Little Dorrit disgraces her Family by Harry Furniss. 1910. 9 x 14.5 cm, vignetted. Dickens's Little Dorrit, volume 12, The Charles Dickens Library Edition, facing page 416. [Click on the image to enlarge it.]

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Passage Illustrated

"There, Father!" cried Mrs. Plornish. "Ain't you a gay young man to be going for a walk along with Miss Dorrit! Let me tie your neck-handkerchief into a regular good bow, for you're a regular beau yourself, Father, if ever there was one."

With this filial joke his daughter smartened him up, and gave him a loving hug, and stood at the door with her weak child in her arms, and her strong child tumbling down the steps, looking after her little old father as he toddled away with his arm under Little Dorrit's.

They walked at a slow pace, and Little Dorrit took him by the Iron Bridge and sat him down there for a rest, and they looked over at the water and talked about the shipping, and the old man mentioned what he would do if he had a ship full of gold coming home to him (his plan was to take a noble lodging for the Plornishes and himself at a Tea Gardens, and live there all the rest of their lives, attended on by the waiter), and it was a special birthday of the old man. They were within five minutes of their destination, when, at the corner of her own street, they came upon Fanny in her new bonnet bound for the same port.

"Why, good gracious me, Amy!" cried that young lady starting. "You never mean it!"

"Mean what, Fanny dear?"

"Well! I could have believed a great deal of you," returned the young lady with burning indignation, "but I don't think even I could have believed this, of even you!"

"Fanny!" cried Little Dorrit, wounded and astonished.

"Oh! Don't Fanny me, you mean little thing, don't! The idea of coming along the open streets, in the broad light of day, with a Pauper!" (firing off the last word as if it were a ball from an air-gun).

"O Fanny!

I tell you not to Fanny me, for I'll not submit to it! I never knew such a thing. The way in which you are resolved and determined to disgrace us, on all occasions, is really infamous. You bad little thing!"

Does it disgrace anybody," said Little Dorrit, very gently, to take care of this poor old man?"

"Yes, miss," returned her sister, "and you ought to know it does. And you do know it does, and you do it because you know it does. The principal pleasure of your life is to remind your family of their misfortunes. And the next great pleasure of your existence is to keep low company. But, however, if you have no sense of decency, I have. You'll please to allow me to go on the other side of the way, unmolested."

With this, she bounced across to the opposite pavement. The old disgrace, who had been deferentially bowing a pace or two off (for Little Dorrit had let his arm go in her wonder, when Fanny began), and who had been hustled and cursed by impatient passengers for stopping the way, rejoined his companion, rather giddy, and said, "I hope nothing's wrong with your honoured father, Miss? I hope there's nothing the matter in the honoured family?"

"No, no," returned Little Dorrit. "No, thank you. Give me your arm again, Mr. Nandy. We shall soon be there now." — Book the First, "Poverty," Chapter 31, "Spirit," p. 382-383.


Little Dorrit disgraces her Family (See page 382). Book I, "Poverty," Chapter 31, "Spirit" — Harry Furniss's fin-de-siécle re-interpretation of the James Mahoney composite Household Edition woodblock engraving in which the pretentious, class-conscious Fanny Dorrit accuses her sister, Amy, of having "lowered" herself by having been seen in public with a mere "Pauper," Old Nandy, Mrs. Plornish's aged father, in the thirty-first chapter of the first book in Charles Dickens's Little Dorrit, Charles Dickens Library Edition, 1910. The lithograph occurs facing page 416, but the passage illustrated occurs fully thirty-four pages earlier, compelling the reader to return from Chapter 34 ("A Shoal of Barnacles") to the scene with Mrs. Plornish's father — "a poor little reedy piping old gentleman, like a worn-out bird" (379), a failed music-binder who had voluntarily retreated to the Union Workhouse.

The accompanying caption (much condensed wording from the original text) identifies the moment realised: Little Dorrit and Mr. Nandy came upon Fanny in her new bonnet. "Why, Amy!" cried that young lady. "The idea of coming along the open streets, in the broad light of day, with a Pauper!" And she bounced across to the opposite pavement.Dorrit, p. 382. The Furniss illustration captures the hypocrisy of the younger Dorrit sister, whose character is reflected in the indignant glance of a tradesman immediately behind Old Nandy (centre). Furniss reinterprets in a highly animated fashion not one of the original Phiz serial steel-engravings, but James Mahoney's Household Edition composite woodblock engraving They were within five minutes of their destination (1873). Furniss's focussing on the contrasting behaviours of the siblings effectively exemplifies the irony of the chapter title.

Although the decade of the story's action is usually given as the 1830s, since the scene in Marseilles with which the story begins is set "thirty years ago" (i. e., 1826), Harry Furniss imbeds a sign advertising Jenny Lind's forthcoming concert at the Exeter Hall, London, implying that this scene in Little Dorrit occurs when the Swedish opera-singer made her long-delayed English debut in May of 1847, before the cream of Victorian society, and went on to sing before Queen Victoria herself. Everywhere Lind went, crowds of people pressed inward, hoping to catch a glimpse of the famous 27-year-old operatic vocalist. The crowds in the London street in Furniss's illustration convey a sense of the vital energy of the world beyond the gates and walls of the Marshalsea. In trhe foreground, the snobbish Fanny Dorrit hypocritically chastizes her sister, Amy, for being seen in the company of an occupant of a work house when her own father is incarcerated for debt in the Marshalsea.

The other imbedded clue as to the date of the scene is the presence of a"Peeler" or "Bobby" in the background, just behind Little Dorrit. Sir Robert Peel's founding of the force in September 1829 is consistent (or nearly so) with Dickens's dating of the action. Of the other artistic interpretations of Old Nandy, surely those of Phiz and Sol Eytinge, Junio, offer a more accurate assessment of the cheerful senior than Furniss's portrait of a sour curmudgeon.

Relevant Illustrations in the original, Diamond, and Household Editions, 1856-1873

Left: James Mahoney's Household Edition illustration for the same chapter, depicting Amy and Old Nandy, set on the pavement in the Borough, a few blocks from the Marshalsea, off the High Street, They were within five minutes of their destination. (1873). Right: Sol Eytinge, Junior's study of the jolly Plornishes of Bleeding Heart Yard, Mr. and Mrs. Plornish and John Edward Nandy. [Click on images to enlarge them.]

Above: Phiz's original illustration of the Dorrits' dinner in the Marshalsea, The Pensioner Entertainment (August 1856). [Click on the image to enlarge it.]


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Last modified 10 May 2016