The Frog Footman

Rosy Manasch is talking to Jenkins, while sitting out a dance. Suddenly, Widermerpool stumbles over her foot on his way upstairs.

“‘I know who he is!’ She said, when he had apologized and disappeared from sight with his partner. ‘He’s the Frog Footman.'” [BM 67/61]

The Frog Footman and the Fish Footman Illustration by Sir John Tenniel ~1865 from Lewis Carrol Alice's Adventures in Wonderland public domain from Wikimedia Commons

The Frog Footman and the Fish Footman
Illustration by Sir John Tenniel ~1865 from Lewis Carrol Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
public domain from Wikimedia Commons

This allusion in the casual conversation of twenty-somethings in the later 1920s needed no citation, anymore than a gen-Xer would need to footnote a reference to Elmo or Papa Smurf. Everyone at the party would be familiar with Sir John Tenniel’s illustrations for the first edition of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865). This is only one of many Tenniel drawings mentioned in Dance.

John Tenniel (1820-1914) studied art at the Royal Academy and was already a famous cartoonist for Punch when Carroll approached him to illustrate Alice. Carroll initially planned to illustrate it himself, and Tenniel worked closely with him in planning the ninety-two drawings for Alice and for Through the Looking Glass, which are now among the best known book illustrations.  For the book, Tenniel’s drawings were engraved on wood blocks by the Brothers Dalziel; the blocks, now at the Bodleian Library at Oxford, were masters for electrotypes in the book.

What frog-footman traits did Rosy see in Widermerpool — the arrogant upraised chin, the bulging eyes, the failure to look directly at his interlocuter, the preposterus formal dress? Like the frog footman, he certainly jumps out from the human crowd.

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