How customary were performances of Mrs. Jarley?
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#1: How customary were performances of Mrs. Jarley? Author: Kathy_SLocation: midwestern US PostPosted: Sun Jan 16, 2005 6:41 am

In a fit of extreme comfort reading the past few days, I've been rereading lots of Laura Ingalls Wilder & Maud Hart Lovelace. One thing that struck me was the appearance of Mrs. Jarley's Waxworks in Wilder's Little Town on the Prairie, presented by the town Literary Society in what would have been the winter of 1881-2. Other evenings were devoted to a spelling bee, musical entertainments, and charades. Were/Are Mrs. Jarley performances fairly widespread in schools/communities? The Wilder version lacked the topical song and commentary of Lintons, but there was still the fun of figuring out who was who.
After some moments of gazing on those waxen figures, Mrs. Jarley stepped from behind the drawn-back curtain. No one knew who she was. She wore a sweeping black gown and a scoop bonnet, and in her hand she held the teacher's long pointer. In a deep voice [shades of Bill!] she said, "George Washington, I command thee! Live and move!" and with the pointer she touched one of the figures. The figure moved! In short, stiff jerks, one arm lifted and raised from the folds of white cloth a wax-like hand gripping a hatchet. The arm made chopping motions with the hatchet. Mrs. Jarley called each figure by name, touched it with the pointer, and each one moved jerkily. Daniel Boone raised and lowered a gun. Queen Elizabeth put on and took off a tall gilt crown. Sir Walter Raleigh's stiff hand moved a pipe to and from his motionless lips. One by one all those figures were set in motion. They kept on moing, in such a lifeless, waxen way that one could hardly believe that they were really alive. When finally the curtain was drawn to, there was one long, deep breath, and then wild applause. All the wax figures, naturally alive now, had to come out before the curtain while louder and louder grew the applause. Mrs. Jarley took off her bonnet and was Gerald Fuller. Queen Elizabeth's crown and wig fell off, and she was Mr. Bradley. There seemed no end to the hilarious uproar.
Gerald Fuller was from England, by the way no idea if he suggested this performance though!


#2:  Author: KBLocation: Melbourne, Australia PostPosted: Sun Jan 16, 2005 12:30 pm

