The Flight of Sikes after the Murder by Harry Furniss. Dickens's The Adventures of Oliver Twist, Charles Dickens Library Edition, volume 3, facing p. 369. The illustration depicts Sikes, having fled from London, being startled in the taproom at The Eight Bells, Hatfield, by "an antic fellow, half pedlar and half mountebank" (368) or salesman who wants to demonstrate the efficacy of his product by removing an obvious stain from Sikes's hat (little does the talkative huckster know that the mark is, in fact, a blood stain). In composing this wholly new illustration to complement the flight of the murderer from London, Harry Furniss is reacting to Sikes attempting to destroy his dog (Part 21, January 1839), a rather static, undramatic illustration which does not effectively reveal the killer's deeply disturbed psychological state in Chapter 48.

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Passage Illustrated

"This," said the fellow, producing one, "this is the infallible and invaluable composition for removing all sorts of stain, rust, dirt, mildew, spick, speck, spot, or spatter, from silk, satin, linen, cambric, cloth, crape, stuff, carpet, merino, muslin, bombazeen, or woollen stuff. Wine-stains, fruit-stains, beer-stains, water-stains, paint-stains, pitch-stains, any stains, all come out at one rub with the infallible and invaluable composition. If a lady stains her honour, she has only need to swallow one cake and she’s cured at once — for it's poison. If a gentleman wants to prove this, he has only need to bolt one little square, and he has put it beyond question — for it's quite as satisfactory as a pistol-bullet, and a great deal nastier in the flavour, consequently the more credit in taking it. One penny a square. With all these virtues, one penny a square!"

There were two buyers directly, and more of the listeners plainly hesitated. The vendor observing this, increased in loquacity.

"It's all bought up as fast as it can be made," said the fellow. "There are fourteen water-mills, six steam-engines, and a galvanic battery, always a-working upon it, and they can't make it fast enough, though the men work so hard that they die off, and the widows is pensioned directly, with twenty pound a-year for each of the children, and a premium of fifty for twins. One penny a square! Two half-pence is all the same, and four farthings is received with joy. One penny a square! Wine-stains, fruit-stains, beer-stains, water-stains, paint-stains, pitch-stains, mud-stains, blood-stains! Here is a stain upon the hat of a gentleman in company, that I'll take clean out, before he can order me a pint of ale."

"Hah!" cried Sikes starting up. "Give that back."

"I'll take it clean out, Sir," replied the man, winking to the company, "before you can come across the room to get it. Gentlemen all, observe the dark stain upon this gentleman's hat, no wider than a shilling, but thicker than a half-crown. Whether it is a wine-stain, fruit-stain, beer-stain, water-stain, paint-stain, pitch-stain, mud-stain, or blood-stain —"

       [Chapter 48, "The Flight of Sikes," p. 368-369]

Commentary

Although depicting Sikes in the public house at Hatfield seems a logical way of suggesting Sikes's unease after the murder, no previous illustrator had attempted this scene. A relatively minor character, the mountebank, in daring to snatch the stained hat from the housebreaker's head, becomes a significant catalyst for the killer's becoming more and more certain that "murder will out." The tension is between the two urbanites, the salesman (standing, dominating the image, arms stretched wide as he delivers his histrionic pitch for the product in his hand) and the housebreaker, heavy of body and possessing the skull and features of a Neanderthal).

In the original serial illustrations, since Oliver has now effectively disappeared because he is out of danger, the narrative shifts the reader's attention Nancy and Sikes, first to her murder and then to Sikes's futile attempts to escape both human and divine justice. Frederic W. Pailthorpe in his 1886 series of twenty-one engravings moves directly from Sikes's grisly crime in The Foul Deed, to Sikes's consternation at the loss of his blood-stained hat in The antic fellow​and Sikes (1886). However, whereas Pailthorpe is working in the earlier caricatural tradition of George Cruikshank and Hablot Knight Browne, Furniss here is working in the more realistic, three-dimensional style of the Household Edition illustrators Fred Barnard and James Mahoney.

Having brutally murdered Nancy in Chapter 47 on the supposition that she has impeached on the gang, Bill Sikes now escapes northward. While in the little village of Hatfield, near the great house built by Sir Robert Cecil in 1611 (replacing the late 15th c. palace on this site where the future Queen Elizabeth spent part of her childhood, and held her first council of state as monarch in 1558), Sikes visits the nearby Eight Bells, a public house familiar to Dickens when as a young reporter in 1835 he covered the disastrous fire that destroyed much of the Jacobean mansion. Dick Turpin, the infamous highwayman, is reputed to have jumped from the second-storey of The Eight Bells onto his steed, Black Bess, to avoid capture by the Bow Street Runners, an historical feature that may have prompted the young author to associate the brutal burglar with the public house. Moreover, the 1835 fire enables Dickens to have the fictional Sikes enter an historical event recollected by many of his serial readers, lending the story the aura of documentary, even down to the costumes of the village chorus and signs advertising ale and cider in this picture.

