"It's my handsome daughter, living and come back," she screamed again. . .
Sir John Gilbert
9.4 x 8.2 cm vignetted
Frontispiece to the third volume of Dickens's Dombey and Son, in the Sheldon and Company (New York) Household Edition (1862).
[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 your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one.]
The old woman, mumbling and shaking her head, and muttering to herself about her handsome daughter, brought a candle from a cupboard in the corner, and thrusting it into the fire with a trembling hand, lighted it with some difficulty and set it on the table. Its dirty wick burnt dimly at first, being choked in its own grease; and when the bleared eyes and failing sight of the old woman could distinguish anything by its light, her visitor was sitting with her arms folded, her eyes turned downwards, and a handkerchief she had worn upon her head lying on the table by her side.
"She sent to me by word of mouth then, my gal, Alice?" mumbled the old woman, after waiting for some moments. "What did she say?"
"Look," returned the visitor.
The old woman repeated the word in a scared uncertain way; and, shading her eyes, looked at the speaker, round the room, and at the speaker once again.
"Alice said look again, mother;" and the speaker fixed her eyes upon her.
Again the old woman looked round the room, and at her visitor, and round the room once more. Hastily seizing the candle, and rising from her seat, she held it to the visitor's face, uttered a loud cry, set down the light, and fell upon her neck!
"It's my gal! It's my Alice! It's my handsome daughter, living and come back!" screamed the old woman, rocking herself to and fro upon the breast that coldly suffered her embrace. "It's my gal! It's my Alice! It's my handsome daughter, living and come back!" she screamed again, dropping on the floor before her, clasping her knees, laying her head against them, and still rocking herself to and fro with every frantic demonstration of which her vitality was capable.
"Yes, mother," returned Alice, stooping forward for a moment and kissing her, but endeavoring, even in the act, to disengage herself from her embrace. "I am here, at last. Let go, mother; let go. Get up, and sit in your chair. What good does this do?" — Part 11 (August 1847), Chapter 34, "Another Mother and Daughter," volume 3, pages 78-79.
John Gilbert, unlike his co-illustrator, Felix Octavius Carr Darley, focuses on the villainous James Carker's backstory rather than on the nautical characters associated with Walter Gay and Florence Dombey. The scene in the frontispiece for the third volume involves the reunion of a transported felon and her mother, Good Mrs. Brown, whom Dickens describes with imagery associated with witchcraft. As with the Household Edition illustration for the same chapter by Fred Barnard — "She's come back harder than she went!" cried the mother, looking up in her face, and still holding her knees (p. 252), the effectiveness of the illustration depends upon the sharp contrast between the defiant, aloof, erect, beautiful young woman and decrepit, exhausted, grovelling crone, an iteration of the novel's col temp theme. The lengthy caption enables the reader to identify the passage as he or she comes to it, but not before since neither page no chapter is referenced in the frontispiece:
"It's my handsome daughter, living and come back!" she screamed again, dropping on the floor before her, clasping her knees, laying her head against them, and still rocking herself to and fro with every frantic demonstration of which her vitality was capable. [caption underneath frontispiece]
A proleptic reading is not possible without some foreknowledge of James Carker's backstory and his betrayal of his mistress, Alice Marwood (the alias of Alice Brown, the young woman in the Gilbert frontispiece). These details, including Alice's uncanny resemblance to Edith Granger (whose uncle seduced Good Mrs. Brown), are provided in Chapters 33 and 34, which fall within the range of chapters (31 through 46) included in this third volume. The illustration is therefore significant in highlighting the importance of this subplot, which Dickens's original illustrator, 1847 engraving The Rejected Alms, which features Alice and her mother, left , and James Carker's older brother, John, and sister, Harriet, who live in a simple cottage outside London. Alice and her mother return Harriet's charity with disdain once they discover Harriet's relationship to James Carker. The cause of the antipathy is James's refusal to come to the aid of Alice and her mother, now living in a hovel with a leaky roof in the heart of east London. This, then, is the context of the scene depicted by Gilbert — although there is little of the vengeful and defiant rebel about the exhausted, dispirited young woman in Gilbert's illustration.
The Relevant Illustrations of Good Mother Brown and her errant daughter
Left: Phiz's August 1847 introduction of Good Mrs. Brown and her daughter, The Rejected Alms. Centre: Barnard's composite wood-engraving of the daughter's return, "She's come back harder than she went!" cried the mother, looking up in her face, and still holding her knees. Right: Phiz's February 1848 finalé of the Marwood plot, Secret Intelligence. [Click on the images to enlarge them.]
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Last modified 25 June 2016