J. Clayton Clarke ("Kyd")
Watercolour reproduced on John Player cigarette card no. 17
Character from Dickens's The Pickwick Papers
Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham
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Of the set of 50 cigarette cards, initially produced in 1910 and reissued in 1923, fully 13 or over 25% concern a single novel, The Pickwick Papers, attesting to the enduring popularity of the picaresque comic novel and also suggesting that the later, darker novels such as Our Mutual Friend and The Mystery of Edwin Drood offered little for the caricaturist, the only late characters in the series being the singularly unpleasant Silas Wegg and Rogue Riderhood from Our Mutual Friend, and Turveydrop, Jo, Bucket, and Chadband from Bleak House. The popular taste was clearly still towards the earlier farce and character comedy of Dickens.
Kyd's representations are largely based on the original illustrations by Phiz and Seymour, although the modelling of the figures is suggestive of Phiz's own, expanded series for Household Edition volume of the 1870s. The anomaly, of course, is that Kyd should elect to depict minor figures from the first Dickens novel such as the Dingley Dell cricketers Dumkins and Luffey and the minor antagonist Major Bagstock in Dombey and Son, but omit significant characters from such later, still-much-read novels as A Tale of Two Cities and Great Expectations. Five of the fifty or 10% of the series come from the cast of The Adventures of Oliver Twist; or, The Parish Boy's Progress (1837-39): Oliver himself, asking for more; Fagin with his toasting fork, from the scene in which he prepares dinner for his crew; Sikes holding a beer-mug, and the Artful Dodger in an oversized adult topcoat and crushed top-hat. Surprisingly, some of the other significant characters, including Nancy and Rose Maylie, are not among the first set of fifty characters, in which Kyd exhibits a strong male bias, as he realizes only seven female characters: only the beloved Nell, the abrasive Sally Brass, and the quirky Marchioness from The Old Curiosity Shop, Sairey Gamp from Martin Chuzzlewit, Aunt Betsey Trotwood from David Copperfield, the burly Mrs. McStinger from Dombey and Son, and the awkward Fanny Squeers from Nicholas Nickleby appear in the essentially comic cavalcade. Clearly the popular taste in "characters from Dickens" as well as in "novels from Dickens" has changed markedly over the past century, so that, even though educated readers would probably associate the name "Sam Weller" with Dickens, they might not recognize the nattily-dressed Cockney "boots" that retired businessman Samuel Pickwick encounters in the galleried White Hart Inn, Southwark, in The First Appearance of Sam Weller (chapter 10, July 1836). The significance of that momentous meeting cannot be underestimated since it accelerated sales of the serial novel to 40,000 numbers per month and led to the overnight transformation of twenty-four-year-old shorthand reporter Charles John Huffam Dickens into a best-selling author.
Created 6 January 2015