Mistress Affery's Alarm
12.9 cm high x 9.2 cm wide, vignetted
Dickens's Little Dorrit, Vol. 12 of Charles Dickens Library Edition, Book the Second, "Poverty," Chapter 17, "Missing," facing p. 656.
Fin-de-siécle illustrator Harry Furniss's interpretation of the chapter in which William Dorrit, having returned to London from Venice where his daughter Fanny has married Edmund Sparkler, tries to find information as to the whereabouts of Blandois, lately Henry Gowan's model.
[Click on image to enlarge it.]
Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham.
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It was exactly the same No as before, and put another barrier up.
"You asked me if I accounted for the disappearance to myself," Mrs. Clennam sternly reminded him, "not if I accounted for it to you. I do not pretend to account for it to you, sir. I understand it to be no more my business to do that, than it is yours to require that."
Mr Dorrit answered with an apologetic bend of his head. As he stepped back, preparatory to saying he had no more to ask, he could not but observe how gloomily and fixedly she sat with her eyes fastened on the ground, and a certain air upon her of resolute waiting; also, how exactly the self-same expression was reflected in Mr. Flintwinch, standing at a little distance from her chair, with his eyes also on the ground, and his right hand softly rubbing his chin.
At that moment, Mistress Affery (of course, the woman with the apron) dropped the candlestick she held, and cried out, "There! O good Lord! there it is again. Hark, Jeremiah! Now!"
If there were any sound at all, it was so slight that she must have fallen into a confirmed habit of listening for sounds; but Mr. Dorrit believed he did hear a something, like the falling of dry leaves. The woman's terror, for a very short space, seemed to touch the three; and they all listened. — Book the Second, "Riches," Chapter 17, "Missing," p. 653.
The chief illustrators of the book in the nineteenth century, Phiz and James Mahoney, and the first great Dickens illustrator of the twentieth, Harry Furniss have all focussed on the same aspect of the plot of the fourteenth monthly part, Mr. Dorrit's reception at Mrs. Clennam's during his brief stay in London. However, each illustrator has realised a slightly different moment in the interview. Having seen his daughter Fanny married to the simple-minded but well-meaning Edmund Sparkler in Venice, Mr. Dorrit returns with Fanny and his new son-in-law to London to manage business affairs. While Edmund and Mrs. Sparkler settle into Mrs. Merdle's rooms in the London mansion while she is still in Italy, Mr. Dorrit pursues his quest for Rigaud. However, Mrs. Clennam, one of Rigaud's business associates, seems reluctant to release any information to Mr. Dorrit, who is naturally suspicious of the hard-headed businesswoman and her confederate, the devious Jeremiah Flintwinch.
To balance his focus (Affery's sudden alarm at the sound to which she alone seems particularly susceptible) against the principals in the dialogue, Mrs. Clennam in her wheel-chair (left) and Mr. Dorrit dangling his glasses on a chain (centre), Furniss has arranged of the figures so that Affery, upstage, is the object of the glances of the other three. Aside from the fallen candlestick, Furniss provides little in the way of background detail, although the setting must certainly be Mrs. Clennam's room on the second floor. After encountering the decidedly odd Flora Finching at his hotel, Mr. Dorrit now has to make sense of three further peculiar characters, who seem determined not to aid him in his search for the French confidence man. The focus here is neither of those engaged in the dialogue about Rigaud-Blandois, Mrs. Clennam and Mr. Dorrit; rather, the artist directs readers' attentions to Affery's response to the peculiar noise to which she so viscerally responds. Thus, Furniss is actually using the interview scene to foreshadow the collapse of the Clennam mansion that will destroy the cunning Frenchman who is the nominal subject of the conversation here.
Pertinent illustrations in other early editions, 1857 and 1910
Above: Phiz's original serial illustration of the same scene, with Mr. Dorrit reading one of Mrs. Clennam's handbills as Affery takes alarm, Missing and Dreaming (February 1857). [Click on the image to enlarge it.]
Above: James Mahoney's Household Edition illustration of the same scene, with Mr. Dorrit reading one of Mrs. Clennam's handbills, Mr. Dorrit read it through, as if he had not previously seen it (1873). [Click on the image to enlarge it.]
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Last modified 17 May 2016