J. Clayton Clarke ("Kyd")
Watercolour reproduced on John Player cigarette card no. 27
Character from Dickens's The Old Curiosity Shop
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. The series includes a total of nine character cards from the 1840-41 cast of The Old Curiosity, or 18% of the total: Dick Swiveller, no. 11; Mr. Chuckster, no. 12; the innocent and virtuous heroine, Nell, no. 22; the Punch-and-Judy man Short (Harris), no. 26; the villainous, lecherous Quilp, no. 27; the Brasses' quirky maid Marchioness, no. 28; the oily attorney, Sampson Brass, no. 29; the dictatorial Sally Brass, no. 30; and the discontented puppeteer Codlin, no. 31.
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 cards 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.
The evil, scheming, predatory Fred Quilp, with yellow fangs, is a lively synthesis of Shakespeare's Richard the Third, a hideous gargoyle, and a repulsive troll; in contrast to the gentle and innocent heroine, he vain, brutal, violent, — and dynamic. Among Dickens's villains, he is the most grotesque and the most menacing because, unlike such sordid, low-class antagonists as Bill Sikes, he is a strategic thinker with an infinite capacity for vindictiveness. In his unrelenting pursuit of the object of his perverted sexual obsession, Nell, he brings Grandfather Trent under his malignant influence by advancing the aged, inveterate gambler funds at exorbitant rates of interest. The chief butts of his fiendish practical jokes are his terrified wife, Betsy; his obsequious legal adviser, Sampson Brass; and his mother-in-law, Mrs. Jiniwin. Readers of the original serial derived considerable satisfaction by his drowning while trying to escape arrest at his Thames wharf, where he practises his trade as a ship-breaker. However, for the next sixty years Victorian readers on both sides of the Atlantic vilified him for his (ultimately fruitless) attempts to destroy Kit Nubbles and for relentless pursuit of Nell and her grandfather, who Quilp is convinced has a hidden treasure. A more natural interpretation of Quilp's satanic, malformed features and enormous, phallic hat derived from Phiz's original illustrations such as Quilp's Grotesque Politeness (ch. 60) occurs in Felix Octavius Carr Darley's Dick Swiveller and Quilp, from The Old Curiosity Shop in his Character Sketches from Dickens (1888).
Created 8 January 2015