Thursday, December 24, 2020

The Rent-Day

Douglas Jerrold's 1832 drama The Rent-Day capitalized on the burgeoning print culture of Britain to score a theatrical coup.

In the opening stage directions, Jerrold called for the curtain to rise on "a representation of Wilkie's picture of 'Rent-Day.'" Though few audience members were likely to have seen the famous painting by Scottish artist David Wilkie, they certainly would have known it from the numerous prints that circulated in middle-class drawing rooms.

Today, you can still find some of these prints come up in online auctions. I recently acquired one, as I've been doing work on Jerrold's play and its relationship to the work of his good friend, novelist Charles Dickens. This summer, I even gave a lightning talk on the topic as part of an online conference marking the 150th anniversary of Dickens's death.

Well, I continued to develop that talk into a full-length paper which has now been accepted for publication in an upcoming issue of Dickens Quarterly. Naturally, I'd like to include an image of the print with the article, but with the way copyright works these days, it's frequently less expensive to buy a 19th-century print and scan it yourself than to pay for the rights to one in a museum's collection. Here's the scan:

Jerrold didn't stop with just one reference to a Wilkie painting, though. At the end of the play's second act, the stage directions call for "characters to arrange themselves as to represent Wilkie's picture of 'Distraining for Rent.'" Don't worry--I was able to find a print of that one, as well. Here it is:

As usual, I'm offering these images for free to anyone who wants to publish them in a journal, book, newspaper, or magazine. If you want a higher quality image, feel free to contact me. You can credit the image to the personal collection of James Armstrong.