Here, the fugitive Sikes, having rushed out of the inn, overhears passengers just alighted from a London coach outside the local post-office discussing the recently discovered murder of a woman in Spitalfields, so that he now realizes that hue and cry is about to be raised for him. Shortly, when a conflagration breaks out in the manor house, Sikes heroically joins the firefighters and works tirelessly to save as much property as possible. Tony Lynch in Dickens' England adds that Dickens uses this occasion to insert what amounts to a topical allusion in having Sikes (perhaps suddenly struck by altruism, but more likely tempting Providence to punish him) fight the fire, for "Dickens was in fact remembering the fire of 1835 at Hatfield House" (109).

Whereas Harry Furniss in his 1910 lithographic series offers three illustrations depicting the sensational events in the final days of the Hogarthian blackguard — the dark plate The Death of Nancy, this humorous taproom scene at The Eight Bells, and the peculiar rendition of Sikes's hanging in which Sikes himself is not in the frame at all, The End of Sikes — in the 1871 Household Edition volume the illustrator, James Mahoney, depicts Sikes's dragging his dog away from Nancy's corpse in He moved backward, towards the door: dragging the dog with him, but does not focus at all upon the murderer's flight northward, resolving his story with the scene on the roof-tiles of the gang's hideout at Jacob's Island rookery with And creeping over the tiles, looked over the low parapet.

Like Pailthorpe a quarter-of-a-century earlier, Furniss shows Sikes responding with fear and suspicion when the enterprising salesman grabs his hat in order to remove its stain. The scene, indicated by the high wooden settle in which the massive Sikes lounges (right), is the public house's taproom. occupied by the kinds of village character whom one finds in such scenes in the fiction of Wessex novelist Thomas Hardy and George Eliot — the village character under the mountebank's arm even wears the linen smockfrock of an agricultural labourer, in contrast to the urban salesman's great-coat. Between Sikes, reaching for his hat, and the salesman is the latter's case of samples. The illustrator shows Sikes as somewhat incapacitated, probably by excessive drinking and fatigue from his epic, eighteen-mile walk from the Spitalfields in the East End of London north to the village of Hatfield.

Illustrations from the original 1837-38 serial publication and later editions

Left: George Cruikshank's illustration Sikes attempting to destroy his dog (Part 21, January 1839). Centre: F. W. Pailthorpe's version of the scene at the Eight Bells, The antic fellow​ and Sikes Right: Kyd's original watercolour study of the killer and his weapon of choice, Bill Sikes (c. 1900). [Click on images to enlarge them.]

Above: James Mahoney's 1871 engraving of Sikes trapped on the roof of Toby Crackit's safehouse on Jacob's Island, London, And creeping over the tiles, looked over the low parapet.. [Click on the image to enlarge it.]

References

Bentley, Nicolas, Michael Slater, and Nina Burgis. The Dickens Index. New York and Oxford: Oxford U. P., 1990.

Cohen, Jane Rabb. "George Cruikshank." Charles Dickens and His Original Illustrators. Columbus: Ohio State U. P., 1980. Pp. 15-38.

Darley, Felix Octavius Carr. Character Sketches from Dickens. Philadelphia: Porter and Coates, 1888.

Davis, Paul. Charles Dickens A to Z: The Essential Reference to His Life and Work. New York: Facts On File, 1998.

Dickens, Charles. The Adventures of Oliver Twist; or, The Parish Boy's Progress. Illustrated by George Cruikshank. London: Bradbury and Evans; Chapman and Hall, 1846.

Dickens, Charles. Oliver Twist. Works of Charles Dickens. Household Edition. 55 vols. Illustrated by​ F. O. C. Darley and John Gilbert. New York: Sheldon and Co., 1865.

Dickens, Charles. Oliver Twist. Works of Charles Dickens. Diamond Edition. 14 vols. Illustrated by Sol Eytinge, Jr. Boston: Ticknor and Fields, 1867.

Dickens, Charles. Oliver Twist. Works of Charles Dickens. Household Edition. Illustrated by ​James Mahoney. London: Chapman and Hall, 1871.

Dickens, Charles. The Adventures of Oliver Twist. Works of Charles Dickens. Charles Dickens Library Edition. Illustrated by​ Harry Furniss. London: Educational Book Company, 1910. Vol. 3.

Dickens, Charles. The Adventures of Oliver Twist. Works of Charles Dickens. The Waverley​ Edition. Il​lustrated by Charles Pears. London: Waverley, 1912.

Dickens, Charles. The Letters of Charles Dickens. Ed. Graham Storey, Kathleen Tillotson, and Angus Eassone. The Pilgrim Edition. Oxford: Clarendon, 1965. Vol. 1 (1820-1839).

Lynch, Tony. "Hatfield." Dickens's England: An A-Z Tour of the Real and Imagined Locations. London: Batsford, 2012. Pp. 109.

Pailthorpe, Frederic W. (illustrator). Charles Dickens's Oliver Twist. London: Robson and Kerslake, 1886.


Last modified 10 March 2015