Sikes, Nancy, and Oliver Twist
Felix Octavius Carr Darley
11.4 by 10 cm vignetted
Dickens's Oliver Twist, as realised in Character Sketches from Dickens (1888).
See below for passage illustrated and commentary
[Click on image to enlarge it and mouse over text for links.]
Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham.
[You may use this image without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the person who scanned the image and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one.].
The narrow streets and courts, at length, terminated in a large open space; scattered about which, were pens for beasts, and other indications of a cattle-market. Sikes slackened his pace when they reached this spot: the girl being quite unable to support any longer, the rapid rate at which they had hitherto walked. Turning to Oliver, he roughly commanded him to take hold of Nancy's hand.
"Do you hear?" growled Sikes, as Oliver hesitated, and looked round.
They were in a dark corner, quite out of the track of passengers. Oliver saw, but too plainly, that resistance would be of no avail. He held out his hand, which Nancy clasped tight in hers.
"Give me the other," said Sikes, seizing Oliver's unoccupied hand. "Here, Bull's-eye!"
The dog looked up, and growled. — Chapter XVI, "Relates what became of Oliver Twist after he had been claimed by Nancy," Household Edition, vol. 1, p. 174.
Darley uses the juxtaposition of these well known characters to recall for readers familiar with Oliver Twist the criminal gang's reapprehension of Oliver and through their poses and expressions to comment upon the nature of the characters themselves: timid Oliver, eager to please; devoted yet terrified Nancy; and the brutal, ruthless bully, Bill Sikes, whom Dickens first describes in Chapter 13, accompanied by Bull's-Eye:
The man who growled out these words, was a stoutly-built fellow of about five-and-thirty, in a black velveteen coat, very soiled drab breeches, lace-up half boots, and grey cotton stockings which inclosed a bulky pair of legs, with large swelling calves; — the kind of legs, which in such costume, always look in an unfinished and incomplete state without a set of fetters to garnish them. He had a brown hat on his head, and a dirty belcher handkerchief round his neck: with the long frayed ends of which he smeared the beer from his face as he spoke. He disclosed, when he had done so, a broad heavy countenance with a beard of three days’ growth, and two scowling eyes; one of which displayed various parti-coloured symptoms of having been recently damaged by a blow.
"Come in, d'ye hear?" growled this engaging ruffian.
A white shaggy dog, with his face scratched and torn in twenty different places, skulked into the room. — Chapter XIII, "Some New Acquaintances are Introduced to the Intelligent Reader, Connected With Whom Various Pleasant Matters Are Related, Appertaining to this History," p. 141-142 in the Household Edition, vol. 1.
Darley uses the juxtaposition of these well known characters to recall for readers familiar with Oliver Twist the criminal gang's reapprehension of Oliver and through their poses and expressions to comment upon the nature of the characters themselves: timid yet indignant Oliver; Nancy, Sikes's devoted confederate in crime; and the brutal, ruthless bully, Bill Sikes. The illustrations by James Mahoney in the Household Edition and by Harry Furniss in the Charles Dickens Library Edition (1871 and 1910 respectively) are also realistic responses to Cruikshank's originals, but it may be that Darley's study is as much his reaction to the dual characterization of his countryman, Sol Eytinge, Junior, the sole illustrator of the 1867 Diamond Edition, as it is to Cruikshank's originals. Certainly Darley renders Nancy an active accomplice in the boy's abduction, and therefore unworthy of the kind of sympathy with which the reader of Sol Eytinge's Diamond Edition wood-engraving might have responded.
Although Dickens's official illustrator for Oliver Twist, George Cruikshank depicts the housebreaker Bill Sikes as the sordid, lower-class villain out of contemporary melodrama, the figure whom Darley describes is once again much moreof an individual (despite his characteristic long face and white top hat) than a type. In the chapter 22 illustration which depicts Oliver's being surprised and shot at as soon as he has entered to house that Sikes is attempting to rob, The Burglary, George Cruikshank introduces the notorious housebreaker into the narrative-pictorial sequence in a framed portrait, as Sikes watches the unfolding scene with interest. Effectively rendered, Cruikshank's ruffian is unshaven, unkempt, and full-faced — but the small window through which he peers would prevent him from firing his own weapon on the two servants, let alone haul Oliver out if harm's way by the collar in the text on the page facing the steel-engraving. Selecting an equally dramatic moment in the story, Darley depicts Bill Sikes in action, rather than as a static figure, whereas in the Diamond Edition of 1867, Sol Eytinge in Nancy and Bill Sikes captures the disreputable couple's desperation and despondency. A youthful but haggard Nancy with bedraggled hair is refined by her gesture of deep concern for her rough companion, whose face and hands place him lower down the evolutionary scale. In the particular moment in the action that Eytinge captures, he plays the contrasting figures off against one another to reveal their natures, complementing Dickens's description of them in the facing page. Neither is shown in their former youthful vigour and health:
The room in which Mr. Sikes propounded this question, was not one of those he had tenanted, previous to the Chertsey expedition, although it was in the same quarter of the town, and was situated at no great distance from his former lodgings. It was not, in appearance, so desirable a habitation as his old quarters: being a mean and badly-furnished apartment, of very limited size; lighted only by one small window in the shelving roof, and abutting on a close and dirty lane. Nor were there wanting other indications of the good gentleman's having gone down in the world of late: for a great scarcity of furniture, and total absence of comfort, together with the disappearance of all such small moveables as spare clothes and linen, bespoke a state of extreme poverty; while the meagre and attenuated condition of Mr. Sikes himself would have fully confirmed these symptoms, if they had stood in any need of corroboration.
