Pip's Struggle with the Escaped Convict —
13.6 x 9 cm vignetted
Dickens's Great Expectations, Vol. 14 of the Charles Dickens Library Edition, facing p. 8.
Despite the importance of the opening scene to the novel as a whole, surprisingly not all the illustrators of Great Expectations have attempted it — and none with the intense emotion and energy of Harry Furniss. Although he may not have had access to them, the American illustrations of Pip and the convict in the 1860s by John McLenan in Harper's Weekly and Sol Eytinge, Jr., in the Diamond Edition are useful reference points for Furniss's kinetic description of that fateful meeting on the marshes. [Commentary continued below.]
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"Ha!" he muttered then, considering. "Who d'ye live with, — supposin' you're kindly let to live, which I han't made up my mind about?"
"My sister, sir, — Mrs. Joe Gargery, — wife of Joe Gargery, the blacksmith, sir."
"Blacksmith, eh?" said he. And looked down at his leg.
After darkly looking at his leg and me several times, he came closer to my tombstone, took me by both arms, and tilted me back as far as he could hold me; so that his eyes looked most powerfully down into mine, and mine looked most helplessly up into his.
"Now lookee here," he said, "the question being whether you're to be let to live. You know what a file is?"
"And you know what wittles is?"
After each question he tilted me over a little more, so as to give me a greater sense of helplessness and danger.
"You get me a file." He tilted me again. "And you get me wittles." He tilted me again. "You bring 'em both to me." He tilted me again. "Or I'll have your heart and liver out." He tilted me again.
I was dreadfully frightened, and so giddy that I clung to him with both hands, and said, "If you would kindly please to let me keep upright, sir, perhaps I shouldn't be sick, and perhaps I could attend more."
He gave me a most tremendous dip and roll, so that the church jumped over its own weathercock. Then, he held me by the arms, in an upright position on the top of the stone, and went on in these fearful terms: — [Chapter One, page 3]
The illustration, occupying a whole page facing page 8 in volume 14 (in other words, some five pages after the moment occurs in the letterpress), is vignetted rather than framed, its jagged edges complementing the violence of the illustration and the indistinctness of the background, full of menace as objects familiar to Pip in daylight become unrecognizable in the growing darkness. The full-page illustration, conveying Pip's remembered emotion starkly, elaborates upon the visual theme of the man running through the graveyard, a thumbnail vignette in the upper right-hand corner of Characters in the Story on the title-page.
Although the scene is set at dusk in the the early winter, the dark background, immitative of the dark plates by Phiz in Bleak House, also reflects the haziness of memory. Seen in the shaded area behind the dynamic figures of Pip on a gravestone and Magwitch, forcing him back, are the static church, its porch, and various gravestones and monuments. The scene is generalized, and does not reflect the particulars of the churchyard at Cooling, Kent, the actual scene that Dickens, then living at nearby Gadshill, Rochester, had in mind. Compared to earlier versions by F. W. Pailthorpe, F. A. Fraser, and Charles Brock, Furniss's interpretation of the dramatic meeting of the blacksmith's boy and the felon in the highly atmospheric setting of the churchyard before sunset is particularly baroque in capturing a precise moment in action, as well as impressionistic in its rendering of the figures, the tangle of weeds in the foreground adding significantly to the mysterious and malevolent atmosphere of the accompanying text. Charles Green in the Gadshill Edition (Chapman and Hall, 1898) does not deal with the churchyard scene, and therefore offered Furniss no precedent, and it is unlikely that Furniss would have been able to study the early American illustrations for the novel by John McLenan and Sol Eytinge, Jr.
