"The Italian Prisoner."
Sol Eytinge, Junior
10 cm high x 7.6 cm wide
The final illustration for Dickens's The Uncommercial Traveller in the Ticknor & Fields (Boston, 1867) Diamond Edition, facing page 200.
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See commentary below.]
Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham.
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The Englishman was staying in that town, and he went to his home there; but the figure of this man chained to the bedstead made it no home, and destroyed his rest and peace. He was an Englishman of an extraordinarily tender heart, and he could not bear the picture. He went back to the prison grate; went back again and again, and talked to the man and cheered him. He used his utmost influence to get the man unchained from the bedstead, were it only for ever so short a time in the day, and permitted to come to the grate. It look a long time, but the Englishman’s station, personal character, and steadiness of purpose, wore out opposition so far, and that grace was at last accorded. Through the bars, when he could thus get light upon the tumour, the Englishman lanced it, and it did well, and healed. His strong interest in the prisoner had greatly increased by this time, and he formed the desperate resolution that he would exert his utmost self-devotion and use his utmost efforts, to get Carlavero pardoned. ["The Italian Prisoner," p. 200]
The pathetic narrative of the political prisoner in pre-Risorgimento Italy is complicated by virtue of its dual narrative perspective, but Eytinge presents a straightforward illustration of the English Liberal visiting the victim of autocracy in his subterranean prison cell, reducing the 13 October 1860 article to fundamentals, and omitting the enormous bottle of wine whose progress from the north of Italy to the south of England dominates the latter part of the curious "tale." For "The Italian Prisoner", originally published in All the Year Round on 13 October 1860, Sol Eytinge in the 1867 Diamond Edition compilation of essays from The Uncommercial Traveller realized the scene in which the English humanitarian visits the Italian political prisoner, "Giovanni Carlavero," whom Dickens based on an actual prisoner, Sanvanero, who was similarly assisted by the English Liberal Lord Dudley Coutts Stuart, Member of Parliament, known to Dickens through his famous cousin, the banking heiress Angela Burdett Coutts. The manifest sympathy of the English first-person narrator makes him effectively more than a mere commentator — a kind of secondary protagonist — even though he interacts with the prisoner only some years after Carlavero's release, and retails the sympathetic Englishman's impressions second-hand.
Only one illustrator has dealt directly with the affecting and peculiar story in the sequence of Uncommercial Traveller essays, perhaps because it is so very different from the other "essays" in form, and lacks the English flaneur narrator. In the Household Edition published in 1877 by Chapman and Hall, E. G. Dalziel in At the upper end of this dungeon . . . . the Englishman first beheld him, sitting on an iron bedstead, to which he was chained by a heavy chain, Dalziel presents a rather more complicated scene, in which, in the presence of a jailor, the English Liberal attempts to discuss the prisoner's plight. As is typical of Eytinge's Diamond Edition illustrations, the wood-engraving focuses on a pair of important and contrasting characters (the prisoner himself, and the tender-hearted Englishman rather than the narrator) and merely sketches in the backdrop, whereas in the next decade Dalziel actually attempts to depict the deplorable conditions of Carlavero's unjust incarceration. Although Dalziel's figures lack "inner life," his treatment of the situation is certainly more atmospheric and extensive than Eytinge's, necessarily limited by the size of wood-engraving that the Diamond Edition permitted him. One distinct advantage of the uncomplicated format of the Diamond Edition volume is that it permitted a simultaneous "reading" of illustration and text, so that one may study the situation in the picture and the developing relationship between the Englishman and Carlavero over the course of two pages.
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Last modified 3 April 2014