The housebreaker was lying on the bed, wrapped in his white great-coat, by way of dressing-gown, and displaying a set of features in no degree improved by the cadaverous hue of illness, and the addition of a soiled nightcap, and a stiff, black beard of a week's growth. The dog sat at the bedside: now eyeing his master with a wistful look, and now pricking his ears, and uttering a low growl as some noise in the street, or in the lower part of the house, attracted his attention. Seated by the window, busily engaged in patching an old waistcoat which formed a portion of the robber's ordinary dress, was a female: so pale and reduced with watching and privation, that there would have been considerable difficulty in recognising her as the same Nancy who has already figured in this tale, but for the voice in which she replied to Mr. Sikes's question. — Chapter XXXIX, "Introduces Some Respectable Characters with whom the Ready is Already Acquainted. . . ," p. 119-120 in the Household Edition, vol. 2.
Although Darley would not have had the benefit of studying Harry Furniss's 1910 economical character portraiture of the East End housebreaker, Bill Sikes, he undoubtedly consulted the earlier Cruikshank drawings (readily available through American piracies), and the more recent wood-engravings by James Mahoney for the Anglo-American Household Edition (1871). Whereas Mahoney's style is equally realistic, his drawings of the criminal couple lack Darley's dynamism and depth. Darley has replaced Cruikshank's seedy and cartoonish crowd of bystanders outside the Regency beer shop with an atmospheric backdrop suggestive of early evening (as suggested by the gas-lamp which illuminates Nancy) in the area of Smithfield. As in the text, Nancy's large street-door key and the confiscated books are prominent — but no one is near to come to Oliver's rescue, whereas in Cruikshank's version, Oliver claimed by his affectionate friends the curious and sympathetic bystanders imply that Oliver may yet escape Sikes's grasp. Whereas Cruikshank's Nancy (identifiable by her basket and key) is short, dumpy, and unattractive, Darley's is youthful, slender, and vigorous as she firmly restrains the frightened boy in the expensive Regency clothing that is such a contrast to the thug's. The books, key, and street-lamp, although not portending anything but what they are, reveal that Darley scrupulously re-read the text, and thought through the poses and juxtapositions of his characters, as well as these theatrical properties. A nice touch is Sikes's vigilant dog — a far cry from the slight, short-coated cur in the Cruikshank plates —, a dingy off-white Bull's-Eye, scanning the deserted street, as if he is standing guard over the malefactors to ensure that they are not apprehended — rendering Sikes's later attempting to murder the dog all the more ironic.
Relevant Chapman & Hall (1846), Diamond Edition (1867), Household Edition (1877), and Charles Dickens Library Edition (1910) Illustrations
Left: Cruikshank's "Oliver claimed by his affectionate friends". Centre: Cruishank's "Sikes attempting to destroy his dog". Right: Sol Eytinge, Junior's "Nancy and Bill Sikes". [Click on images to enlarge them.]
Left: Mahoney's Household Edition illustration (1871) "You are on the scent, are you, Nancy?". Centre: Harry Furniss's "Oliver trapped by Nancy and Sikes" (1910). Right: Harry Furniss's "Bill Sikes" (1910). [Click on images to enlarge them.]
Bentley, Nicolas, Michael Slater, and Nina Burgis. The Dickens Index. New York and Oxford: Oxford U. P., 1990.
Bolton, Theodore. The Book Illustrations of Felix Octavius Carr Darley (1951). Worcester, Mass: American Antiquarian Society, 1952.
Darley, Felix Octavius Carr. Character Sketches from Dickens. Philadelphia: Porter and Coates, 1888.
Dickens, Charles. The Adventures of Oliver Twist; or, The Parish Boy's Progress. Illustrated by George Cruikshank. London: Bradbury and Evans, 1846.
Dickens, Charles. The Adventures of Oliver Twist. Works of Charles Dickens. Household Edition. 55 vols. Illustrated by F. O. C. Darley and John Gilbert. New York: Sheldon and Co., 1865. 2 vols.
Dickens, Charles. Oliver Twist. Works of Charles Dickens. Diamond Edition. 18 vols. Illustrated by Sol Eytinge, Jr. Boston: Ticknor and Fields, 1867.
Dickens, Charles. The Adventures of Oliver Twist. Works of Charles Dickens. Household Edition. Illustrated by James Mahoney. London: Chapman and Hall, 1871.
Dickens, Charles. Oliver Twist. Works of Charles Dickens. Charles Dickens Library Edition. 18 vols. Illustrated by Harry Furniss. London: Educational Book Company, 1910. Vol. 3.
F. O. C.
Last modified 11 August 2014