Oliver's Flight to London
14.0 x 9.5 cm vignetted
Sixth 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. 48.
Dickens's description of Oliver's stopping by Mrs. Mann's baby-farm to bid little Dick, his only friend, a fond and reluctant farewell (Chapter 7, "Oliver Continues Refractory") is the subject of Sol Eytinge, Junior's only illustration of the protagonist in the Diamond Edition, Oliver and Little Dick (1867); there is no comparable illustration in the instalments of the novel as originally published in Bentley's Miscellany. However, alluding to Oliver's departure for London in Chapter 8, James Mahoney has provided a title-page vignette for the 1871 Household Edition, showing Oliver after the tearful scene with little Dick, Oliver at the Milestone, which dramatizes the boy's confusion as to what he should do. [Click on illustration to enlarge it.]
Oliver reached the stile at which the by-path terminated; and once more gained the high-road. It was eight o'clock now. Though he was nearly five miles away from the town, he ran, and hid behind the hedges, by turns, till noon: fearing that he might be pursued and overtaken. Then he sat down to rest by the side of the milestone, and began to think, for the first time, where he had better go and try to live.
The stone by which he was seated, bore, in large characters, an intimation that it was just seventy miles from that spot to London. The name awakened a new train of ideas in the boy's mind.
London! — that great place! — nobody — not even Mr. Bumble — could ever find him there! He had often heard the old men in the workhouse, too, say that no lad of spirit need want in London; and that there were ways of living in that vast city, which those who had been bred up in country parts had no idea of. It was the very place for a homeless boy, who must die in the streets unless some one helped him. As these things passed through his thoughts, he jumped upon his feet, and again walked forward.
[Chapter 8, "Oliver Walks to London. He Encounters on the Road a Strange Sort of Young Gentleman," p. 51-52]
The keynote for Furniss's illustration of a scene heretofore unattempted by illustrators is not the description of the natural environment or the hgh-road to London, but the briefly sketched in psychological dimension of Oliver's running away from everything he has ever known: "fearing that he might be pursued and overtaken," p. 51 is the basis for the grotesque vegetation and the psychologically projected figures in the sky. Although the above passage is, indeed, that which both James Mahoney and Harry Furness had in mind for their illustrations of Oliver's running away to London, Mahoney does not specify a particular passage in Chapter 8, and Furniss provides a caption that synthesizes the opening two paragraphs: "Oliver on his long weary journey haunted by visions of those whose cruelty forced him to run away" (p. 48). The nightmarish figures fill the sky above a horizon-line of five coffins which echo the shape of the milestone on which the already-weary Oliver, with packsack and staff, rests, as a gnarled, denuded tree, upper left, reinforces the threat that the environment poses the child-traveller, in contrast to inhumanity of the society he now leaves behind him.
The Mahoney and Furniss images of Oliver, alone, unfriended, and in doubt as to his course in life as he puts behind him childhood in the workhouse and his apprenticeship to the grim undertaker (whom Furniss characterizes as a top hatted skeleton waving an umbrella, upper left) is a suitable keynote for the adventures of the orphan in the criminal underworld of the metropolis. In the next Cruikshank illustration, Oliver is already on the northern outskirts of London, at the marketplace of Barnet at sunrise, when he encounters the outlandish figure of Jack Dawkins (otherwise, The Artful Dodger), who introduces the waif to that "kindly, old gentleman," Fagin, in Oliver introduced to the respectable Old Gentleman (May 1837), a characterisation of the juvenile pickpocket which Mahoney used as the basis for "Hello, my covey! What's the row?". Chipper, self-confident, and self-assured, The Dodger at this point is everything that Oliver is not.
Furniss has assimilated the earlier Mahoney composition so that Oliver, like Dante at the beginning of The Divine Comedy, is lost in a dense wood without a guide at the beginning of his journey towards enlightenment. The proleptic reading of the Mahoney and Furniss illustrations alerts the reader to Oliver's being forced out of his place at Sowerrberry's and determining to undertake the journey on foot to London without resources or assistance. The trauma he has endured over the course of his miserable childhood is represented by the aetherial, cartoon-like figures in the sky, while the continual prospect of death, by starvation and neglect, is suggested by the five coffins on the skyline. Furniss's treatment is an interesting and innovative synthesis of the melodramatic pose of the boy and the psychological terrors he must now confront: the fear of the turbulent and menacing woods (left) and the fear of being apprehended and returned the world of the workhouse (as represented by Bumble, swinging his cane; the chairman of the trustees, pointing at Oliver; and the black-faced chimney sweep, waving his broom, upper right) and the undertaker's (Sowerberry, his wife, Charlotte, and, most prominently, a hectoring Noah Claypole above three of the coffins on the horizon).
Having bid his only friend in the world, Little Dick, a tearful farewell at Mrs. Mann's baby-farm, Oliver now strikes out on the high road to London, as so many picaresque heroes before him — including Henry Fielding's Tom Jones and Sir Walter Scott's Jeanie Deanes (figures who, like Roderick Random and Peregrine Pickle, Dickens encountered in his boyhood reading). In his Household Edition volume of David Copperfield (which he illustrated just the year after Mahoney's volume for Oliver Twist came out in the same edition) lead Household Edition illustrator Fred Barnard makes palpable the connection between the earlier picaresque "adventure" of 1837-39 and the classic bildungsroman of 1849-50 by making his keynote the title-page vignette of the wayfaring David, exhausted and in rags, escaping the misery of his working-class existence in the metropolis for the hope of a better, middle-class life with a distant relative in Dover. The similarity in the plates suggests that Barnard may have seen the connection between Sowerberry's runaway apprentice, the victim of a stern stepfather, and the boy who worked in Warren's Blacking at Hungerford Stairs. Both title-page vignettes reveal Dickens's deep concern with abandoned and abused children — a reflection of his own troubled and psychologically damaging experiences with child labour. Then, too, as a student of the great visual satirist William Hogarth, like Dickens Fred Barnard could not have missed the connection between the novelist's picaresque heroes and the protagonists of the visual "progresses" of The Rake's Progress (1733) and The Harlot's Progress (1734). Oliver, after all, is about to enter the world of Henry Fielding's Jonathan Wilde and William Hogarth's Gin Lane, inhabited by the criminal mastermind, a gang of pickpockets, a violent housebreaker, and a prostitute with a heart of gold.
Illustrations from the Serial (1837), Diamond Edition (1867), and Household Edition (1871)
Left: George Cruikshank's original version of Oliver introduced to the respectable Old Gentleman (May 1837). Centre: Sol Eytinge, Junior's Oliver and Little Dick (1867). Right: James Mahoney's 1871 realisation of Oliver's departure, Uncaptioned Title-page Vignette. [Click on images to enlarge them.]
Above: James Mahoney's 1871 engraving of the Oliver's fateful meeting with The Artful Dodger at Barnet, "Hello, my covey! What's the row?" [Click on the image 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.]
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Last modified 22 January 2015