Mr. F.'s Aunt is conducted into Retirement (facing p. 1136) — Phiz's seventh illustration for Dickens's Little Dorrit, the tenth in the Authentic Edition, 1901. Steel engraving for Book One, Chapter 13 (originally Part 4: March 1856). 10.3 cm high x 13.7 cm wide, vignetted. This comedic scene introduces both the protagonist, Arthur Clennam, and the reader to Flora Finching's demented "legacy," Mr. F.'s Aunt, who lives with her neice by marriage in the patriarchal mansion of Mr. Casby. Her penchant for non-sequiturs may be calculated to drive away potential suitors for Flora. [Commentary continued below]
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.]
There was a fourth and most original figure in the Patriarchal tent, who also appeared before dinner. This was an amazing littl old woman, with a face like a staring wooden doll too cheap for expression, and a stiff yellow wig perched unevenly on the top of her head, as if the child who owned the doll had driven a tack through it anywhere, so that it only got fastened on. Another remarkable thing in this little old woman was, that the same child seemed to have damaged her face in two or three places with some blunt instrument in the nature of a spoon; her countenance, and particularly the tip of her nose, presenting the phenomena of several dints, generally answering to the bowl of that article. A further remarkable thing in this little old woman was, that she had no name but Mr F.'s Aunt.
. . . . Flora had just said, "Mr. Clennam, will you give me a glass of port for Mr. F.'s Aunt?"
"The Monument near London Bridge," that lady instantly proclaimed, "was put up arter the Great Fire of London; and the Great Fire of London was not the fire in which your uncle George's workshops was burned down."
Mr. Pancks, with his former courage, said, "Indeed, ma'am? All right!" But appearing to be incensed by imaginary contradiction, or other ill-usage, Mr. F.'s Aunt, instead of relapsing into silence, made the following additional proclamation:
"I hate a fool."
She imparted to this sentiment, in itself almost Solomonic, so extremely injurious and personal a character by levelling it straight at the visitor's head, that it became necessary to lead Mr. F.'s Aunt from the room. This was quietly done by Flora; Mr. F.'s Aunt offering no resistance, but inquiring on her way out, "What he come there for, then?" with implacable animosity.
When Flora returned, she explained that her legacy was a clever old lady, but was sometimes a little singular, and 'took dislikes' — peculiarities of which Flora seemed to be proud rather than otherwise. — Book the First, "Poverty," Chapter 13, "Patriarchal," pp. 134-136.
In the original serial instalment, Phiz demonstrates the hero's realisation that renewing his former relationship with Flora Finching (nee Casby) is hardly possible. Above the benign figure of age, the patriarchal and Quaker-like, white, silken haired Mr. Casby Phiz has situated the boyhood portrait of the capitalist, a reminder to Arthur Clennam and the reader of both the resemblance and the disjuncture between a youthful figure and his or her mature equivalent, precisely the kind of double image that Clennam has been bearing in mind with respect to Flora Casby/Flora Finching. The disturbing elements in this journey down memory lane include Clennam's seeing both Flora and her father for what they really are and the col tempo reminder of the withering and decaying effects of age as evident in Mr. F.'s Aunt.
Mr. F.'s Aunt in other early editions, 1863 to 1910
Left: The third frontispiece in the New York "Household Edition" volumes, Gilbert's engraving of Mr. F.'s Aunt demanding that a startled Arthur eat her crust, "He's too proud a chap to eat it . . ." (1863). Centre: Eytinge, Junior's dual study of the fatuous former sweetheart and her vinegary aunt-by-marriage, Flora and Mr. F.'s Aunt (1867). Right: Sol Eytinge, Junior's dual study of the two Victorian men of business, the rent-collector Pancks and the capitalist and slum landlord Casby, Casby and Pancks. Right: The Harry Furniss characterisation of the awkward dinner at Casby's, Mr. F.'s Aunt (1910). [Click on images to enlarge them.]
Above: The Harry Furniss characterisation of the awkward dinner at Casby's, Mr. F.'s Aunt (1910). [Click on images to enlarge them.]
Above: Mahoney's Household Edition illustration for the same chapter, depicting Arthur Clennam's arrival at the patriarchal mansion, The servant-maid had ticked the two words "Mr. Clennam" so softlythat she had not been heard; and he consequently stood, within thedoor she had closed, unnoticed. (1873). [Click on the image to enlarge it.]
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Last modified 21 April 2016