14.3 x 9.3 cm framed
Thirteenth 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. 161.
Dickens's original illustrator, George Cruikshank in the January 1838 number of Bentley's Miscellany provided a realisation of yet another turning point in Oliver's life as the boy fails to admit the gang to the house at Chertsey, Surrey. In the original illustration, the serial reader encountered a realization of Oliver's being discovered by the servants shortly after climbing in through a diminutive window in The Burglary at the Maylies' home in Chertsey. [Click on illustration to enlarge it.]
Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham.
[You may use these images without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the photographer and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one.]
Two Passages Illustrated
In the short time he had had to collect his senses, the boy had firmly resolved that, whether he died in the attempt or not, he would make one effort to dart upstairs from the hall, and alarm the family. Filled with this idea, he advanced at once, but stealthily.
"Come back!" suddenly cried Sikes aloud. "Back! back!"
Scared by the sudden breaking of the dead stillness of the place, and by a loud cry which followed it, Oliver let his lantern fall, and knew not whether to advance or fly.
The cry was repeated — a light appeared — a vision of two terrified half-dressed men at the top of the stairs swam before his eyes — a flash — a loud noise — a smoke — a crash somewhere, but where he knew not, — and he staggered back.
Sikes had disappeared for an instant; but he was up again, and had him by the collar before the smoke had cleared away. He fired his own pistol after the men, who were already retreating; and dragged the boy up.
"Clasp your arm tighter," said Sikes, as he drew him through the window. "Give me a shawl here. They've hit him. Quick! How the boy bleeds!"
Then came the loud ringing of a bell, mingled with the noise of fire-arms, and the shouts of men, and the sensation of being carried over uneven ground at a rapid pace. And then, the noises grew confused in the distance; and a cold deadly feeling crept over the boy's heart; and he saw or heard no more. [Chapter 22, "The Burglary," 165-66]
Above: the window of Pyrcroft House, Chertsey, which is thought to have been the model for the window featured in the burglary episode (photograph taken of the window in situ in August 2005 by Jackie Banerjee). The original of the home in Surrey, Lynch speculates, is either a building in Gogmore Lane or, as tradition has it, Pycroft House, in Pycroft Street, now a school. The window, known as "Oliver's Window," has been relocated to the Morning Room of the Charles Dickens Museum at 48 Doughty Street, Holborn, London.
Although Dickens's official illustrator for Oliver Twist, George Cruikshank depicts the housebreaker Bill Sikes as the sordid, lower-class villain out of contemporary melodrama, the figure whom Felix Octavius Carr Darley in his 1888 series of Character Sketches from Dickens describes is much more of an individual (despite his characteristic long face and white top hat derived directly from Cruikshank) than a type. In the chapter 22 illustration which depicts Oliver's being surprised and shot at as soon as he has entered the Chertsey house that Sikes is attempting to rob, George Cruikshank minimizes the previously intimidating bulk of the notorious housebreaker by confining him to a mere facial likeness in the frame window five-and-a-half feet off the ground outside — in a framed portrait, so to speak — as Sikes watches the unfolding scene with interest and relative impotence as he seems powerless to intervene to save Oliver or assault the servants who are discharging firearms. Effectively rendered, Cruikshank's ruffian is unshaven, unkempt, and full-faced — but the small window through which he peers would prevent him from firing his own weapon on the two servants, let alone haul Oliver out if harm's way by the collar in the text on the page facing the steel-engraving, which intensifies the suspense at the end of the monthly part, as the author reports the protagonist's sensations of being hauled up through the window, dragged across the ground, and left to die in a ditch. The same improbability associated with the window is apparent in Harry Furniss's rendition of the same dramatic moment.
With a greater number of plates to provide for the novel and a knowledge of the trajectory of the plot, both James Mahoney for the Household Edition and Harry Furniss for The Charles Dickens Library Edition emphasized the criminal career of the housebreaker and ultimately murderer Bill Sikes, brought brilliantly to twentieth-century cinema by Robert Newton, Oliver Reed, and a host of other actors — whereas Cruikshank has just four representations of Sikes in twenty-four illustrations, Mahoney has six out of twenty-nine, and Furniss nine thirty three. By the time that Cruikshank executed the monthly wrapper for the 1846 re-serialisation, he appreciated Sikes's importance, showing him in three of the the monthly wrapper's eleven vignettes; likewise, in Furniss's Characters in the Story, Sikes and his dog appear prominently in the middle of the right-hand frame, Sikes being the largest by far of the forty-four figures (the lifeless Nancy is also in a prominent position, the centre of the bottom frame).
However, instead of realizing the botched robbery itself as Cruikshank had done some thirty years earlier, Mahoney had focussed on two scenes immediately preceding the burglary, perhaps aware that his readers would inevitably compare his treatment of The Burglary to that by Cruikshank. Such a consideration, however, did not prevent Harry Furniss from attempting a much more dynamic composition in which the focus is the four servants who burst into the storeroom as Oliver is about to pass out. Seeing the picture before reading the accompanying text, one might expect the worst, but by the end of the closing narrative curtain Sikes has at least abstracted Oliver from the immediate danger posed by the armed servants — who become four in number in the Furniss illustration.
The rooms look entirely different in the 1838 and 1910 illustrations. Dickens himself is equivocal about the nature of the backroom into which Sikes lowers the terrified boy: "at the back of the house: which belonged to a scullery, or a small brewing-place, at the end of the passage" (164). An illustrator, of course, cannot embrace ambiguity. Cruikshank must have decided it would be a "brewing-place," and accordingly inserted a wooden vat and long-handled implement on the wall, leaving the space uncluttered. The only chaos in his picture is the frightened servants, the discharge of a pistol, the smoke of the gunpowder, and the wounded boy, crying out. In contrast, transforming the room into a cluttered scullery, Furniss re-arranges the layout of the room and alters the juxtaposition of the figures (now six in number) in such a way that Oliver is no longer the obvious focus of the illustration. In the somewhat theatrical original in Bentley's (Part 10, January 1838), Cruikshank has the two frightened servants to the left, just entering through the open doorway; Oliver, holding his arm (centre); a large brewing-tub, lower right, and Sikes's troll-like face, upper right. Although he minimizes the clouds of gunpowder, Furniss provides considerably more clutter in the scullery, places the comic servants upper centre (one with a sword, a second with a pistol, a third with a raised lantern), and relegates an obviously wounded Oliver to the lower left and an angry Sikes to the upper left, leaving the centre of the composition vacant, so that the reader-viewer in anticipation must be read the plate proleptically; only five pages later will the reader find its textual equivalent and learn Oliver's fate.
Illustrations from the Serial (1837), Diamond Edition (1867), Household Edition (1871) Darley's "Character Sketches from Dickens" (1888), and Kyd's "Characters from Dickens" (1890).
Left: George Cruikshank's The Robbery. Right: Felix Octavius Carr Darley's 1888 portrait of the notorious housebreaker, abducting Oliver, Sikes, Nancy, and Oliver Twist. [Click on images to enlarge them.]
Left: J. Clayton Clarke's 1890 portrait "Bill Sikes. Right: Sol Eytinge, Junior's Bill Sikes and Nancy (1867). [Click on images to enlarge them.]
Above: James Mahoney's 1871 realisation of the scene immediately preceding the robbery, outside the house at Chertsey, "Directly I leave go of you, do your work. Hark!" [Click on the image to enlarge it.]
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Created 4 February 2015