Redforth and The Pirate Colonel
Sir John Gilbert
8 x 5 inches"
Illustration for Dickens's A Holiday Romance in Our Young Folks, An Illustrated Magazine For Boys and Girls, Vol. IV (facing p. 16)
Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham.
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Tinkling's retreat leads to the scene that John Gilbert has chosen to illustrate, "Redforth and the Pirate-Colonel." Unfortunately, Gilbert seems not to have read Dickens' text with sufficient care, for "Redforth" and "the Pirate-Colonel" are one-and-the-same, editor Tinkling (his cousin) being the boy looking over the shoulder of the letter-holder. Whereas Gilbert's cover plate for Wilkie Collins's Hide and Seek (1854), for example, reveals this artist's ability to heighten an already suspenseful textual moment with a highly atmospheric, almost sinister illustration, here the artist is attempting to direct the reader to one of the instalment's funniest points: "Is my husband a Cow" (2) writes Nettie Ashford, unable to pen the full word "coward." There is a mismatch of melodrama and humour, Gilbert investing the grim-faced boys in the cloakroom with the former while Dickens infuses the nar-rative with the latter. A more interesting choice of subject, one with much greater potential for amusing illustration, would have been Tinkling's court-martial by the Emperor of France, an admiral, the President of the United States (the text's only direct allusion to the country of the story's initial publication), the Pirate-Colonel, and the two brides. Gilbert's visual continuity for Redforth (who also appears in the April plate) is acceptable facially, although the costuming is realistic and contemporary in the January plate (knicker-bocker trousers, stocking, short jackets and waistcoats) and fanciful in the April plate. The continuity for the girls, however, is very good, both in terms of features and costumes, between the January and May plates, for in both they wear identical dresses and have similar hair styles and colours. The girls' clothing is what was called "full dress," with tight-waist, full crinolins, skirts just below the knee, low necks, and short sleeves, all in imitation of stylish adult dress. "The evidence of surviving photographs [from the period] does suggest that not all children suffered from these low necks all the time, although when low bodices were worn they were usually very low indeed, leaving the shoulders quite exposed" (Cunnington 205). As is consistent with the fashion for girls in the 1860s, leghorn straw bonnets decorated with ribbon are used to indicate that the scene's setting is the cloakroom.
Although Gilbert's first plate presumably depicts the story's four principals, it is not so satisfactory as an exemplification of the subject of the first instalment as the vignette, which must have served as a useful aide memoire for the American serial reader who (unlike his British counterpart) did not see the second instalment for two months. While not giving much detail to the two couples, the vignette better encapsulates mood, setting, and action. One final quibble: as in Gilbert's "The Suit of Armour" [link] from Once a Week (1866), the children's eye-sockets in his first plate are too dark, making the boys look inappropriately malevolent.
Last modified April 19, 2002