Working in the visual tradition of the novel established in 1862 by Marcus Stone, Dickens's chosen artistic partner for the Illustrated Library Edition, Furniss would have had to consult three subsequent British illustrated editions for comparable scenes, namely F. A. Fraser's 1876 Household Edition illustration "And you know what wittles is?", capturing a far less violent moment in Pip's first meeting with escaped convict Abel Magwitch; F. W. Pailthorpe's 1885 illustration from the Robson and Kerslake edition, The Terrible Stranger in the Churchyard, a caricature in the Cruikshank-Phiz tradition rather than an attempt at the new realism, but with some admirably realised background details; and H. M. Brock's 1903 "Imperial Edition" pen-and-ink drawing I made bold to say 'I am glad you enjoy it.'. By the time that the reader encounters the illustration facing page 8 in the first chapter, Pip is still too terrified to eat his slice of bread since he is convinced that he "must have something in reserve for [his] dreadful acquaintance" (8). Thus, Furniss must have felt that only such violence as he has depicted would convince the reader of the boy's continuing to be terrified at the prospect of meeting Magwitch again, "and his ally the still more dreadful young man" (8), Compeyson.
Pertinent Illustrations in Other Editions: 1860, 1867, 1876, 1885, and 1903
Upper left: John McLenan's "You young dog!" said the man, licking his lips at me, "What fat cheeks you ha' got!"; upper right, Sol Eytinge, Jr.'s "Pip and The Convict". Lower left: F. A. Fraser's "And you know what wittles is?" Lower centre: F. W. Pailthorpe's "Terrible Stranger in the Churchyard." Lower right: H. M. Brock's "I made bold to say 'I am glad you enjoy it'". [Click on images to enlarge them.]
Whereas the Household Edition's uncaptioned illustration of this scene effectively juxtaposes the small, timid but respectably dressed boy, backed against a large grave-marker, and the rugged, burly convict, it fails to communicate the boy's sheer terror or the gothic atmosphere of the scene as described by Dickens. On the other hand, interested in communicating the psychological impact of the chance meeting on Pip, Furniss seems to be exaggerating the violence, the darkness, and boy's determined resistance, none of which elements are discernible in the A. A. Dixon lithographic frontispiece for the Collins Pocket Edition of the same year. With photographic clarity, Dixon's frontispiece conveys a strong sense of place, depicting the gravestones, the church tower and side chapel, and even the headstone of Pip's parents (centre left), even while focussing on the shackled convict the frightened child. Whereas Furniss shows Pip being violently inverted, Dixon depicts the moment preceding, when Magwitch seems to study the boy's features.
The "value added" aspect of the Furniss illustration, then, its aggression and physical threat, as opposed to F. A. Fraser's capturing the convict's carefully attending to what the boy tells him about his condition as an orphan, and his brother-in-law's being the village blacksmith. "Provis," then, in the parallel Household Edition illustration, recognizes the providential nature of this chance meeting on the Medway marshes towards sunset on a winter's evening consistent with the December 1860 publication of the first four serial instalments of the novel in All the Year Round. Following the logic of the narrative, David Paroissien dates the fateful meeting to 24 December 1803.
Dickens, Charles. Great Expectations. Il. John McLenan. Harper's Weekly: A Journal of Civilization. volume IV: 740 through volume V: 495 (for 24 November 1860 through 3 August 1861).
Dickens, Charles. Great Expectations. Il. Sol Eytinge, Junior. Diamond Edition. 14 vols. Boston: Ticknor & Fields, 1867.
Dickens, Charles. Great Expectations. Il. F. A. Fraser. Volume 6 of the Household Edition. London: Chapman and Hall, 1876.
Dickens, Charles. Great Expectations. Il. F. W. Pailthorpe. London: Robson & Kerslake, 23 Coventry Street, Haymarket, 1885.
Dickens, Charles. Great Expectations. Il. H. M. Brock. Imperial Edition. 16 vols. London: Gresham Publishing Company [34 Southampton Street, The Strand, London], 1901-3.
Dickens, Charles. Great Expectations. Il. A. A. Dixon. Collins Pocket Edition. London & Glasgow: Collins Clear-Type Press, 1910.
Dickens, Charles. Great Expectations. Il. Harry Furniss. Charles Dickens Library Edition. 18 vols. London: Educational Book Company, 1910. Vol 14.
Paroissien, David. the Companion to Great Expectations. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood, 2000.
Last modified 28 January 2014