Mrs. Gamp, on the Art of Nursing
14.7 cm high x 10.5 cm wide, framed.
composite wood-block engraving
Illustration "Mrs. Gamp, on the Art of Nursing," Ch. 25 in Dickens's Martin Chuzzlewit.
[Click on illustration to enlarge it.]
Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham.
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Although Charles Dickens introduces us to one of his greatest comic creations, Mrs. Sarah ["Sairey"] Gamp, in the eighth instalment of the novel, illustrator Fred Barnard in his 1879 character sketch, completed seven years after his initial illustrations for the novel in the Household Edition, seems to be thinking of the divine Sairey as she appears in Chapter 25 because his caption, "Mrs. Gamp on the Art of Nursing," is thematically connected with that chapter's title: "Is in part professional; and furnishes the reader with some valuable hints in relation to the management of a sick chamber." So effective was Barnard's character study that Dana Estes, Boston, used it as the frontispiece for its fin-de-siecle edition of the novel: "Etched by S. A. Schoff — From a Drawing by Frederick Barnard" (12 cm high by 10 cm wide).
Since Fred Barnard had read the whole of Martin Chuzzlewit (1843-44) in his formative years, when he created an extensive narrative-pictorial sequence for the novel in the new Chapman and Hall Household Edition of the 1872-790, he knew far more about the boozey medical attendant than Phiz (Hablot Knight Browne) had when he illustrated the eighth instalment. Barnard's study post-dates both the composition of the story by some four decades and the professionalization of nursing by Florence Nightingale by a quarter of a century, so that he must have approached his subject in a manner very different from Phiz's when he did his first series of "Character Sketches from Dickens". To Dickens Mrs. Gamp had been a distinctive voice; Phiz, basing his image on Honoré Daumier's "Sick-room Nurse" ("La Garde-Malade") in the magazine Le Charivari, 22 May 1842, made her an overnight Victorian icon. Fred Barnard, working with both Dickens's text and Phiz's highly popular visualisation, had to synthesize everything he knew about Mrs. Gamp, including her appearances later in the novel and some four decades of her popular reception.
Although originally intended to be just a bit part, like a ham actor, a mere butt of Dickens's satire of drunken, disreputable nurses, Sairey consistently upstages the story's principals whenever she appears. Although she does not exactly "develop" as a character, she certainly blossoms. Although he has, according to the caption, seated her in Mr. Mould's parlour, Barnard has in fact situated her in her comfortable "chimley" corner. The illustrator crams into the study almost every visual detail associated with the bleery-eyed, husky-voiced, androgynous figure of capacious dimensions: the short, thick neck; the round face; the swollen nose (so forcibly anticipating that of W. C. Fields as the quintessence of the inveterate tippler); rusty black gown stained by snuff; oversize bonnet; bottle stationed on the mantelpiece; and, of course, her conspicuous umbrella or "gamp." Instead of showing her turning her eyes upward, as is her wont, Barnard has her thoughtfully gazing at the viewer, as if he or she is about to become the next client. Since Barnard has caught her in the moment when, her tea and pickled salmon finished, she wipes her mouth with a napkin of vaudeville dimensions, and we can be reasonably confident that the artist has realized the text just after this:
A tray was brought with everything upon it, even to the cucumber; and Mrs. Gamp accordingly sat down to eat and drink in high good humour. — Ch. 25, Part X.
Dickens, Charles. The Dickens Souvenir Book. Household Edition. London: Chapman and Hall, 1871-1880. The copy of The Dickens Souvenir Book from which these pictures were scanned is in the collection of the Main Library of The University of British Columbia, Vancouver, B. C.
_____. Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit. Illustrated by Fred Barnard. Household Edition. 22 vols. London: Chapman and Hall, 1872. Vol. 2.
_____. Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit. Illustrated Sterling Edition. Illustrated by Hablot K. Browne and Frederick Barnard. Boston: Dana Estes, n. d. [1890s]
Last modified 6 July 2016