his commercial existence.

Now, consider what Barnard has added: the swirling bed-curtain, the bell-pull, and the perspective of Scrooge. The miser is still a spectator, but Barnard has repositioned the elements of the scene so that Scrooge is downstage right, in the position of the reader.

Barnard compels the reader to view the action from Scrooge's perspective, the facilitate the process of the reader's imaginative identification with Scrooge. In other words, although the reader's impressions of Scrooge early in the first stave are hardly positive, the illustration subtly positions the reader in Scrooge's corner.

Behind him, to suggest a disruption in the normal flow of time, the bell-pull swings crazily, as if possessed:

After several turns, he sat down again. As he threw his head back in the chair, his glance happened to rest upon a bell, a disused bell, that hung in the room, and communicated for some purpose now forgotten with a chamber in the highest story of the building. It was with great astonishment, and with a strange, inexplicable dread, that as he looked, he saw this bell begin to swing. It swung so softly in the outset that it scarcely made a sound; but soon it rang out loudly, and so did every bell in the house.

This might have lasted half a minute, or a minute, but it seemed an hour. The bells ceased as they had begun, together. They were succeeded by a clanking noise, deep down below; as if some person were dragging a heavy chain over the casks in the wine merchant's cellar. Scrooge then remembered to have heard that ghosts in haunted houses were described as dragging chains. [Stave One; Household Edition, p. 6]

Thus, Barnard has incorporated two different moments in the sequence of events that culminates in Jacob Marley's spirit gliding through the door of the bedroom: the brief — or, to Scrooge's disrupted sense of time, not so brief — agitation of the bells, followed by the clanking of Marley's chains. While Leech has not even bothered to show the bell-pull, Barnard positions it prominently:

Marley is announced by the ringing of every bell in the house. Typical Gothic ghostly machinery, but elaborated here into another indication of the interaction of these two [temporal and spiritual] worlds. Scrooge has always measured time by the bells of the neighbouring churches. But now that measurement loses its expected regularity; Scrooge thinks the length of the house's bells' ringing, "half a minute, or a minute," more like "an hour" (17).

Bells which have hitherto seemed to measure out quantitative time now begin to function differently, in ways that will eventually redeem all time for Scrooge. [Patten, "Dickens Time and Again," 172]

Bell Pull

Bell Pull

The presence of the animated bell-pull in Barnard's illustration alerts the reader of the Household Edition volume to the importance of time, just as the appearance of Marley's ghost seven years to day after his death asserts for Scrooge the universal nature of mortality.

Marley, also a good man of business, reminds Scrooge by his very presence of the winding down of time, time during which Scrooge should be building human relationships rather than merely acquiring capital.

The ringing of the bells Barnard cannot depict directly, so that he employs the swinging bell-pull as a metonymy for the cacophonous sound that accompanies the arrival from the spiritual world of the messenger who warns his former partner of the imminent arrival of three allegorical phantoms, whose messages about the necessity for charity in its oldest sense, caring, are enshrined in the various sights they will show the dreamer, examples of human conduct drawn "from Scrooge's own life and times, . . . a review of the series of his own soul's forms of embodiment" (Patten, 173) accumulated and given meaning by the passage of time.

Thus, the bell-pull should alert the careful reader-viewer to the importance of the word "time" and its associated concepts — year, hour, day, and life — which appear so frequently in Dickens's text.

The Spirit visitors are embodiments of time (Past, Present, and Future); we note, for example, how Marley defines each by the time at which each will arrival: the First Spirit Scrooge must expect "when the bell tolls one" (9). The visits of the second and third will likewise be announced by the tolling of the bells:

Expect the second on the next night at the same hour. The third, upon the next night when the last stroke of Twelve has ceased to vibrate. [9]

But by the crazy logic of the dream vision, only one night rather than three will have passed when Scrooge awakes on Christmas morning, reborn to the reality of all those whose journey lies between the cradle and the grave. In its sinuous movement to the left of the scene the tasselled bell-pull reiterates the swirling motion of the curtains (centre and right), and the insistent vertical of Marley's impedimenta of ledgers, cash-boxes, keys, and purses (right).

The whole business of time becomes important to Scrooge when he awakens on Christmas morning to the realisation that the Spirits have effected his spiritual reclamation in a single night and that, given a second chance to join the family of humanity, "the Time before him was his own, to make amends in!" ("Stave Five"; Household Edition, p. 34).