Will you have some of this?"said the Fat Boy by Thomas Nast. Illustration for the Household Edition of Dickens's Pickwick Papers, p. 314. [Click on image to enlarge it.] Image scan 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 in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one. ]

Thomas Nast, with a cartoonist's sense of caricature, found Dickens's "Fat Boy" — Wardle's page, Joe — an irresistible subject, if one may judge by the frequency with which the American visual satirist depicted him: we see him first interrupting Tupman's courtship of Rachael Wardle in "'He knows nothing of what has happened,' he whispered"; he again occurs in the background of "I wish you'd let me bleed you" in the "Pickwick on ice" sequence; he is on the right margin in the background of the scene in which Pickwick falls through the ice at Dingley Dell, "A large mass of ice disappeared"; and finally in "'Will you have some of this?' said the Fat Boy." Consequently, Nast has realised this relatively minor, one-dimensional character a total of four times in fifty-two illustrations. Phiz, on the other hand, included Joe just twice in the original serial — in the June 1836 engraving "The Fat Boy Awake Again" and the November 1837 engraving "Mary and The Fat Boy." In the 1873-74 Chapman and Hall Household Edition, Joe occurs four times: "Mr. Tupman looked round. There was the fat boy"; "Sam looked at the Fat Boy with great astonishment, but without saying a word"; "Before Mr. Pickwick distinctly knew what was the matter, he was surrounded by the whole body, and kissed by every one of them" in the lower right of the Christmas Eve party scene; and "I say, how nice you look". The increased interest in Joe by the Household Edition illustrators, operating independently of one another, probably reflects the reading public's delight in the sardonic character over four decades.

In Nast's illustration, the reader cannot see the Fat Boy's facial expression, merely his enormous girth as he surgically opens the "jolly" meat-pie and Mary holds out her plate, waiting to be served. For Nast, the background is hardly worthy of comment; the only significant objects are the enormous pie and the pewter flagon just behind it. Nast's Mary is a moderately attractive young woman, but nothing compared to the beauty across the table from Joe in Phiz's 1837 and 1873 illustrations. Curiously, Phiz has transformed the plain, somewhat overweight, middle-aged cook in the 1837 engraving (back, centre) to a slender, attractive young woman (left of centre) in the 1873 illustration. Again, the British Household Edition illustrator has reversed the juxtaposition of the figures, with Joe now to left and Mary (seated rather than standing) to the right. Although Phiz has reduced the size of the pie considerably in the later illustration, he has maintained all the supporting details (the objects on the table and the mirror in the background), and added a clock on the mantel, a patterned screen (left rear), and bell-pull (right), thereby enhancing the verisimilitude of the scene, rendering the whole more realistic by posing the figures more naturally. While Nast does not seem to have apprehended the sexual implications of the scene, Phiz has reduced such implications in his later treatment by adjusting Joe's expression: in the 1837 engraving, he seems captivated by the face and figure of the maid, whereas in the 1873 treatment he seems almost asleep, his eyes closed and his cheeks heavy with food, although his knife and fork still point towards Mary in a phallic manner.

Passage Illustrated:

'He understands us, I see," said Arabella. 'He had better have something to eat, immediately," remarked Emily.

The fat boy almost laughed again when he heard this suggestion. Mary, after a little more whispering, tripped forth from the group, and said:

"I am going to dine with you to-day, sir, if you have no objection."

"This way," said the fat boy eagerly. "There is such a jolly meat-pie!"

With these words, the fat boy led the way downstairs; his pretty companion captivating all the waiters and angering all the chambermaids as she followed him to the eating-room.

There was the meat-pie of which the youth had spoken so feelingly, and there were, moreover, a steak, and a dish of potatoes, and a pot of porter.

"Sit down," said the fat boy. "Oh, my eye, how prime! I am so hungry."

Having apostrophised his eye, in a species of rapture, five or six times, the youth took the head of the little table, and Mary seated herself at the bottom.

"Will you have some of this?" said the fat boy, plunging into the pie up to the very ferules of the knife and fork.

"A little, if you please," replied Mary.

The fat boy assisted Mary to a little, and himself to a great deal, and was just going to begin eating when he suddenly laid down his knife and fork, leaned forward in his chair, and letting his hands, with the knife and fork in them, fall on his knees, said, very slowly —

"I say! How nice you look!"

This was said in an admiring manner, and was, so far, gratifying; but still there was enough of the cannibal in the young gentleman's eyes to render the compliment a double one.

"Dear me, Joseph," said Mary, affecting to blush, "what do you mean?" [The Household Edition, chapter 54: Chapman & Hall, p. 380; Harper & Bros., p. 314-315]

Dickens, Charles. Pickwick Papers (1836-37). Illustrated by Thomas Nast. The Household Edition. New York: Harper and Bros., 1873.


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Last modified 21 April 2012