Illustrator Frances Brundage wishes us a Merry Christmas in 1910:
If you could caption this postcard, what would you call it?
Louisa May Alcott was no longer alive when Brundage began to illustrate re-printings of Alcott’s beloved novels (the above drawing is not connected). I’m not sure the sweet-faced cherubs drawn by this idealistic, albeit extremely talented, artist would have attracted LMA’s attention had she been alive. I sense she may have looked for a sense of humor over a sense of nostalgia.
Alcott most likely expressed her own experiences in several of her stories in which children do not anticipate any “extras” for the most wonderful day of the year, as in the opening line of her most famous novel:
“Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents…” (Little Women)
For a little girl at that time, a pretty dolly was the most coveted of toys. Somehow, I picture Alcott rather wishing for books, pens, journals, a pair of skates, or a bright toboggan rather than a doll!
The Coming of Father Christmas
In the next illustration, an English Christmas is celebrated by a “merry troop” in “The Coming of Father Christmas,” written by Eliza F. Manning and published in 1894 in London:
In this narrative poem, Father Christmas asks some children to come with him to bring some orphans from the inner city and be their “playmates” for the day. In the illustration, we see the various social backgrounds of the children all feasting together. Notice the piles of oranges and puddings on the table (ah, it brings to mind Dickens himself).
Then, Father Christmas distributes the gifts:
“Here’s my basket full of treasures…tops and goodies, marbles, dolls. Climbing monkeys. Pretty Polls; A Jack-in-the-box, and picture books too, Old Mother Hubbard, and Little Boy Blue.”
Finally, he reads the Christmas story as the children listen near the dying fire of evening, the Christ child the true lauded one of the day. Here, you may access the The Coming of Father Christmas. It is worth a read for its stunning illustrations.
“I Will Honor Christmas in My Heart and Try to Keep it All the Year”
Another British illustrator, Arthur Rackham uses humor to depict scenes in a version of A Christmas Carol published in 1915 by Lippincott. I love the way both Dickens and Rackham give us a glimpse of the games once played at celebrations in the 1800’s.
In the scene at Fred’s Christmas party (one Scrooge was invited to attend), Topper chases after a pretty girl as they play “Blind Man’s B[l]uff.” He and Fred have conspired so that Topper can see the girl and always seems to go where she goes. Of course, he catches her, she pretends not to like it, and the two disappear together! (p 102)
I rather fancy that Alcott would have liked the humor and sharpness Rackham put into his “sketches.” He was known for his fairy and fantasy illustrations (as was Alcott as a writer).
Perhaps it is John Leech who visually gave us the Scrooge we all know and love in his illustrations of the very first edition of A Christmas Carol published by Chapman & Hall in 1843. Here, we see Scrooge and the Ghost of Christmas Present:
It is exactly as Dickens describes (except perhaps for Scrooge’s age), showing that this illustrator greatly understands the humor and irony of every detail. Here, a scrawny, childish old man in a ridiculous night-dress contrasts with the high-spirited, muscular Spirit of Christmas Present (even that name makes me smile).
Though his faces weren’t detailed, Leech gave us the true expressions of pity, joy, fear, despair, and compassion that challenge us all to “honor Christmas” in our hearts and try to “keep it all the year!”
Now, I leave you with another postcard, this time of a boy since I teach all boys, and we are nearing the end of the semester. Perhaps this year, we will get enough snow to build one of these: