June 12, 2013 by Victorian Body Parts Conference
Our very own @emmalcurry has already proclaimed her love for the true-to-Dickens The Muppet Christmas Carol, so when we had trouble finding Victorian representations of Tiny Tim’s crutch, the ultimate weapon in Dickens’ conscience-pricking iconographic arsenal, I knew just where to turn.
But I wonder if there isn’t a significance to the absence of the crutch “in use” in representations of Tim; often used as an expressive pseudo-limb, as in (now-iconic) scenes in which he’s carried aloft by Scrooge or Bob, being waved triumphantly, or as a portent of child mortality, propped up in the corner.
“Spirit,” said Scrooge, with an interest he had never felt before, “tell me if Tiny Tim will live.”
“I see a vacant seat,” replied the Ghost, “in the poor chimney-corner, and a crutch without an owner, carefully preserved. If these shadows remain unaltered by the Future, the child will die.”
“No, no,” said Scrooge. “Oh, no, kind Spirit. Say he will be spared.”
“If these shadows remain unaltered by the Future, none other of my race,” returned the Ghost, “will find him here. What then? If he be like to die, he had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.”
Scrooge hung his head to hear his own words quoted by the Spirit, and was overcome with penitence and grief.’
Excerpt from Stave 3: The Second of the Spirits, A Christmas Carol, 1843
Just after this exchange the spirit speculates of Scrooge ‘if man you be in heart, not adamant‘. Dickens’ manipulation of these elements of our bodies speaks of an interest in how humans construct and clothe our living organisms in order to ‘socialise’ them speaks not only to his own society, but addresses much wider resonances. With its iconographic heritage, in this work a flinty heart carries more than flowing blood, and a cheerfully ‘active’ crutch more than a withered limb.