Dr. and Mrs. Strong and the Old Soldier

"Dr. and Mrs. Strong and the Old Soldier," the eighth full-page illustration for the volume by Sol Eytinge, Jr. 1867. 7.5 cm high by 9.8 cm wide. Charles Dickens's The Personal History of David Copperfield (Boston: Ticknor and Fields, 1867), facing page 104. 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.]

Realizing well the book's "May/December" marriage partners, the eighth illustration offers yet another atypical model for a middle-class family structure: the elderly scholar, Dr. Strong, his beautiful young wife, Annie, and her interfering mother, whom the boys at Dr. Strong's school in Canterbury have scornfully dubbed "The Old Soldier" by virtue of her self-centred determination to dominate her daughter's household and put her own personal interests ahead of everyone else's. Eytinge has provided a number of contextual details for the setting in which the action occurs — including Dr. Strong, working on his notes for his book (left), the Old Soldier, reading her newspaper (right), and the young wife between the two, a position which exemplifies her divided loyalties and dramatizes her sense of alienation. As in Phiz's depiction of the Strongs in the original serial illustrations, the old scholar has a tumbled pile of books beside him, and seems oblivious to the presence of his wife and mother-in-law. The leaded-pane window (right), large, comfortable chairs, and the book-lined room suggest that the group are in Dr. Strong's library.

Dickens describes Mrs. Markleham and her relationship with her daughter and son-in-law in Chapter 16, "I Am a New Boy in More Senses than One," explaining that her nickname signifies "her generalship and the skill with which she marshalled great forces of relations against the Doctor" (135). Whereas David specifies that Mrs. Markleham is small, Eytinge's seems large, but we see the same "unchangeable [French-style] cap, ornamented with some artificial flowers, and two artificial butterflies." In this earlier chapter, the Old Soldier had attempted to ask a favour of Dr. Strong upon the occasion of cousin Jack Maldon's sailing for India. In Chapter 19, "I Look About Me, and Make a Discovery," the Old Soldier makes explicit her favour, namely that the Doctor intervene so that Jack Maldon, suffering ill-health as a consequence of the climate, be allowed to return to England early, and given "some more suitable and fortunate" (158) position nearer Canterbury. However, since Mrs. Markleham in Eytinge's eighth full-page illustration is reading her newspaper rather than Jack Maldon's letter and since neither the Wickfields nor David is included (and tea is nowhere in sight), this illustration seems to combine elements of several scenes in which the three characters appear. Since Mrs. Markleham is also featured in chapters 36, 42, 45, and 64, and since — unlike Phiz — Eytinge could select material for his character studies from across the full range of chapters for each illustration, in all likelihood, Eytinge is thinking of the following scene in Chapter 45, "Mr. Dick Fulfills My Aunt's Predictions":

"I am ready to go with Annie to operas, concerts, exhibitions, all kinds of places; and you shall never find that I am tired. Duty, my dear Doctor, before every consideration in the universe!"

She was as good as her word. She was one of those people who can bear a great deal of pleasure, and she never flinched in her perseverance in the cause. She seldom got hold of the newspaper (which she settled herself down in the softest chair in the house to read, through an eye-glass, every day for two hours), but she found out something that she was certain Annie would like to see. [367]

Compared to Phiz's version of Annie and her elderly husband in "I Return to the Doctor's After the Party", Eytinge's figures are more realistic; one senses that the illustrator intends us to take them seriously, and regard them as individuals rather than types. Annie Strong's gaze is directed at neither her husband nor her mother, but out of the frame, at the viewers, dispassionately challenging us to understand her awkward position.

Reference

Dickens, Charles. The Personal History of David Copperfield, il. Sol Eytinge, Junior. The Diamond Edition. Boston: Ticknor & Fields, 1867.


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Last modified 17 January 2011