Little Dorrit leaving The Marshalsea
Phiz (Hablot K. Browne)
Illustration for Charles Dickens's Little Dorrit, Little Dorrit, Parts XIX-XX (Book 2, Chapter 29).
Source: Authentic Edition (1901), facing the frontispiece.
Image scan and text by Philip V. Allingham.
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[Click on the image to enlarge it.]
Maggy, who had fallen into very low spirits, here cried, "Oh get him into a hospital; do get him into a hospital, Mother! He'll never look like hisself again, if he an't got into a hospital. And then the little woman as was always a spinning at her wheel, she can go to the cupboard with the Princess, and say, what do you keep the Chicking there for? and then they can take it out and give it to him, and then all be happy!"
The interruption was seasonable, for the bell had nearly rung itself out. Again tenderly wrapping her mantle about her, and taking her on his arm (though, but for her visit, he was almost too weak to walk), Arthur led Little Dorrit down-stairs. She was the last visitor to pass out at the Lodge, and the gate jarred heavily and hopelessly upon her.
With the funeral clang that it sounded into Arthur's heart, his sense of weakness returned. It was a toilsome journey up-stairs to his room, and he re-entered its dark solitary precincts in unutterable misery.— Book the Second, "Riches," Chapter 29, "A Plea in the Marshalsea," p. 656.
Similar evidence of concern with illustrations is to be found in a note to Browne regarding the last two illustrations for a novel, possibly Little Dorrit (it is undated): "I hope the Frontispiece and Vignette will come out thoroughly well from the plate, and make a handsome opening to the book." (N, 2: 814. I can find no direct evidence that this in fact refers to Little Dorrit, but it is printed in the Nonesuch Letters with other correspondence of the Little Dorrit period.) In this novel they do, the title page echoing the central motif of the wrapper. The implication that the world outside the prison is darker than that within is borne out by the frontispiece, in which the figure of Amy is a virtual mirror image of that on the title; but here she is entering the Merdle mansion with Fanny, and from what we have learned of both Mrs. Merdle and her views on "Society," as well as Mr. Merdle, his crimes, and his suicide, this world is indeed more sinister than that of the prison. Yet in line with Dickens' text, Phiz has portrayed Amy in such a way that she conveys the sense of an innocence so strong as to be impervious to the corruptions of either the Marshalsea or Society; this is less true of her figure in the cover design, where her character has not yet been established and she looks as if she is bowed down with resignation. — Michael Steig, Chapter 6, "Bleak House and Little Dorrit: Iconography of Darkness," p. 161.
That the title-page vignette was one of the last illustrations executed in the nineteen-month serialisation would have been obvious enough for the purchaser of the June 1857 double number (Parts XIX and XX). However, since then, Phiz's title-page vignette, placed until the Authentic Edition of 1901 at the head of the book, would have suggested that the illustrator knew at the outset the precise direction that the principal plot — the romance of Arthur Clennam and Amy Dorrit — would take. In other words, the vignette, involving a scene very late in the novel, as Little Dorrit is leaving the Marsahalsea after visiting a recently arrived "Collegian," Arthur Clennam, implies an organic unity that the story did not originally possess. The scene actually realizes a scene in the eighteenth monthly part, in which the collapse of Merdle's financial House of cards, including the funds of the firm of Daniel Doyce and Arthur Clennam, has resulted in Arthur Clennam's being apprehended for debt. In the previous monthly number (Part 17), Arthur had exonerated his partner, Doyce, had been arrested, and had become the occupant of the selfsame rooms formerly occupied by the Dorrits. Three months later, after Blandois has visited him in prison with an offer to sell something of vital importance to the House of Clennam, Arthur passes five sleepless nights. On the sixth day, he awakens to find a floral bouquet beside him, and Little Dorrit in his room. The two finally declare their love for one another, but Arthur refuses Amy's offer to use her inheritance to free him from the grip of the Marshalsea.
The ornate title-page closely associates the diminutive, respectable, middle-class form of Amy Dorrit with both the title of the novel and the entrance to the Marshalsea. Ironically, light emanates from within the prison, illuminating her figure as she exits into the darkness of the unfamiliar world beyond the walls of the debtors' prison.
Relevant Illustrations of the Novel's Conclusion from Other Editions, 1867-1910
Left: James Mahoney's uncaptioned tailpiece for the 1873 Household Edition, Little Dorrit and her husband walked out of the church alone — Chap. xxxiv. Right: Harry Furniss's closing illustration (Book 2, Chapter 31), in which the reclusive Mrs. Clennam walks amidst the teaming life of a London street on the way to the Marshalsea, Mrs Clennam Seeks Little Dorrit. [Click on the images to enlarge them.]
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Last modified 8 May 2016