Our Mutual Friend, Household Edition, 1875. Wood engraving by the Dalziels, 9.6 cm high x 13.5 cm wide.. James Mahoney's tenth illustration for Dickens's
Although the initial Chapman and Hall woodcut for chapter ten ("A Marriage Contract") concerns the relationship between the young man whom the Boffins will shortly engage as their "Secretary," John Rokesmith, and their ward, Bella Wilfer, the chapter itself concerns the "Fashionable Society" wedding and marital relationship of Alfred and Sophronia Lammle, the subject of the second illustration for that chapter, "She sits upon her stone, and takes no heed of him." The moment realized in the tenth woodcut actually occurs in the previous chapter, when the Boffins have bargained with Mrs. Wilfer for her eldest daughter and are apparently sounding out Mr. Rokesmith's character:
Now, Bella suspected by this time that Mr. Rokesmith admired her. Whether the knowledge (for it was rather that than suspicion) caused her to incline to him a little more, or a little less, than she had done at first; whether it rendered her eager to find out more about him, because she sought to establish reason for her distrust, or because she sought to free him from it; was as yet dark to her own heart. But at most times he occupied a great amount of her attention, and she had set her attention closely on this incident.
That he knew it as well as she, she knew as well as he, when they were left together standing on the path by the garden-gate.
"Those are worthy people, Miss Wilfer."
"Do you know them well?" asked Bella.
He smiled, reproaching her, and she coloured, reproaching herself — both, with the knowledge that she had meant to entrap him into an answer not true — when he said, "I know of them."
"Truly, he told us he had seen you but once." 
Mahoney's early treatment of the couple as the chief romantic focus of the novel is significant here, especially since his artistic forerunners, Marcus Stone and Sol Eytinge, elected not to offer a visual commentary on the beginning of the romantic relationship between the girl whose emotional makeup is a curious combination of her mother's status-seeking avarice and her father's convivial warmth and the mysterious young man from nowhere whom Mr. Boffin has just enigmatically alluded to as "Our Mutual Friend" (57) in conversation with Bella's parents. Boffin asserts that he is "not particularly well acquainted with Our Mutual Friend" (57), having "only seen him once." The alert reader must wonder about the nature of this prior relationship.
The scene at the garden gate, in which each young person is tentative in addressing the other, is in sharp contrast to the image of the quarreling Lammles on their honeymoon at the Isle of Wight. We have already met Mr. Rokesmith and Miss Wilfer in the fourth chapter's illustration, "The Signing of the Contract," otherwise captioned in the Chapman and Hall publication as
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. [plate p. 21, passage p. 20]
While she wears the same dress in both illustrations, Rokesmith is wearing elegant light dress-pants, so that he forms a visual contrast to Bella's formal mourning. As opposed to the text, which reads Bella's feelings after the critical negotiation between her parents and the Boffins, the illustration affords us no clue to Bella's and John's feelings about each other. Interestingly, the profile of Rokesmith here strongly resembles that of "John Harmon" in the character study by Sol Eytinge executed for the American serialisation of the novel in Harper's New Monthly Magazine.
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.]
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.
Last modified 19 December 2010