Jo, the Crossing-Sweeper
J. Clayton Clarke ("Kyd")
Watercolour reproduced on John Player cigarette card no. 48
Character from Dickens's Bleak House
Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham
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In Kyd's sequence of fifty cards, 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 (two characters: Silas Wegg and Rogue Riderhood) and The Mystery of Edwin Drood (no characters depicted) offered little for the caricaturist, the only late characters in the series being the singularly unpleasant and physically odd Silas Wegg and the rough waterman 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.
Although Kyd's representations of the four characters from Bleak House are largely based on the original serial illustrations by Hablot Knight Browne, the modelling of the figures is suggestive of those of the Dickens illustrator Fred Barnard for the Household Edition volume 4 (1873). 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 should 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, as he appeared at his trial. 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. While the Master of Deportment, Mr. Turveydrop, and the loquacious, hypocritical dissenting clergyman Mr. Chadband would fall within the scope of comic characters as they are both "false wits" in the manner of Jane Austen's more obtuse male characters, Jo the crossing-sweeper, and the observant detective, Inspector Bucket (based perhaps on Inspector Field of the Metropolitan Police) are rather more serious Dickens characters; a more logical choice, if comedy is the independent variable in Kyd's selections, would have been the philanthropic Mrs. Jelleby, obsessed with the welfare of the natives of Borrioboola-Gha (Nigeria) rather than of her own family.
The models for Kyd's interpretation of Jo, the crossing-sweeper, are a pair of Phiz's original serial images, specifically, the fifth (July 1852) instalment's Consecrated Ground (Chapter 16, "Tom-all-Alone's"), and the second illustration for the fifth instalment, Jo, The Crossing-Sweeper (Chapter 16). Kyd, however, has elected not to depict any character in company with another or against a representative backdrop, so that the only contextual clues to Jo's character are his ragged clothing and his broom, signifying his menial occupation:
What connexion can there be, between the place in Lincolnshire, the house in town, the Mercury in powder, and the whereabout of Jo the outlaw with the broom, who had that distant ray of light upon him when he swept the churchyard-step? What connexion can there have been between many people in the innumerable histories of this world, who, from opposite sides of great gulfs, have, nevertheless, been very curiously brought together!
Jo sweeps his crossing all day long, unconscious of the link, if any link there be. He sums up his mental condition, when asked a question, by replying that he "don't know nothink." He knows that it's hard to keep the mud off the crossing in dirty weather, and harder still to live by doing it. Nobody taught him, even that much; he found it out.
Jo lives — that is to say, Jo has not yet died — in a ruinous place, known to the like of him by the name of Tom-all-Alone’s. It is a black, dilapidated street, avoided by all decent people; where the crazy houses were seized upon, when their decay was far advanced, by some bold vagrants, who, after establishing their own possession, took to letting them out in lodgings. [Chapter 16, "Tom-all-Alone's"]
Jo's ragged condition and filthy surroundings, somewhere in St. Giles or Drury Lane, prepare us for his role in the novel as a carrier of the smallpox that infects Esther Summerson in Chapter 31.
Created 21 January 2015