The Evidence Destroyed
13.9 x 9.1 cm framed
Twenty-thirdillustration 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. 289.
Furniss follows George Cruikshank's illustration in the 1838 Bentley's Miscellany (see below) and depicts the mysterious Monks, who is in league with the Bumbles, destroying the evidence of Oliver's birth at an abandoned factory on the river, amidst the pathetic fallacy of a thunder storm [continued below].
[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.]
With these words, he suddenly wheeled the table aside, and pulling an iron ring in the boarding, threw back a large trap-door which opened close at Mr. Bumble's feet, and caused that gentleman to retire several paces backward, with great precipitation.
"Look down," said Monks, lowering the lantern into the gulf. "Don't fear me. I could have let you down, quietly enough, when you were seated over it, if that had been my game."
Thus encouraged, the matron drew near to the brink; and even Mr. Bumble himself, impelled by curiosity, ventured to do the same. The turbid water, swollen by the heavy rain, was rushing rapidly on below; and all other sounds were lost in the noise of its plashing and eddying against the green and slimy piles. There had once been a water-mill beneath; the tide foaming and chafing round the few rotten stakes, and fragments of machinery that yet remained, seemed to dart onward, with a new impulse, when freed from the obstacles which had unavailingly attempted to stem its headlong course.
"If you flung a man's body down there, where would it be to-morrow morning?" said Monks, swinging the lantern to and fro in the dark well.
"Twelve miles down the river, and cut to pieces besides," replied Bumble, recoiling at the thought.
Monks drew the little packet from his breast, where he had hurriedly thrust it; and tying it to a leaden weight, which had formed a part of some pulley, and was lying on the floor, dropped it into the stream. It fell straight, and true as a die; clove the water with a scarcely audible splash; and was gone.
The three looking into each other's faces, seemed to breathe more freely.
[Chapter 38, "Containing an Account of what Passed between Mr. and Mrs. Bumble, and Mr. Monks, at their Nocturnal Interview," p. 288]
Furniss's notion of having the diabolical Monks gain possession of and destroy the scant evidence of Oliver's true origins (including a locket that would confirm the wealthy Edwin Leeford as his father) is derived both from the original serial illustration by George Cruikshank in the August 1838 number of Bentley's Miscellanyand from the frontispiece The Evidence Destroyed by JamesMahoney for the 1871 volume in the Household Edition.
For the third volume of the 1910 Charles Dickens Library Edition, Harry Furniss's rendering of the scene (still derived from Cruikshank, but incorporating the Mahoney characterisation of Monks as dark, menacing, commanding, yet obscure) heightens its drama by the sharpened contrast of the black-and-white shading, the terror on the faces of the Bumbles, and the emphatic gesture of Monks, whose facial expression the viewer cannot apprehend. That Furniss gave the figure of Monks holding the lantern a place of prominence (the lower left-hand corner) in Characters in the Story suggests that Furniss felt this was a pivotal moment in the narrative, even if he felt it necessary to depict Monks with his signature hat on in both the vignette and the full-page lithograph, which we encounter immediately after Dickens's economical but telling description in the text.
The destruction of the objects associated with Oliver's birth that might well confirm his identity as the son (albeit, illegitimate) and heir of Edwin Leeford would seem to suggest that the powers of evil are now in the ascendant. The conventional aristocratic villain of melodrama, Edward Leeford (alias "Monks"), having suborned the Bumbles, discards the evidence irretrievably, seemingly cementing Oliver's obscurity. Thus, unlike Iago in Shakespeare's Tragedy of Othello, the malignancy of Monks is hardly "motiveless." Oliver's evil twin, as naturally bad (although legitimate) as Oliver is naturally good, is "consumed with a desire to corrupt and destroy his brother" (McMaster 185). To underscore this binary difference in the half-brothers, the illustrators consistently depict Monks clothed from head to foot in black and usually show him operating in darkness, whereas they consistently characterise Oliver as pale-faced and blond-haired. Apparently, Monks is not content with his own share of the patrimony — he must have all, and therefore must commit Oliver to a life of crime so that, by the peculiar terms of his father's will, Oliver will be ineligible to inherit. Whereas one might legitimately argue that Fagin's evil is a defense against poverty and social exclusion, Monks's evil is evidence of his corruption: he has not been forced into being and doing evil. The badge of his respectable, upper-middle-class status — his dark suit, cape, and top-hat — ironically in the Mahoney and Furniss illustrations becomes the signifier of his "apartness," his alienation from the genuinely Christian morality of Mr. Brownlow and the Maylies, Samaritans who show compassion for the orphan child and believe in his innate goodness.
Illustrations from the initial serial edition (1837-39), Diamond Edition (1871), and Household Edition (1910)
Left: Sol Eytinge, Junior's Monks (1867). Centre: George Cruikshank's The Evidence Destroyed (1838). Right: Harry Furniss's thumbnail vignette of Monks with the lantern, detail from Characters in the Story. [Click on images to enlarge them.]
Above: James Mahoney's 1871 engraving of Monks triumphant, The Evidence Destroyed (1871). [Click on image to enlarge it.]
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Last modified 25 February 2015