The Brothers

The Brothers by Phiz (Hablot K. Browne). Illustration for Charles Dickens's Little Dorrit, May 1856 (Part 10: Book One, Chapter 19). Source: Steig, plate 110. [Return to text of Steig.]

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Passage Illustrated

The brothers William and Frederick Dorrit, walking up and down the College-yard — of course on the aristocratic or Pump side, for the Father made it a point of his state to be chary of going among his children on the Poor side, except on Sunday mornings, Christmas Days, and other occasions of ceremony, in the observance whereof he was very punctual, and at which times he laid his hand upon the heads of their infants, and blessed those young insolvents with a benignity that was highly edifying — the brothers, walking up and down the College-yard together, were a memorable sight. Frederick the free, was so humbled, bowed, withered, and faded; William the bond, was so courtly, condescending, and benevolently conscious of a position; that in this regard only, if in no other, the brothers were a spectacle to wonder at.

They walked up and down the yard on the evening of Little Dorrit's Sunday interview with her lover on the Iron Bridge. The cares of state were over for that day, the Drawing Room had been well attended, several new presentations had taken place, the three-and- sixpence accidentally left on the table had accidentally increased to twelve shillings, and the Father of the Marshalsea refreshed himself with a whiff of cigar. As he walked up and down, affably accommodating his step to the shuffle of his brother, not proud in his superiority, but considerate of that poor creature, bearing with him, and breathing toleration of his infirmities in every little puff of smoke that issued from his lips and aspired to get over the spiked wall, he was a sight to wonder at. — Book the First, "Poverty," Chapter 19, ""The Father of The Marshalsea in Two Or Three Relations.","p. 189-190; May 1856: Part 6.


But his more conventional etching techniques do allow Browne to do justice to the prison identity of the Dorrit family in at least three illustrations. The technique of parallel and contrast between plates is evident, even in the captions alone, in "The Brothers" (Bk. 1, ch. 19) and "Miss Dorrit and Little Dorrit" (Bk. 1, ch. 20). In the first, a well-fed, supercilious man strolls patronizingly in the Marshalsea yard with "his brother Frederick of the dim eye, palsied hand, bent form, and groping mind," as though it were indeed a "College-yard," the man in the dressing gown and the disreputable characters near the pump were not there, and the woman at the gate with her small child were not taking leave of "a new Collegian" (Bk. 1, ch. 19, p. 163). This horizontal etching takes full advantage of its available space, the figures in the background being serviceable and no more — though creating no feeling of slackness on the artist's part. It is perhaps my fancy, but the smoke which William is blowing out over his brother's head resembles a speechballoon (a device going back to earlier graphic satire), implying that this puff on a cigar represents an utterance of the condescending, self-assumed superiority of the prisoner brother. — Michael Steig, "Chapter 6: Bleak House and Little Dorrit: Iconography of Darkness," p. 165-166.

As Steig has noted, Phiz makes the brothers flip sides of the same coin: Frederick, the broken-down, shabby musician with ragged hair, is bowed over with care; William, the pater familias, is casually commanding, puffing on a cigar, his erect posture a sharp contrast to his brother's. Further, the artist has positioned the Dorrit brothers between two very different groups: to the left, men and a woman apparently without families are conversing confidentially, the man in dressing-gown and fez smoking a pipe, his hands behind his back, relaxed, sophisticated, and even (apparently) affluent, or at least well-provided for under such circumstances. To the right, however, are six somewhat younger adults (two women and three men) and a child in a bonnet. William, then, participates in the characteristics of both groups: although the head of an extended family and attended by a daughter, he strikes a sophisticated pose, smoking and striking a casually sophisticated pose, like the inmate in the floral dressing-gown who is (apparently) not weighed down by family responsibilities. The dividing line between the "fashionable" and plebeian sides of the yard, the centre of the community, the pump, is immediately to the left, so that the viewer must assume that all fourteen characters in the vignetted illustration are sophisticates rather than misfits — at least, in their own minds.

The Dorrits in the original, American Household, Diamond and Charles Dickens Library Editions, 1857-1910

Left: F. O. C. Darley's 1863 frontispiece of the scene in which William Dorrit learns of his providential inheritance, Joyful Tidings (Volume 2). Centre: James Mahoney's version of the Dorrits' triumphant exit from the Marshalsea, Through these spectators, the little procession, headed by the two brothers, moved slowly to the gate (Book 1, Ch. 36). Right: Sol Eytinge, Junior's interpretation of the musical younger brother, Amy's uncle, Frederick Dorrit (1867). [Click on the images to enlarge them.]

Above: Phiz's original serial illustration The Marshalsea becomes an orphan for Book 1, Ch. 36 (Part 10, September 1856), in which the Father of the Marshalsea triumphantly conducts his family through the central courtyard and off to freedom (stage right). [Click on the image to enlarge it.]

Above: Furniss's revision of Phiz's steel engraving and of Mahoney's composite woodblock of William and Frederick in the "Old College" yard, The Dorrit Brothers in the Marshalsea, Book One, Ch. 19 (1910). [Click on the image to enlarge it.]


Dickens, Charles. Little Dorrit. Illustrated by Hablot Knight Browne ("Phiz"). The Authentic Edition. London: Chapman and Hall, 1901 [rpt. of the 1868 volume, based on the 30 May 1857 volume].

Dickens, Charles. Little Dorrit. Frontispieces by Felix Octavius Carr Darley and Sir John Gilbert. The Household Edition. 55 vols. New York: Sheldon & Co., 1863. 4 vols.

Dickens, Charles. Little Dorrit. Illustrated by Sol Eytinge, Jr. The Diamond Edition. Boston: Ticknor & Fields, 1867. 14 vols.

Dickens, Charles. Little Dorrit. Illustrated by James Mahoney. The Household Edition. 22 vols. London: Chapman and Hall, 1873. Vol. 5.

Dickens, Charles. Little Dorrit. Illustrated by Harry Furniss. The Charles Dickens Library Edition. 18 vols. London: Educational Book, 1910. Vol. 12.

Hammerton, J. A. "Chapter 19: Little Dorrit." The Dickens Picture-Book. The Charles Dickens Library Edition. Illustrated by Harry Furniss. 18 vols. London: Educational Book Co., 1910. Vol. 17. Pp. 398-427.

Kitton, Frederic George. Dickens and His Illustrators: Cruikshank, Seymour, Buss, "Phiz," Cattermole, Leech, Doyle, Stanfield, Maclise, Tenniel, Frank Stone, Landseer, Palmer, Topham, Marcus Stone, and Luke Fildes. Amsterdam: S. Emmering, 1972. Re-print of the London 1899 edition.

Lester, Valerie Browne. Phiz: The Man Who Drew Dickens. London: Chatto and Windus, 2004.

Steig, Michael. Dickens and Phiz. Bloomington & London: Indiana U.P., 1978.

Vann, J. Don. Victorian Novels in Serial. New York: The Modern Language Association, 1985.

Last modified 6 May 2016