John Leech, "The Ghosts of Departed Usurers, or, The Phantoms," A Christmas Carol


“The Ghosts of Departed Usurers, or, The Phantoms” is an illustration by John Leech, found in Charles Dickens’ novella, A Christmas Carol. It is a vignetted, black and white, woodcut engraving found in the novella’s first stave. The image depicts various spirits in the background, who have revealed themselves to Scrooge as an indication of what he will become. This is in contrast to the foreground, which shows a homeless woman without shelter sitting down. John Leech’s traditionally cartoonist style allows for an expressive depiction of the scene, coupled with the harsh, dark tones of the spirits creates a haunting atmosphere. With this illustration, Leech is able to explicitly highlight a specific cultural issue of the era, which is poverty and wealth inequality. This is a common theme throughout John Leech’s work. His career consisted of numerous political cartoons and illustrations that centered around social issues such as poverty and working-class life. This background made Leech a perfect artist to represent the societal issue of poverty that is tackled by Dickens in his novella. The class conflict highlighted through the woman seeking shelter is indicative of the class conflict of the Victorian era. Prior to the start of the Victorian era, those in the middle class were able to make strides with the Reform Acts to have their voices heard. However, the working-class were left being. Their interests were left unrepresented by the government and the political process. This also coincided with the results of the industrial revolution, a movement regularly discussed in Dickens’ literature. The working-class in the industrial workforce, among other careers, saw their labor exploited by capitalist employers, widening the wealth gap and worsening living conditions. By having the homeless woman placed in the foreground of the image, Leech is able to bring these societal issues to the forefront of the scene by contrasting her with the spirits that Scrooge is seeing.


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