You're casting your eye round the shop, Mr. Wegg. Let me
show you a light.

"You're casting your eye round the shop, Mr. Wegg. Let me show you a light." (p. 44). James Mahoney's eighth illustration for Dickens's Our Mutual Friend, Household Edition, 1875. Wood engraving by the Dalziels, 9.4 cm high x 13.4 cm wide.

Mahoney's composition places the viewer in Wegg's line of sight, so to speak, and highlights his figure against the hearth in the background, juxtaposing his face against Venus's candle, centre. Wegg appears alert and curious rather than disgusted or appalled as he looks up from his tea, no muffin being evident. The shop is largely engulfed in darkness, except for a human and an animal skull and a few rib-bones in the foreground. The shop scene, although positioned in chapter 8 ("Mr. Boffin in Consultation"), reifies a textual moment in the previous chapter, "Mr. Wegg Looks After Himself," when the Cockney taxidermist sheds a light on his Clerkenwell shop for his one-legged visitor to give him a "general panoramic view" of the interior:

My working bench. My young man's bench. A Wice. Tools. Bones, warious. Skulls, warious. Preserved Indian baby. African ditto. Bottled preparations, warious. Everything within reach of your hand, in good perservation. [41]

Instead of an "Articulated English baby" and "Mummified bird" (42), Mahoney shows us a stuffed ape immediately below the burly figure of Mr. Venus. Compare Mahoney's handling of this scene with that of Marcus Stone in the serial illustration "Mr. Venus surrounded by the Trophies of his Art" (June, 1864). Stone's treatment is far less atmospheric and much more detailed, reflecting the illustrator's attempt to convey the "warious" objects that Venus describes for his guest. The moment that Stone chose, when the proprietor is dealing with the boy, is earlier, so that the viewer in Mahoney's woodcut is compelled to concentrate on Wegg's reaction to the shop rather than on the shop itself. While Mahoney's treatment of his material is very much "of the sixties" and in the new, realist style of Fred Walker and Fred Barnard, Stone's in "Mr. Venus surrounded by the Trophies of his Art"is more consistent with the earlier style of Cruikshank and Phiz. More intense is the moment depicted by Dickens's American serial illustrator, Sol Eytinge, Jr., for the Harper's New Monthly Magazine serialisation of the novel, "Mr. Wegg and Mr. Venus in Consultation", in which the hulking, animalistic figure of Wegg dominates the scene, holding the candle and standing above the seated taxidermist, whose back is towards the viewer, as in Stone's more "panoramic" treatment of the scene.

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. Sol Eytinge, Jr. The Illustrated Household Edition. Boston: Ticknor & Field; Lee & Shepard; New York: Charles T. Dillingham, 1870.

Dickens, Charles. Our Mutual Friend. Il. Marcus Stone. Volume 14 of the Authentic Edition. London: Chapman and Hall; New York: Charles Scribners' Sons, 1901.

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 19 December 2010