Twice ten are twenty,
We shall all have plenty,
Each a slice, how very nice!
From ‘Oh Dear Oh Look at the Snow’ by Jack Frost, published in London by Dean & Son, 1884
Another delightful illustration by E.B., whose tiny initials you can see at the bottom left hand corner, against the border of the picture.
This gigantic plum pudding has a benign bearing, with a serene smile on its comfortable face. However, I’ve been looking into the portrayal of Christmas puddings in Victorian literature (as you do, if you’re a bit of a nerdy librarian) and have discovered that they were regularly depicted as far from benign in satirical periodicals. An amusing example of this is the cover of Judy’s Christmas Annual for 1895, which shows a young man awoken in terror by a snarling plum pudding sitting on his chest like an incubus. This witty illustration, which plays on Fuseli’s frightening painting The Nightmare of 1871, transforms an evil-looking incubus into a Christmas pudding, complete with a sprig of holly stuck in its head at a rakish angle, and provides a cautionary reminder to readers of the sleep-disrupting power of indigestion.
There is a long cultural history of linking indigestion with nightmares, and there are so many references to this in nineteenth century literature that we can only assume the Victorian diet must have been particularly indigestible. In Dickens’ A Christmas Carol Scrooge interprets the vision of Marley’s ghost as the hallucinatory consequence of indigestion: “you may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of underdone potato. There’s more of gravy than of grave about you, whatever you are!”
All this pudding research put me in mind of a favourite book from my own childhood, and one which delighted my sons in their turn – the Australian classic The Magic Pudding, written and illustrated by Norman Lindsay, first published in 1918 and reprinted in the 1950s. The eponymous pudding, Albert, is the most bad tempered, spiteful pudding you could possibly imagine. I’ve included a couple of illustrations of him so you can see what I mean. However Albert, unlike his Victorian predecessors, is not in the least indigestible, in fact he is so delicious that he is under constant threat of being stolen from his rightful owners by nefarious puddin’ thieves. Philip Pullman thinks it’s the funniest children’s book ever written. The Magic Pudding deserves a post devoted solely to its brilliance …
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