Little Dorrit and Maggy
10 cm high by 7.4 cm wide (framed)
Fifth full-page illustration for Dickens's Little Dorrit in the James R. Osgood (Boston), 1871, Diamond Edition.
Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham.
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Little Dorrit (Boston: James R. Osgood [formerly, Ticknor and Fields], 1871)., by Sol Eytinge, Jr., in Charles Dickens's
In the fifth illustration, Eytinge depicts the physically imposing but mentally child-like Maggy and her friend and antithesis, the diminutive but highly intelligent Amy Dorrit. Thus, the illustration reifies the physical archetypes of folklore, the powerful but slow-witted giant and the small but quick-witted protagonist; however, here they are companions rather than adversaries. Locked out of the Marshalsea Debtors' Prison, Borough High Street, Southwark, after being out with Arthur Clennam for dinner, Maggy and her guide wander the streets of London, waiting for the prison gates to open at seven in the morning. Crossing London Bridge and going eastward, they presumably turn back before reaching Westminster, whose twin-towered Abbey Eytinge has placed in the background, even though Dickens nowhere mentions this significant architectural landmark:
Though everywhere the leader and the guide, Little Dorrit, happy for once in her youthful appearance, feigned to cling to and rely upon Maggy. And more than once some voice, from among a knot of brawling or prowling figures in their path, had called out to the rest, to "let the woman and the child go by!" [Chapter 14, "Little Dorrit's Party," p. 101]
In composing the tiny figure of Little Dorrit, Eytinge utilised a much earlier passage in which Dickens described her as a woman of twenty-two whom one might easily pass in the street and take her
for little more than half that age. Not that her face was very youthful, for in truth there was more consideration and care in it than naturally belonged to her utmost years; but she was so little and light, so noiseless and shy. . . . [Chapter 5, "Family Affairs," p. 30].
Another one of those curiously inverted Dickensian characters, one who appears to be a full-grown woman but whose mental development has in fact been arrested, is Maggy, granddaughter of Marshalsea debtor Mrs. Bangham. Amy's friend and companion, whom many take for Amy's mother as they wander London's streets that night, is a mentally challenged twenty-eight-year-old who regards herself, despite her height, as being a mere girl of ten, and therefore in constant need of the direction of her "Little Mother," Amy Dorrit. Again, Eytinge utilizes a passage much earlier in the novel to compose the figure who is never without her capacious basket:
She was about eight-and-twenty, with large bones, large features, large feet and hands, large eyes and no hair. Her large eyes were limpid and almost colourless; they seemed to be very little affected by light, and to stand unnaturally still. There was also that attentive listening expression in her face, which is seen in the faces of the blind; but she was not blind, having one tolerably serviceable eye. Her face was not exceedingly ugly, though it was only redeemed from being so by a smile; a good-humoured smile, and pleasant in itself, but rendered pitiable by being constantly there. A great white cap, with a quantity of opaque frilling that was always flapping about, apologised for Maggy's baldness, and made it so very difficult for her old black bonnet to retain its place upon her head, that it held on round her neck like a gipsy's baby. A commission of haberdashers could alone have reported what the rest of her poor dress was made of, but it had a strong general resemblance to seaweed, with here and there a gigantic tea-leaf. Her shawl looked particularly like a tea-leaf after long infusion. [Chapter 9, "Little Mother," p. 58]
Eytinge contrasts not merely the size of the figures' feet, but the watchful look in Amy's eyes with the look of open gullibility on Maggy's face. However, despite the shadowy figure in middle background, he does not suggest any apprehensiveness in Amy's features, although this is the first night of her life spent outside the protective walls of the Marshalsea.
Dickens, Charles. Little Dorrit, il. Sol Eytinge, Junior. The Diamond Edition. Boston: James R. Osgood, 1871.
Last modified 24 April 2011