"Marchioness, your health. You will excuse my wearing my hat . . ."
Felix O. C. Darley
9.5 x 8.1 cm vignetted
Frontispiece to the third volume of Dickens's The Old Curiosity Shop, in the James G. Gregory (New York) Household Edition (1861-71).
[Click on illustration to enlarge it.]
Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham from his own collection.
[You may use these images without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the photographer and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one.]
Mr. Swiveller and his partner played several rubbers with varying success, until the loss of three sixpences, the gradual sinking of the purl, and the striking of ten o'clock, combined to render that gentleman mindful of the flight of Time, and the expediency of withdrawing before Mr. Sampson and Miss Sally Brass returned.
"With which object in view, Marchioness," said Mr. Swiveller gravely, "I shall ask your ladyship's permission to put the board in my pocket, and to retire from the presence when I have finished this tankard; merely observing, Marchioness, that since life like a river is flowing, I care not how fast it rolls on, ma'am, on, while such purl on the bank still is growing, and such eyes light the waves as they run. Marchioness, your health. You will excuse my wearing my hat, but the palace is damp, and the marble floor is — if I may be allowed the expression — sloppy."
As a precaution against this latter inconvenience, Mr. Swiveller had been sitting for some time with his feet on the hob, in which attitude he now gave utterance to these apologetic observations, and slowly sipped the last choice drops of nectar. — Volume 3, Chapter 58, page 28.
Throughout The Old Curiosity Shop the focal characters are Little Nell and Grandfather Trent, as depicted by Dickens's team of illustrators; however, the runaway comic favourites pair proved to be the cynical clerk Dick Swiveller and the Brasses' servant-girl, whom Dick has wittily dubbed "The Marchioness," the dialogue between the two (realised by Darley) occurring originally in Part 32 (12 December 1840).
The passage from the opening of Chapter 58 of The Old Curiosity Shop, first published on 12 December 1840 as the thirty-second part of the serialised novel in Dickens's own weekly journal Master Humphrey's Clock, involves Fred Trent's friend, Dick Swiveller, and the Street-wise "Marchioness" playing cribbage, as in Phiz's The Marchioness at Cards (Chapter 57), in which neither of the characters is clearly discernible. A more satisfactory portrait of the two occurs in Harold Copping's pair of illustrations, The Marchioness and Dick Swiveller Surprised.
According to Angus Easson in the Penguin edition of the novel (1977), Dickens modelled the servant-girl upon an orphan from the Chatham Workhouse who worked for the Dickenses as a general servant during Charles's childhood during the period when his father, John, worked at the Naval Pay Office in that dockyard town on the Medway. In the novel, the girl's oddness may be accounted for in part by her suggested parentage, in that Dickens hints at her being the daughter of the singularly ugly and unpleasant Sally Brass and the repulsive dwarf and pedophile Fred Quilp (see Easson's article in The Modern Language Review, 65 , 517-518). She is, moreover, denied any sort of childhood play and even adequate nourishment, as evidenced by Phiz's The Small Servant's Dinner (Ch. 36, Part 20, 19 September 1840) and references in the text to stealing small change so she could sate her hunger. Consequently, she is both preternaturally old, having to survive under such stressful circumstances, physically stunted, and emotionally repressed — until she becomes Dick Swiveller's friend and card-playing companion. As opposed to the representations of her and Dick by Phiz and Darley, Copping's illustration distorts both characters somewhat in that the servant-girl is hardly the ill-kempt, neglected child of Dickens's text, and Dick Swiveller appears much younger in Copping's illustration than in both of Darley's, his second study being the 1888 photogravure in which Dick Swiveller menaces Daniel Quilp in the street, Dick Swiveller and Quilp, from 'The Old Curiosity Shop'. Darley's frontispiece captures both the puzzlement of the Marchioness over Dick's theatrical turns of phrase and Dick's feeling completely comfortable in her company. Despite a certain frowziness about the face, Darley's Dick Swiveller is a handsome, well-dressed young man — the perfectly complement to the distinct vopice that Dickens has given the character. In the original Phiz illustrations, the Marchioness is identified by her hat, which obscures her face, but in this Darley illustration the reader sees her face clearly.
Images by late nineteenth- and twentieth-century illustrators
Left: Harold Copping's 1924 lithograph of the scene in which Dick meets the servant-girl, Dick Swiveller meets the Marchioness; Centre: Harold Copping's 1924 lithograph of the scene in which Dick discovers the servant-girl playing cribbage, Dick Swiveller's surprise; Right: Kyd's iconic 1890s image of the bedraggled servant, The Marchioness. [Click on the images to enlarge them.]
A Note on the Text
At 209 pages remaining in the later chapters of The Old Curiosity Shop, the volume required additional material, which the series editors supplied from the early numbers of Household Words as "Reprinted Pieces," occupying approximately one-third of the volume:
"The Long Voyage" — 31 December 1853 issue
"The Begging-Letter Writer" — 18 May 1850 issue
"A Child's Dream of a Star" — 6 April 1850 issue
"Our English Watering-Place" — 2 August 1851 issue
"Our French Watering-Place" — 4 November 1854 issue
"Bill-Sticking" — 22 March 1851 issue
"'Births. Mrs. Meek, of a Son'" — 22 February 1851 issue.
The nature of the material suggests that, whereas some pieces were selected for their journalistic merit (for example, "A Child's Dream of a Star"), others were selected simply to fill up the space; none of these has any particular relevance to the 1840-41 novel, and none bears any particular significance in terms of the date of publication.
Bentley, Nicolas, Michael Slater, and Nina Burgis. The Dickens Index. New York and Oxford: Oxford U. P., 1990.
Darley, Felix Octavius Carr. Character Sketches from Dickens. Philadelphia: Porter and Coates, 1888.
Davis, Paul. Charles Dickens A to Z: The Essential Reference to His Life and Work. New York: Facts On File, 1998.
Dickens, Charles. The Old Curiosity Shop and Reprinted Pieces. Illustrated by F. O. C. Darley. The Works of Charles Dickens. The Household Edition. New York: James G. Gregory and W. A. Townsend, 1861. Vol. 3.
Dickens, Charles. The Old Curiosity Shop. Illustrated by Charles Green. The Works of Charles Dickens. The Household Edition. London: Chapman and Hall, 1871.
Dickens, Charles. The Old Curiosity Shop. Ed. Angus Easson. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1977.
Hammerton, J. A. "Chapter 13: The Old Curiosity Shop." The Dickens Picture-Book. The Charles Dickens Library Edition. London: Educational Book, 1910. Vol. 17. Pp. 171-211.
Matz, B. W., and Kate Perugini; illustrated by Harold Copping. Character Sketches from Dickens. London: Raphael Tuck, 1924. Copy in the Paterson Library, Lakehead University.
"The Old Curiosity Shop — Thirty-nine Illustrations by Charles Green." Scenes and Characters from the Works of Charles Dickens, Being Eight Hundred and Sixty-six Drawings by Fred Barnard, Gordon Thomson, Hablot Knight Browne (Phiz), J. McL. Ralston, J. Mahoney, H. French, Charles Green,, E. G. Dalziel, A. B. Frost, F. A. Fraser, and Sir Luke Fildes. London: Chapman and Hall, 1907.
Vann, J. Don. Victorian Novels in Serial. New York: Modern Language Association, 1985.
F. O. C.
Last modified 3 November 2015