The wounded Oliver thrown into the Ditch
13.4 x 9.2 cm vignetted
Nineteenth 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 208.
In focussing on the scene in which the thieves flee, abandoning the wounded Oliver for dead, Furniss depicts a particularly dramatic moment, and he here departs from the approach taken by George Cruikshank, his great predecessor as an illustrator of Dickens's works. [continued below]
[Click on illustration to enlarge it.]
Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham.
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"Bear a hand with the boy," cried Sikes, beckoning furiously to his confederate. "Come back!"
Toby made a show of returning; but ventured, in a low voice, broken for want of breath, to intimate considerable reluctance as he came slowly along.
"Quicker!" cried Sikes, laying the boy in a dry ditch at his feet, and drawing a pistol from his pocket. "Don't play booty with me."
At this moment the noise grew louder. Sikes, again looking round, could discern that the men who had given chase were already climbing the gate of the field in which he stood; and that a couple of dogs were some paces in advance of them.
"It’s all up, Bill!" cried Toby; "drop the kid, and show 'em your heels." With this parting advice, Mr. Crackit, preferring the chance of being shot by his friend, to the certainty of being taken by his enemies, fairly turned tail, and darted off at full speed. Sikes clenched his teeth; took one look around; threw over the prostrate form of Oliver, the cape in which he had been hurriedly muffled; ran along the front of the hedge, as if to distract the attention of those behind, from the spot where the boy lay; paused, for a second, before another hedge which met it at right angles; and whirling his pistol high into the air, cleared it at a bound, and was gone.
[Chapter 28, "Looks After Oliver, and Proceeds with His Adventures," 204]
After a pair of satirical and romantic illustrations in the preceding months' instalments in Bentley's Miscellany, Cruikshank, Dickens's original illustrator, provided a melodramatic study of Oliver, near death apparently, asking for help at the portico of the Maylie mansion in Chertsey, Oliver at Mrs. Maylie's door (Part 13, April 1838). Although Cruikshank, doubtless consulting the novelist at this stage, chose an incident for illustration in which Oliver is once again a petitioner, he did not select the far more emotionally compelling moment when Sikes, thinking Oliver near death from the gunshot wound he has just sustained in the botched robbery, abandons the boy in a ditch in the fields of Surrey. Of course, Household Edition illustrator James Mahoney, has provided Furniss with a precedent for depicting other, more dramatic moments in the robbery sequence, in the 1871 wood-engravings — as, for example, "Directly I leave go of you, do your work. Hark!" in Chapter 22. Cruikshank's chosen moment, Oliver at Mrs. Maylie's door (Part 13, April 1838), has the virtue of enlisting the reader's sympathy for a boy who in attempting to be a perpetrator became a victim; however, once again, Oliver is acted upon rather than acting, and the scene in the periodical illustration hardly exploits the text's possibility for sensational effect. Furniss deftly suggests the chaotic nature of the flight of the thieves after they are compelled to abandon their burglary and take to their heels across the fields, the vegetation of which threaten to engulf both Sikes and Oliver.
As opposed to the work of other fin de siecle Dickens illustrators such as F. W. Pailthorpe (1886) and Charles Pears (1912), Furniss was interested in realisation rather than character study, as the detailed captions for the illustrations in The Charles Dickens Library Edition (1910). Furthermore, whereas Pailthorpe emulated the style of his friend George Cruikshank and Charles Pears adopted a naturalistic manner suggestive of portrait photography, Harry Furniss recasts the early Victorian text in a markedly staccato and impressionistic style consonant with turn-of-the-century developments in painting, in part a reaction to the realism of the illustrators of the sixties such as Fred Walker, George du Maurier, and C. S. Reinhart. Nowhere are these artistic trends more in evidence in this volume than in Furniss's fluid description of Sikes's abandoning the (apparently) dying Oliver. Furniss has so melded the boy and the vegetation that it is difficult at first glance for readers to discern where Oliver's legs end and the engulfing vegetation begins. A black profile in the night, Sikes is yet to throw the cloak over his body, and grips it as yells at Toby Crackit, already rapidly receding in the distance, upper left. Only Oliver's head distinguishes him from the trees at the bottom, but the artist has rendered that distinct by placing it in the light, whereas he has made the thieves mere shadows to suggest the night-time action.
For the reader unacquainted with the story's trajectory, a proleptic reading of the passage in the text would suggest that Oliver once again will suffer a near death experience, if indeed he does not die of his wound and exposure; however, by the time that readers arrive at the illustration, they are aware that Oliver's life force has not yet been quenched, and that, having regained consciousness, he has struggled to reach a nearby house, and has gained the portico of the Maylie mansion by the bottom of the page. Providence, having already brought the boy together with his father's best friend, Mr. Brownlow, has now decreed that he should meet his mother's sister, Rose, and her adoptive family, the Maylies.
Relevant Illustrations from the serial edition (1837-39), Diamond Edition (1867), Household Edition (1871), the Robson & Kerslake Edition (1886), and Kyd's "Character Studies from Dickens" (1890, 1910)
Left: George Cruikshank's Oliver at Mrs. Maylie's door. Right: Sol Eytinge, Junior's Flash Toby Crackit. [Click on images to enlarge them.]
Left: Kyd's depiction of the violent Bill Sikes. Right: F. W. Pailthorpe's Mr. Crackit's 'good natur' (1886). [Click on images to enlarge them.]
Above: James Mahoney's 1871 engraving of Sikes' forcibly leading Oliver to the staging house for the robbery, Sikes, with Oliver's hand still in his, softly approached the low porch. [Click on the image to enlarge it.]
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Last modified 21 February 2015