Mrs. Clennam and Arthur Clennam

"Mrs. Clennam and Arthur Clennam," the third full-page illustration for the volume by Sol Eytinge, Jr. 1871. 7.5 cm high by 10 cm wide. The Diamond Edition of Dickens's Little Dorrit (Boston: James R. Osgood, 1871), facing page 29. 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.]

The third paired character study to complement Dickens's narrative, Eytinge's "Mrs. Clennam and Arthur Clennam," focuses on the dictatorial invalid, her wheel-chair almost a throne in that it and she together dominate the picture. Missing from the illustration, although very much present in the facing page of the text, is the butler, Flintwinch. Accordingly, the reader of 1871 would probably have connected this earlier passage from Chapter Five, "Family Affairs," with Eytinge's third full-page illustration:

Looking at him wrathfully, she bent herself back in her chair to keep him further off, but gave him no reply.

"I am deeply sensible, mother, that if this thought has never at any time flashed upon you, it must seem cruel and unnatural in me, even in this confidence, to breathe it. But I cannot shake it off. Time and change (I have tried both before breaking silence) do nothing to wear it out. Remember, I was with my father. Remember, I saw his face when he gave the watch into my keeping, and struggled to express that he sent it as a token you would understand, to you. Remember, I saw him at the last with the pencil in his failing hand, trying to write some word for you to read, but to which he could give no shape. The more remote and cruel this vague suspicion that I have, the stronger the circumstances that could give it any semblance of probability to me. For Heaven's sake, let us examine sacredly whether there is any wrong entrusted to us to set right. No one can help towards it, mother, but you.

"Still so recoiling in her chair that her overpoised weight moved it, from time to time, a little on its wheels, and gave her the appearance of a phantom of fierce aspect gliding away from him, she interposed her left arm, bent at the elbow with the back of her hand towards her face, between herself and him, and looked at him in a fixed silence. [Ch. 5, "Family Affairs," p. 28]

Eytinge effectively communicates the essentials of Mrs. Clennam's character: her inflexibile nature, her moral rigidity, her stern Calvinist approach to life, and especially her lack of warm and maternal feeling for her adopted son. Thus, the illustration prepares the reader of for her role in the story as the suppressor of the true story of Arthur's origins (her husbanbd's sexual liaison with a dance — Arthur's birth-mother) and of the codicil that will enrich the Dorrits.

Reference

Dickens, Charles. Little Dorrit, il. Sol Eytinge, Junior. The Diamond Edition. Boston: James R. Osgood, 1871.


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Last modified 16 April 2011