Signing the Agreement (p. 21)/

"When it came to Bella's turn to sign her name, Mr. Rokesmith, who was standing, as he had sat, with a hesitating hand upon the table, looked at her stealthily but narrowly." (p. 21)." James Mahoney's fifth Illustration for Dickens's Our Mutual Friend, Household Edition, 1875. Wood engraving by the Dalziels, 10.5 cm high x 13.4 cm wide.

The passage illustrated, with Bella studiously appending her name to her father's rental agreement in duplicate with John Rokesmith, occurs in the Wilfers' parlour in the Holloway region north of London, an unsavoury and decidedly unrespectable district where one would not expect to find such a family. The young middle-class adults Bella Wilfer (left) and John Rokesmith (right) dominate the scene, but also present are the "Cherub" (R. Wilfer), Bella's father, seated (centre), and, immediately behind Bella her mother and younger sister, Lavinia. Significantly, our first sight of Bella in the narrative-pictorial sequence involves her signing a legal document and participating in a commercial transaction. Bella is in mourning for a fiance she never met, "a kind of widow who never was married" (19). Assisting her parents in concluding their quarter-term rental agreement for eight guineas with the handsome youth, Bella witnesses the document:

When it came to Bella's turn to sign her name, Mr. Rokesmith, who was standing, as he had sat, with a hesitating hand upon the table, looked at her stealthily but narrowly. He looked at the pretty figure bending down over the paper and saying, "Where am I to go, pa? Here, in this corner?" [20]

However, Mahoney's illustration supplements the textual description of Bella's staccato, moment by moment impressions of the new tenant and Dickens's earlier description of the renter as

A drark gentleman. Thirty at the utmost. An expressive, one might say handsome, face. A very bad manner. In the last degree constrained, reserved, diffident, troubled. His eyes were on Miss Bella for an instant. . . . [19]

With the latter moment in the transaction Mahoney has assimilated the initial evaluation of Rokesmith's personality and provided appropriate details of the young man's dress and posture.

Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham. [You may use this image without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the person who scanned the image and (2) link your document to this URL.]

Bibliography

Dickens, Charles. Our Mutual Friend. Il. James Mahoney. Household Edition. London: Chapman and Hall; New York, Harper Brothers, 1875.


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Last modified 9 December 2010