Jenny twisted her venerable friend aside to a brilliantly-lighted toy-shop window, and said: "Now look at 'em. All my work!" — P. 223 [pagination for the British edition; "P. 187" in the American], James Mahoney's thirty-second illustration for Dickens's Our Mutual Friend, Household Edition (New York & London), 1875. Full-page composite-block wood-engraving by the Dalziels, 13.1 cm high x 17.5 cm wide. The Harper & Brothers frontispiece refers specifically to the second chapter, "A Respected Friend in a New Aspect," in the third book, "A Long Lane," realizing the scene in which Jenny Wren shows Riah her handiwork in a toyshop window. Whereas the Marcus Stone illustration for this chapter, Trying on for the Doll's Dressmaker, relies for its effectiveness upon the sharp contrast between the observant, "knowing" child (Jenny, centre) in the midst of an odd assortment of strangely disfigured people on the pavement (left rear) and the gorgeous dress which dominates the woodcut, contrasting the strangely distorted faces that form the chorus in the background, which, if the gas lamp is any indication, is the London street outside, the Mahoney illustration is not Jenny's recollection, but an illustration of the circumstances of the recollection, of Jenny and Riah in front of the toyshop window, whose dolls prompt Jenny to describe how she models her dolls' clothes from high-society fashions. The image perhaps functions better as a complement to the text than as a frontispiece since it conveys the extent of Jenny's work, and compels the reader to consider the implications of Jenny's being a Cinderella figure, destined to help others on their journeys to the gay events in life but never permitted to make such a journey herself.

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.]

Passage Illustrated

Thus conversing, and having crossed Westminster Bridge, they traversed the ground that Riah had lately traversed, and new ground likewise; for, when they had recrossed the Thames by way of London Bridge, they struck down by the river and held their still foggier course that way.

But previously, as they were going along, Jenny twisted her venerable friend aside to a brilliantly-lighted toy-shop window, and said: "Now look at 'em! All my work!"

This referred to a dazzling semicircle of dolls in all the colours of the rainbow, who were dressed for presentation at court, for going to balls, for going out driving, for going out on horseback, for going out walking, for going to get married, for going to help other dolls to get married, for all the gay events of life."

"Pretty, pretty, pretty!" said the old man with a clap of his hands. "Most elegant taste!"

"Glad you like 'em," returned Miss Wren, loftily. "But the fun is, godmother, how I make the great ladies try my dresses on. Though it's the hardest part of my business, and would be, even if my back were not bad and my legs queer." &mdash, Book 3, Chapter 2: "A Respected Friend in a New Aspect," p. 187.


Despite the fact that it was his visual antecedent, Mahoney ten years later deviated from the choices for illustration made by Dickens and his original illustrator, Marcus Stone, so that, for the March, 1865 instalment, the eleventh monthly part in the British serialisation, there is no counterpart to this illustration of Jenny Wren's displaying her talent for Riah. Stone's plate for instalment eleven (Book 3, Chapters 1 — 4), Trying on for the Dolls' Dressmaker, the first illustration for the March 1865 monthly part in the British serialisation, does concern how Jenny Wren employs London society fashions as the basis for her dolls' dresses. And, although they had access to the Stone series, American illustrators Sol Eytinge, Jr. (1867) and Felix Octavius Carr Darley (1866) chose other scenes. Both artists interpreted Jenny and Riah in a similar manner — for example, the patient, slightly curious expression on the old man's face in Eytinge's Fledgeby and Riah and the highly perceptive gaze of the child, old before her time, who guides the senior. Perhaps the cane that he carries (replacing his textual staff) reinforces his role as "godmother" to Jenny's "Cinderella." Replacing the Dickensian tagline "even if my back were not bad and my legs queer" in these illustrations are Jenny's crippled appearance, sharp face, and crutch, details that render her immediately as recognizable as the long-haired Riah in his full-length gaberdine (supplemented by a topcoat here), intended to render him "venerable" by implying a connection between him and his forebears, the Old Testament patriarchs.

Whereas the Chapman and Hall volume begins on the Thames with Lizzie Hexam in the frontispiece, Lizzie, looking for her father, saw him coming, and stood upon the causeway that he might see her (a scene which prepares the reader for the main plot, the death of John Harmon and its consequences, as well as for the secondary plot, romantic triangle of Lizzie, Eugene Wrayburn, and Bradley Headstone), the New York Harper & Brothers volume begins instead with this picture of two secondary characters — rank outsiders — in a London street at night. The choice seems decidedly odd since the scene, like the characters in it, is peripheral. However, it certainly must have piqued the interest of American readers as to the nature of the story and the large societal cross-section of characters whom they would encounter within it. Whatever the motivation, the use of this illustration distinguishes the American publication from its British counterpart.

Riah and Jenny Wren in the original and later editions, 1865-1867

Left: Marcus Stone's March 1865 serial illustration of the dolls' dressmaker conducting research for her dolls' costumes, Trying on for the Dolls' Dressmaker.​Right: Sol Eytinge, Junior's dual character study of the​Jenny and her alcoholic father, "Mr. Dolls," The Person of the House and the Bad Child (1867). [Click on images to enlarge them.]


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Last modified 26 December 2015