Oliver's Eyes are opened
14 x 9.5 cm vignetted
Illustration for The Adventures of Oliver Twist in Oliver Twist and A Child's History of England, Charles Dickens Library Edition (1910), vol. 3, facing p. 72.
Whereas in Dickens's description of the attempted robbery in Chapter 10 Oliver looks surprised when Charley Bates describes the "very respectable-looking personage, with a powdered head and gold spectacles . . . in a bottle-green coat with a black-velvet collar" (67), and then becomes shocked and horrified as the Dodger picks the gentleman's pocket to purloin his silk handkerchief, Furniss captures neither of these stronger emotions. [Click on illustration to enlarge it.]
Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham.
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The old gentleman was a very respectable-looking personage, with a powdered head and gold spectacles. He was dressed in a bottle-green coat with a black velvet collar; wore white trousers; and carried a smart bamboo cane under his arm. He had taken up a book from the stall, and there he stood, reading away, as hard as if he were in his elbow-chair, in his own study. It is very possible that he fancied himself there, indeed; for it was plain, from his abstraction, that he saw not the book-stall, nor the street, nor the boys, nor, in short, anything but the book itself — which he was reading straight through: turning over the leaf when he got to the bottom of a page, beginning at the top line of the next one, and going regularly on, with the greatest interest and eagerness.
What was Oliver's horror and alarm as he stood a few paces off, looking on with his eyelids as wide open as they would possibly go, to see the Dodger plunge his hand into the old gentleman's pocket, and draw from thence a handkerchief! To see him hand the same to Charley Bates; and finally to behold them, both, running away round the corner at full speed.
In an instant the whole mystery of the handkerchiefs, and the watches, and the Jewels, and the Jew, rushed upon the boy's mind. He stood, for a moment, with the blood so tingling through all his veins from terror, that he felt as if he were in a burning fire; then, confused and frightened, he took to his heels; and, not knowing what he did, made off as fast as he could lay his feet to the ground.
[Chapter 10, "Oliver becomes better acquainted with the characters of his new associates; and purchases experience at a high price. Being a short, but very important chapter, in this history," p. 67-68]
A scene well-known from the original George Cruikshank series in the July 1837 issue of Bentley's Miscellany, the theft of Mr. Brownlow's silk handkerchief continues the boy's "progress" through criminal underworld in the tradition of Fielding's Jonathon Wilde and William Hogarth's The Harlot's Progress. For the London readers of the 1830s the scene would have seemed frighteningly real as it draws the viewer's attention to those executing the crime, since the light-fingered street boys would often abscond with the fruits of their crime without even being detected. However, the scenario of street urchins robbing an oblivious victim would have been almost hackneyed by 1910. Significantly whereas in Cruikshank's illustration the bookseller (left) is observing with growing alarm what is happening to his customer, in the Furniss treatment the bookseller (centre) cannot see Oliver at all, and probably cannot see The Artful Dodger; he is curious, but ironically does not cry out in alarm to warn his customer. His testimony, therefore, several pages after the illustration placed in Chapter 11, is somewhat suspect in that, at least according to Furniss's plate, he can have seen only Charley Bates clearly, and would have had Oliver outside his field of vision.
Although the 1871 Household Edition illustrator James Mahoney depicts the pursuit of Oliver by the mob through the marketplace, he does not actually show the robbery. Mahoney likely felt that he could recreate the highly dramatic moment in a more realistic manner, and elected to focus on Oliver's genuine terror at being mistaken for the actual thief in "Stop thief!" while the real culprits, part of the mob (left) are already looking for an opportunity to break away. In the Furniss sequence, we proceed from the robbery to Mr. Grimwig and Mr. Brownlow waiting for Oliver's return from that same book-seller, whereas in the original sequence we advance directly to the more dramatic moment in which Sikes and Nancy apprehend Oliver. Mahoney, on the other hand, lays the groundwork for the revelation of the plot between Monks and Fagin in "What's become of the boy?" (Ch. 13).
In Furniss's introduction of Mr. Brownlow, who will prove by coincidence a significant character in the latter part of the novel, the viewer can apprehend very little about him, and may also be surprised that Oliver (left), the waif from the northern workhouse, is so well dressed. Charley and The Artful Dodger appear here in precisely the clothing in which Furniss dresses them in The Dodger's Toilet in Chapter 17. Such visual continuity is important in the Furniss sequence because he effectively foregrounds the figures by throwing the background into obscurity, minimally sketching in such details as are consistent with the settings that Dickens has stipulated. In this particular plate, however, Furniss has provided an unusual degree of detail in sketching in the bookstall, which contains prints as well as volumes. By the time that the reader encounters the robbery scene, Oliver is being arraigned before the severe magistrate Mr. Fang, in Chapter Eleven, "Treats of Mr. Fang the Police Magistrate; and Furnishes a Slight Specimen of His Mode of Administering Justice."
Relevant Illustrations from the serial edition (1838) and Household Edition (1871)
Left: George Cruikshank's depiction of the attempted pickpocketing of Mr. Brownlow, Oliver amazed at the Dodger's mode of going to work (1838). Right: Mahoney's Household Edition illustration "Stop thief!" (1871). [Click on images to enlarge them.]
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Last modified 24 January 2015