"Oliver and His Mother's Portrait"
13.9 x 9.5 cm framed
The first of thirty-four illustrations for The Adventures of Oliver Twist in Oliver Twist and A Child's History of England, Charles Dickens Library Edition (1910), vol. 3, facing the title-page.
Whereas Dickens begins the novel with the death of Oliver's mother in the workhouse a considerable distance north of London, Furniss's initial lithograph from a pen-and-ink wash drawing focuses on the boy's comfortably dozing in an easy chair, a bowl of hot broth beside him, beneath the portrait of a fashionably dressed young woman of about twenty years of age looking out of the frame at the reader. [Click on the 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.]
"You're very, very kind to me, ma'am," said Oliver.
"Well, never you mind that, my dear," said the old lady; "that's got nothing to do with your broth; and it's full time you had it; for the doctor says Mr. Brownlow may come in to see you this morning; and we must get up our best looks, because the better we look, the more he’ll be pleased."And with this, the old lady applied herself to warming up, in a little saucepan, a basin full of broth: strong enough, Oliver thought, to furnish an ample dinner, when reduced to the regulation strength, for three hundred and fifty paupers, at the lowest computation.
"Are you fond of pictures, dear?"inquired the old lady, seeing that Oliver had fixed his eyes, most intently, on a portrait which hung against the wall; just opposite his chair.
"I don't quite know, ma'am," said Oliver, without taking his eyes from the canvas; "I have seen so few that I hardly know. What a beautiful, mild face that lady's is!"
"Ah!"said the old lady, "painters always make ladies out prettier than they are, or they wouldn't get any custom, child. The man that invented the machine for taking likenesses might have known that would never succeed; it's a deal too honest. A deal,"said the old lady, laughing very heartily at her own acuteness.
"Is — is that a likeness, ma'am?"said Oliver.
"Yes,"said the old lady, looking up for a moment from the broth; "that's a portrait."
"Whose, ma'am?"asked Oliver.
"Why, really, my dear, I don't know,"answered the old lady in a good-humoured manner."It's not a likeness of anybody that you or I know, I expect. It seems to strike your fancy, dear."
"It is so pretty," replied Oliver.
[Chapter 12, "In which Oliver is taken better care of than he ever was before. And in which the narrative reverts to the merry old gentleman and his youthful friends," p. 81]
Like the The Household Edition illustrator James Mahoney in 1871, Harry Furniss in 1910 had the definite advantage of having read the entire novel in advance, as well as of seeing Mahoney's twenty-eight wood-engravingsfor the novel and the 1837-38 twenty-four steel-engravings by Dickens's original illustrator, George Cruikshank for Bentley's Miscellany, 1837-39. In producing his program of "34 original illustrations" announced on the title-page, Harry Furniss rarely elected merely to emulate past practice for the first half of volume 3 of the Charles Dickens Library Edition (1910). Although the influence of Cruikshank predominates, Furniss is often "original" in his treatment of Cruikshank's subjects, as in his re-thinking and reconfiguration of Oliver recovering from fever, Cruikshank's serial illustration for August 1837, a drawing made expressly at Dickens's behest to make plain Oliver's much-improved circumstances ordained by a beneficent Providence. The Furniss caption makes the identity of the young woman perfectly clear, but does not point through quotation to a specific moment in the text, whereas in Cruikshank's illustration the portrait's initial relationship to the boy is not clear at all, but the juxtaposition of plate and text, and the illustration's placement within the instalment, point to a highly specific passage. Dickens first draws the reader's attention to the likeness between the portrait in Mr. Brownlow's Pentonville home and the recently arrived "Tom White" in Chapter 12, preparing the reader for the whole series of coincidences involving Mr. Brownlow and Rose Maylie in the novel's "inheritance" plot.