The first appearance of this lady and her troupe seems to be in Dickens' "Old Curiosity Shop" (1841). Nell meets a lady who says she is 'the' Mrs Jarley. Nell walked down it, and read aloud, in enormous black letters, the inscription, 'Jarley's WAX-WORK.' 'Read it again,' said the lady, complacently. 'Jarley's Wax-Work,' repeated Nell. 'That's me,' said the lady. 'I am Mrs Jarley.' Giving the child an encouraging look, intended to reassure her and let her know, that, although she stood in the presence of the original Jarley, she must not allow herself to be utterly overwhelmed and borne down, the lady of the caravan unfolded another scroll, whereon was the inscription, 'One hundred figures the full size of life,' and then another scroll, on which was written, 'The only stupendous collection of real wax-work in the world,' and then several smaller scrolls with such inscriptions as 'Now exhibiting within'--'The genuine and only Jarley'--'Jarley's unrivalled collection'--'Jarley is the delight of the Nobility and Gentry'--'The Royal Family are the patrons of Jarley.' When she had exhibited these leviathans of public announcement to the astonished child, she brought forth specimens of the lesser fry in the shape of hand-bills, some of which were couched in the form of parodies on popular melodies, as 'Believe me if all Jarley's wax-work so rare'--'I saw thy show in youthful prime'--'Over the water to Jarley' while, to consult all tastes, others were composed with a view to the lighter and more facetious spirits, as a parody on the favourite air of 'If I had a donkey,' beginning If I know'd a donkey wot wouldn't go To see Mrs JARLEY'S wax-work show, Do you think I'd acknowledge him? Oh no no! Then run to Jarley's-- --besides several compositions in prose, purporting to be dialogues between the Emperor of China and an oyster, or the Archbishop of Canterbury and a dissenter on the subject of church-rates, but all having the same moral, namely, that the reader must make haste to Jarley's, and that children and servants were admitted at half-price. When she had brought all these testimonials of her important position in society to bear upon her young companion, Mrs Jarley rolled them up, and having put them carefully away, sat down again, and looked at the child in triumph. 'Never go into the company of a filthy Punch any more,' said Mrs Jarley, 'after this.' 'I never saw any wax-work, ma'am,' said Nell. 'Is it funnier than Punch?' 'Funnier!' said Mrs Jarley in a shrill voice. 'It is not funny at all.' 'Oh!' said Nell, with all possible humility. 'It isn't funny at all,' repeated Mrs Jarley. 'It's calm and--what's that word again--critical? --no--classical, that's it--it's calm and classical. No low beatings and knockings about, no jokings and squeakings like your precious Punches, but always the same, with a constantly unchanging air of coldness and gentility and so like life, that if wax-work only spoke and walked about, you'd hardly know the difference. I won't go so far as to say, that, as it is, I've seen wax-work quite like life, but I've certainly seen some life that was exactly like wax-work.' And a description of the waxworks: As his presence had not interfered with or interrupted the preparations, they were now far advanced, and were completed shortly after his departure. When the festoons were all put up as tastily as they might be, the stupendous collection was uncovered, and there were displayed, on a raised platform some two feet from the floor, running round the room and parted from the rude public by a crimson rope breast high, divers sprightly effigies of celebrated characters, singly and in groups, clad in glittering dresses of various climes and times, and standing more or less unsteadily upon their legs, with their eyes very wide open, and their nostrils very much inflated, and the muscles of their legs and arms very strongly developed, and all their countenances expressing great surprise. All the gentlemen were very pigeon-breasted and very blue about the beards and all the ladies were miraculous figures and all the ladies and all the gentlemen were looking intensely nowhere, and staring with extraordinary earnestness at nothing. When Nell had exhausted her first raptures at this glorious sight, Mrs Jarley ordered the room to be cleared of all but herself and the child, and, sitting herself down in an arm-chair in the centre, formally invested Nell with a willow wand, long used by herself for pointing out the characters, and was at great pains to instruct her in her duty. 'That,' said Mrs Jarley in her exhibition tone, as Nell touched a figure at the beginning of the platform, 'is an unfortunate Maid of Honour in the Time of Queen Elizabeth, who died from pricking her finger in consequence of working upon a Sunday. Observe the blood which is trickling from her finger also the gold-eyed needle of the period, with which she is at work.' All this, Nell repeated twice or thrice: pointing to the finger and the needle at the right times: and then passed on to the next. 'That, ladies and gentlemen,' said Mrs Jarley, 'is jasper Packlemerton of atrocious memory, who courted and married fourteen wives, and destroyed them all, by tickling the soles of their feet when they were sleeping in the consciousness of innocence and virtue. On being brought to the scaffold and asked if he was sorry for what he had done, he replied yes, he was sorry for having let 'em off so easy, and hoped all Christian husbands would pardon him the offence. Let this be a warning to all young ladies to be particular in the character of the gentlemen of their choice. Observe that his fingers are curled as if in the act of tickling, and that his face is represented with a wink, as he appeared when committing his barbarous murders.' When Nell knew all about Mr Packlemerton, and could say it without faltering, Mrs Jarley passed on to the fat man, and then to the thin man, the tall man, the short man, the old lady who died of dancing at a hundred and thirty-two, the wild boy of the woods, the woman who poisoned fourteen families with pickled walnuts, and other historical characters and interesting but misguided individuals. And so well did Nell profit by her instructions, and so apt was she to remember them, that by the time they had been shut up together for a couple of hours, she was in full possession of the history of the whole establishment, and perfectly competent to the enlightenment of visitors. Mrs Jarley was not slow to express her admiration at this happy result, and carried her young friend and pupil to inspect the remaining arrangements within doors, by virtue of which the passage had been already converted into a grove of green-baize hung with the inscription she had already seen (Mr Slum's productions), and a highly ornamented table placed at the upper end for Mrs Jarley herself, at which she was to preside and take the money, in company with his Majesty King George the Third, Mr Grimaldi as clown, Mary Queen of Scots, an anonymous gentleman of the Quaker persuasion, and Mr Pitt holding in his hand a correct model of the bill for the imposition of the window duty. The preparations without doors had not been neglected either a nun of great personal attractions was telling her beads on the little portico over the door and a brigand with the blackest possible head of hair, and the clearest possible complexion, was at that moment going round the town in a cart, consulting the miniature of a lady. It seems to have been quite popular. The Grand Opera House in Springfield, Ohio, hosted a Mrs Jarley's Waxworks in 1902. If you Google it, you'll get a lot of replies.


#3:  Author: auntie karryLocation: Stoke on Trent PostPosted: Sun Jan 16, 2005 2:49 pm

I have just googled for Mrs Jarley, with UK sites and what did I find???? The first two entries are High fame indeed! Surprised To see a comtemporary postcard depicting Mrs Jarley, try here


#4: Mrs Jarley Author: Alison HLocation: Manchester PostPosted: Sun Jan 16, 2005 6:26 pm

Mrs Jarley was a character in Dickens' The Old Curiosity Shop, but for some reason she seems to've caught people's imagination and "Mrs Jarley" performances started being done as part of community entertainments and charity concerts etc, in Britain and in America. She seems to've been very popular in New England, but the idea must've spread West ...trying to remember where the Ingalls family had got to by Little Town and think it was what's now South Dakota. My school was a day school but I still wished that the staff'd put on entertainments like that for us!


#5:  Author: jenniferLocation: Sunny California PostPosted: Sun Jan 16, 2005 9:55 pm

There is also a rendition in "Jo's Boys" - one of the sequels to Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, which would, I think, be around the same time period as the Little House books.


#6:  Author: KBLocation: Melbourne, Australia PostPosted: Sun Jan 16, 2005 10:41 pm

To be pedantic, that wasn't Mrs Jarley's, that was the Owlsdark Marbles, however that doesn't appear in Google anywhere else than "Jo's Boys", so maybe it was a variation.


#7:  Author: Lisa_TLocation: Belfast PostPosted: Wed Jan 26, 2005 12:06 am

I think that that is meant to be 'Mrs Jarley', only renamed in line with the classical allusions throughout, eg, Parnassus etc.


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