Our Mutual Friend, Household Edition (New York), 1875. Wood engraving by the Dalziels, 9.3 cm high x 13.4 cm wide. The Harper and Brothers' woodcut for the fourth chapter, "A Happy Return of the Day," in the third book, "A Long Lane," realizes the scene in John Rokesmith's rented sitting-room in the Wilfer home, when Bella, arriving in the Boffin coach to help her family celebrate her parents' wedding anniversary, inspects the room's contents minutely, and discovers what she interprets as a likeness of herself on the wall. Her assumption is that the Secretary has not renounced his romantic attachment to her, despite his vowing that he would bother her no further after Bella's rejection of his marriage proposal in Book Two, Chapter 13, "A Solo and a Duet." That it is not an actual study of Bella is implied in the text: "a print, a graceful head of a pretty woman, elegantly framed, hanging in the corner by the easy-chair" (193), exactly as Mahoney has situated it in the illustration.(p. 194) — James Mahoney's thirty-fourth illustration for Dickens's
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.]
"Mr. Rokesmith," said she, resignedly, "has been so polite as to place his sitting-room at our disposal to-day. You will therefore, Bella, be entertained in the humble abode of your parents, so far in accordance with your present style of living, that there will be a drawing-room for your reception as well as a dining-room. Your papa invited Mr. Rokesmith to partake of our lowly fare. In excusing himself on account of a particular engagement, he offered the use of his apartment."
Bella happened to know that he had no engagement out of his own room at Mr. Boffin's, but she approved of his staying away. "We should only have put one another out of countenance," she thought, "and we do that quite often enough as it is."
Yet she had sufficient curiosity about his room, to run up to it with the least possible delay, and make a close inspection of its contents. It was tastefully though economically furnished, and very neatly arranged. There were shelves and stands of books, English, French, and Italian; and in a portfolio on the writing-table there were sheets upon sheets of memoranda and calculations in figures, evidently referring to the Boffin property. On that table also, carefully backed with canvas, varnished, mounted, and rolled like a map, was the placard descriptive of the murdered man who had come from afar to be her husband. She shrank from this ghostly surprise, and felt quite frightened as she rolled and tied it up again. Peeping about here and there, she came upon a print, a graceful head of a pretty woman, elegantly framed, hanging in the corner by the easy chair. "Oh, indeed, sir!" said Bella, after stopping to ruminate before it. "Oh, indeed, sir! I fancy I can guess whom you think that's like. But I'll tell you what it's much more like — your impudence!" Having said which she decamped: not solely because she was offended, but because there was nothing else to look at.
"Now, Ma," said Bella, reappearing in the kitchen with some remains of a blush, "you and Lavvy think magnificent me fit for nothing, but I intend to prove the contrary. I mean to be Cook to-day." &mdash, Book 3, Chapter 4: "A Happy Return of the Day," p. 193.
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 eleventh instalment in the British serialisation (March, 1865), there is no exact counterpart to this illustration of Bella's studying the print in John Rokesmith's sttting-room.
Readers of the Household Edition in 1875 might therefore have enjoyed Mahoney's presenting Bella as conflicted, as torn between the love of ease, affluence, and wealth that living with the Boffins has engendered in her and her growing romantic interest in the Boffins' enigmatic Secretary, whose marriage proposal she seems to be re-evaluating in light of the discovery of avarice in herself and the psychological and spiritual damage that such an obsession can do as it is apparently doing in Noddy Boffin. That she rather than the portrait is the real subject of the illustration is rendered obvious by her central position in the composition and the fragmentary nature of the "print" which has become scarcely a sketch. To make her figure larger, Mahoney has interpreted her "ruminating" before the portrait as her studying it from the vantage point of the easy-chair which Dickens mentions.
Bella Wilfer in the original and later editions, 1865-1867
Left: Marcus Stone's December 1864 serial illustration of Bella Wilfer and John Rokesmith in the Boffins' library, Pa's Lodger and Pa's Daughter. Right: Sol Eytinge, Junior's dual character study of the R. W. and his daughter, The Cherub and the Lovely Woman (1867). [Click on images to enlarge them.]
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Last modified 28December 2015