Little Nell and her Grandfather, from 'The Old Curiosity Shop'
Felix O. C. Darley
11.4 by 10 cm vignetted
Dickens's The Old Curiosity Shop, as realised in Character Sketches from Dickens (1888).
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Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham.
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The sun was setting when they reached the wicket-gate at which the path began, and, as the rain falls upon the just and unjust alike, it shed its warm tint even upon the resting-places of the dead, and bade them be of good hope for its rising on the morrow. The church was old and grey, with ivy clinging to the walls, and round the porch. Shunning the tombs, it crept about the mounds, beneath which slept poor humble men: twining for them the first wreaths they had ever won, but wreaths less liable to wither and far more lasting in their kind, than some which were graven deep in stone and marble, and told in pompous terms of virtues meekly hidden for many a year, and only revealed at last to executors and mourning legatees.
The clergyman's horse, stumbling with a dull blunt sound among the graves, was cropping the grass; at once deriving orthodox consolation from the dead parishioners, and enforcing last Sunday's text that this was what all flesh came to; a lean ass who had sought to expound it also, without being qualified and ordained, was pricking his ears in an empty pound hard by, and looking with hungry eyes upon his priestly neighbour.
The old man and the child quitted the gravel path, and strayed among the tombs; for there the ground was soft, and easy to their tired feet. As they passed behind the church, they heard voices near at hand, and presently came on those who had spoken. — Chapter XVI, p. 128-9 in the Penguin edition; Household Edition, vol. 1, p. 180-181.
Synthesizing two of the original serial illustrations, Phiz's The Pilgrimage Begins for chapter 12 and Punch in the Churchyard for chapter 16, Darley has captured the precise moment when Nell and grandfather enter the country churchyard, and before they see the Punch and Judy showmen, Codlin and Short, as they make good their escape from London and the hideous dwarf, Quilp.
Despite Nell's being synonymous with Victorian sentimentality — and vastly popular — on both sides of the Atlantic, eschewing sentimentality and cloying "prettiness," Darley has depicted her as a real, albeit perceptive child. On the other hand, he captures well the grandfather's aphasia, explaining his incapacity and his having to be shepherded by his own grandchild, reversing or inverting the normal order of things. The characters are isolated in an atmospheric setting, complete, however, with the clergyman's horse in the rear and wreaths on the tombs, one of which the grandfather appears to be contemplating. Darley's figures, drawn in the round and in proportion, are very different from the original caricatures of Hablot Knight Browne and George Cattermole in the original serial. Darley's realistic treatment may also owe something to both the 1867 Diamond Edition illustrations of Sol Eytinge, Jr. and the 1876 the Anglo-American Household Edition illustrations of Charles Green.
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 Old Curiosity Shop. Works of Charles Dickens. Household Edition. 55 vols. Illustrated by F. O. C. Darley and John Gilbert. New York: Sheldon and Co., 1865. 3 vols.
Dickens, Charles. The Old Curiosity Shop. Household Edition. 22 vols. Illustrated by Charles Green. London: Chapman and Hall, 1876. Vol. 12.
Dickens, Charles. The Old Curiosity Shop. (1841). Illustrated by Hablot Knight Brown, George Cattermole, Daniel Maclise, and Samuel Williams. London: Penguin, 2000.
Dickens, Charles. The Old Curiosity Shop (1841). Charles Dickens Library Edition. 18 vols. Illustrated by Harry Furniss. London: Educational Book, 1910. Vol. 5.
Hammerton, J. A. The Dickens Picture-Book. The Charles Dickens Library Edition. 18 vols. London: Educational Book, 1910. Vol. 17.
F. O. C.
Last modified 11 August 2014