Arthur Clennam is introduced to "Mr. F.'s Aunt." (See page 162.) — Book 1, Chapter 13, "Patriarchal." Fin-de-siécle illustrator Harry Furniss's interpretation of the awkward dinner at the Patriarchal mansion in the twenty-third chapter of the first book in Charles Dickens's Little Dorrit, Charles Dickens Library Edition, 1910. The lithograph occurs facing page 160, but the passage illustrated occurs two pages later, setting up expectations in the reader about the nature of Arthur's visit to the Casby mansion. 9.5 cm high x 14.5 cm wide, partially framed (vignetted on the right side). The accompanying caption identifies the precise lines realised (with some condensing of the original text): A fourth figure in the Patriarchal tent, whom Flora introduced as "Mr. F's Aunt," was an amazing little old woman, with a face like a staring wooden doll, too cheap for expression, and a stiff yellow wig perched unevenly on the top of her headDorrit, p. 162. The Furniss illustration captures the character comedy of the situation, and Arthur Clennam's discomfiture, which, in fact, occurs after the peculiar Aunt speaks. It reinterprets the original serial illustration, Mr. F.'s Aunt is conducted into Retirement (March 1856).

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.]

Passage Realized

There was a fourth and most original figure in the Patriarchal tent, who also appeared before dinner. This was an amazing littl old woman, with a face like a staring wooden doll too cheap for expression, and a stiff yellow wig perched unevenly on the top of her head, as if the child who owned the doll had driven a tack through it anywhere, so that it only got fastened on. Another remarkable thing in this little old woman was, that the same child seemed to have damaged her face in two or three places with some blunt instrument in the nature of a spoon; her countenance, and particularly the tip of her nose, presenting the phenomena of several dints, generally answering to the bowl of that article. A further remarkable thing in this little old woman was, that she had no name but Mr F.'s Aunt.

. . . . Flora had just said, "Mr. Clennam, will you give me a glass of port for Mr. F.'s Aunt?"

"The Monument near London Bridge," that lady instantly proclaimed, "was put up arter the Great Fire of London; and the Great Fire of London was not the fire in which your uncle George's workshops was burned down."

Mr. Pancks, with his former courage, said, "Indeed, ma'am? All right!" But appearing to be incensed by imaginary contradiction, or other ill-usage, Mr. F.'s Aunt, instead of relapsing into silence, made the following additional proclamation:

"I hate a fool."

She imparted to this sentiment, in itself almost Solomonic, so extremely injurious and personal a character by levelling it straight at the visitor's head, that it became necessary to lead Mr. F.'s Aunt from the room. This was quietly done by Flora; Mr. F.'s Aunt offering no resistance, but inquiring on her way out, "What he come there for, then?" with implacable animosity.

When Flora returned, she explained that her legacy was a clever old lady, but was sometimes a little singular, and 'took dislikes' — peculiarities of which Flora seemed to be proud rather than otherwise. — Book the First, "Poverty," Chapter 13, "Patriarchal," pp. 134-136.


In the original serial instalment, Phiz demonstrates the hero's realisation that renewing his former relationship with Flora Finching (nee Casby) is hardly possible. In Furniss's redrafting, the dinner-guest, Arthur Clennam, is the focal point for this scene full of caricature, from the presiding, Quaker-like "Patriarch" to the calculating Casby (right). Clennam rises abruptly from his chair, not quite sure what to make of Mr. F's Aunt, or of the sweetheart who seems to disregard her aunt's rude and erratic behaviour.

Mr. F.'s Aunt, Casby and Pancks in the original, Diamond, and Household Editions, 1856-1873

Left: The third frontispiece in the New York "Household Edition" volumes, Gilbert's engraving of Mr. F.'s Aunt demanding that a startled Arthur eat her crust, "He's too proud a chap to eat it . . ." (1863). Centre: James Mahoney's Household Edition illustration for the same chapter, depicting Arthur Clennam's arrival at the patriarchal mansion, The servant-maid had ticked the two words "Mr. Clennam" so softly​that she had not been heard; and he consequently stood, within the​door she had closed, unnoticed. (1873). Right: Sol Eytinge, Junior's dual study of the two Victorian men of business, the rent-collector Pancks and the capitalist and slum landlord Casby, Casby and Pancks. [Click on images to enlarge them.]

Above: Phiz's original illustration of the awkward dinner in the Casby mansion, Mr. F.'s Aunt is conducted into Retirement (March 1856). [Click on the image to enlarge it.]


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Last modified 21 April 2016