Mr. Dorrit and the Swiss Innkeeper (See page 476.) — Book II, Chapter 3, "On the Road." 9.3 cm high by 14.3 vignetted, p. 481. Fin-de-siécle illustrator Harry Furniss's interpretation of the haughty behaviour of William Dorrit, who, having inherited wealth to support him, now regards himself as an aristocrat superior even to Captain Sparkler's widow, the wife of the English banker Merdle, whose wealth she feels entitles her to pre-empt the Dorrits' reservation at the Alpine inn — probably effected by her lavishly tipping the landlord.

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

These equipages adorned the yard of the hotel at Martigny, on the return of the family from their mountain excursion. Other vehicles were there, much company being on the road, from the patched Italian Vettura — like the body of a swing from an English fair put upon a wooden tray on wheels, and having another wooden tray without wheels put atop of it — to the trim English carriage. But there was another adornment of the hotel which Mr Dorrit had not bargained for. Two strange travellers embellished one of his rooms.

The Innkeeper, hat in hand in the yard, swore to the courier that he was blighted, that he was desolated, that he was profoundly afflicted, that he was the most miserable and unfortunate of beasts, that he had the head of a wooden pig. He ought never to have made the concession, he said, but the very genteel lady had so passionately prayed him for the accommodation of that room to dine in, only for a little half-hour, that he had been vanquished. The little half-hour was expired, the lady and gentleman were taking their little dessert and half-cup of coffee, the note was paid, the horses were ordered, they would depart immediately; but, owing to an unhappy destiny and the curse of Heaven, they were not yet gone.

Nothing could exceed Mr Dorrit's indignation, as he turned at the foot of the staircase on hearing these apologies. He felt that the family dignity was struck at by an assassin's hand. He had a sense of his dignity, which was of the most exquisite nature. He could detect a design upon it when nobody else had any perception of the fact. His life was made an agony by the number of fine scalpels that he felt to be incessantly engaged in dissecting his dignity.

"Is it possible, sir," said Mr. Dorrit, reddening excessively, "that you have — ha — had the audacity to place one of my rooms at the disposition of any other person?"

Thousands of pardons! It was the host's profound misfortune to have been overcome by that too genteel lady. He besought Monseigneur not to enrage himself. He threw himself on Monseigneur for clemency. If Monseigneur would have the distinguished goodness to occupy the other salon especially reserved for him, for but five minutes, all would go well.

"No, sir," said Mr. Dorrit. "I will not occupy any salon. I will leave your house without eating or drinking, or setting foot in it.

How do you dare to act like this? Who am I that you — ha — separate me from other gentlemen?"

Alas! The host called all the universe to witness that Monseigneur was the most amiable of the whole body of nobility, the most important, the most estimable, the most honoured. If he separated Monseigneur from others, it was only because he was more distinguished, more cherished, more generous, more renowned. — Book the Second, "Riches," Chapter 3, "On the Road," p. 475-476.


William Dorrit is put out by the innkeeper's giving the wealthy banker's wife, Mrs. Merdle, and her foppish son, Edmund Sparker, preferential treatment at the Great Saint Barnard crossing of the Alps into Italy. His grievance with the partiality shown to the other English travellers is exacerbated by Mrs. Merdle's cutting him socially, after his family's having been made much of by previous publicans on their route from France into Italy. "The great travelling-carriage" of the Dorrits here is reminiscent of that cumbersome vehicle in which Charles Dickens transported his family from London to Genoa in 1844.

Although, as Valerie Browne Lester points out, the Phiz illustrations in Little Dorrit are often superfluous because of the descriptive power of the prose, Phiz's realisation of William Dorrit's continuing arrogance and self-importance marks a significant moment in the novel as this is the first illustration in the second book, "Riches." Wealth, as Phiz points out and as Furniss underscores in attempting the same scene, has done nothing to improve either William or his daughter Fanny; their sudden wealth has merely served to magnify their petulance. Only Amy (squeezed in between Fanny and her uncle in the Furniss version) remains untouched by the unexpected windfall that has enabled the formerly indigent Dorrits to undertake a middle-class version of the eighteenth-century the Grand Tour, complete with couriers, servants (suggested by the figures in top-hats in the Furniss illustration) and trains of pack-mules. Thje corpulent innkeeper bows low before the incensed English traveller with the fur collar and walking stick, obvious manifestations of his "gentlemanly" pretentions, an imperious and portly figure whose gesture is suggestive of contempt for those who have usurped his prerogative and occupied the rooms reserved for his suite. Similarly, Mahoney's illustration (below) underscores the silent aloofness of Amy's father as she clings to him for support as Blandois oggles her.

Scenes for the first chapter of Book the Second, "Riches," in the original, Diamond, and Household Editions, 1856-1873

Left: Hablot Knight Browne's original October 1856 steel-engraving of the middle-class English tourists gathered at the Swiss inn, The Travellers. Right: Sol Eytinge, Junior's study of the haughty English governess, the genteel widow whom William Dorrit has hired to "finish" his daughters, Mrs. General (1867). [Click on images to enlarge them.]

Above: James Mahoney's introduction of Rigaud (now, "Blandois") among the English travellers at the Swiss inn, As he kissed her hand, with his best manner and his daintiest smile, the young lady drew a little nearer to her father (Book 2, Ch. 1, in the 1873 Household Edition).[Click on the image to enlarge it.]


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Last modified 5 May 2016