Weeks after his release from detention and the sentence of three months' hard labour after the bookstall owner's testimony has exonerated him, Oliver, weak but recovered from the fever, awakens at Mr. Brownlow's home in Pentonville, north London. Carried downstairs to the room of the grandmotherly housekeeper, Mrs. Bedwin, Oliver pays special attention to a portrait of a young lady in her room. Cruikshank's treatment of the subject of the poor boy taken in and nursed back to health by the elderly bachelor and his kindly housekeeper, Mrs. Bedwin, is both theatrical and narrative; that is, the Regency illustrator has included all the elements that Dickens describes, including the feverish boy in his chair, Mr. Brownlow in his embroidered dressing-gown, such theatrical properties as the table, fireplace, and wardrobe (producing a rather crowded effect), and, above Oliver, the small portrait, a taken-from-the-life study which is complemented by the ornately framed oil painting above the mantelpiece of a suitable biblical analogue, the kindness of the Good Samaritan in Christ's New Testament parable ("The Gospel According to St. Luke," 10:25-37).
Conspicuous on the wall immediately above and behind Oliver is yet another inset picture, a portrait that proves to be that of Oliver's mother, about whom in his delirium he has dreamed, as if she were his guardian angel. This scene of Oliver's charitable and even loving adults contrasts previous scenes, including that of the "false" Samaritan, the master-thief Fagin; again, as in Oliver introduced to the respectable Old Gentleman, Cruikshank has positioned Oliver to the right and his saviours to the left, Mrs. Bedwin occupying the central position taken by the Artful Dodger in the earlier illustration. Despite the effectiveness of these juxtapositions, the reader has to sort through the crowded details to study the likeness of the tiny portrait and the sickly Oliver.
The Good Samaritan, by the way, was something of a favourite subject with Victorian painters such as George Frederic Watts (1852) and John Everett Millais (1863). Indeed, the parable seems to have been a commonplace for philanthropic activity among the upper-middle and upper classes, as in the low relief sculpture for Sarah Elizabeth Wardroper by George Tinworth (1893-94).
Although the 1870s Household Edition illustrator James Mahoney had the advantage of being able to study Cruikshank's plates assiduously well in advance of his receiving the Chapman and Hall commision for the first volume in the new edition, he rarely pays homage to Cruikshank's original conceptions. Instead, for example, of depicting the tenderness of Mr. Brownlow and Mrs. Bedwin, Mahoney elects to show a parallel scene of the boy's ill-treatment by Monks and Fain once they have recaptured Oliver, The boy was lying, fast asleep, on a rude bed upon the floor, in Chapter 19, "In Which a Notable Plan is Discussed and Determined On."
Rejecting the obvious sentimentality and detailism of the Cruikshank original, Harry Furniss dispenses with the other embedded painting, the furnishings, and the attendants in order to focus on the irony of Oliver's dozing beneath the portrait that turns out to be that of the mother whom he never knew but whom he has sensed as an abiding presence. As opposed to the 1846 frontispiece by Cruikshank, which merely alludes to the first of Oliver's "adventures," when he asks the master of the workhouse for more gruel, the Furniss frontispiece refers to the overarching "lost heir" plot in which Providence directs the boy unwittingly to connect with his mother's sister and his father's best friend.
Relevant Illustrations from the serial edition (1837) and Household Edition (1910)
Left: George Cruikshank's Oliver recovering from fever (1837). Right: George Cruikshank's Oliver's asking for more (1837, 1846). [Click on images to enlarge them.]
Above: James Mahoney's 1871 engraving of the sleeping Oliver observed by Fagin and Monks, The boy was lying, fast asleep, on a rude bed upon the floor.. [Click on the image to enlargeit.]
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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.
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Dickens, Charles. The Adventures of Oliver Twist; or, The Parish Boy's Progress. Il. George Cruikshank. London: Bradbury and Evans; Chapman and Hall, 1846.
Dickens, Charles. Oliver Twist. Works of Charles Dickens. Household Edition. 55 vols. Il. F. O. C. Darley and John Gilbert. New York: Sheldon and Co., 1865.
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Dickens, Charles. The Adventures of Oliver Twist. Works of Charles Dickens. The Waverley Edition. Illustrated by Charles Pears. London: Waverley, 1912.
Forster, John. "Oliver Twist 1838." The Life of Charles Dickens. Ed. B. W. Matz. The Memorial Edition. 2 vols. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott, 1911. Vol. 1, book 2, chapter 3.
Last modified 31 December 2014