Phiz (Halbot K. Browne)
Dickens's David Copperfield, ch. 1
Source: Centenary Edition, facing title-page
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.]
Illustration for Charles Dickens's David Copperfield, third plate for November 1850 double-number (i. e., nineteenth monthly part). Steel etching. Source: Centenary Edition (1911), volume one, facing title page. All forty Phiz plates were etched in duplicate, as was the case with Dombey and Son, the duplicates differing only slightly from the originals. Phiz contributed forty etchings and the "lie of every man" wrapper design. 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.]
Like some quirky fairy godmother out of the tales Dickens so loved as a child, Aunt Betsy Trotwood looks in the window of the Blunderstone Rookery shortly before David's birth.
and now, instead of ringing the bell, Miss Betsey Trotwood came and looked in at the window, pressing the end of her nose against the glass to that extent, that my poor dear mother used to say it became perfectly flat and white in a moment. (Centenary Edition, vol. 1, p. 5)
Discovering from the attending physician, Mr. Chillip, that the infant is not a girl as she had hoped, and that therefore the child cannot possibly be christened "Betsey Trotwood Copperfield" (9), Aunt Betsey says nothing, but apparently has inwardly vowed to have nothing further to do with either the child or his widow-mother, vanishing "like a discontented fairy" (ch. 1, p. 14)
The illustration prepares the volume-reader for the appearance of this singular character who drops out of the narrative for some 200 pages; however, in the serial, since it was issued in last double number, the illustration is retrospective in its effect, recalling an event that in fact preceded the birth of the narrator-protagonist. In Phiz's illustration, surrounded by the green world of the Rookery and peering in at the young widow through the leaded panes, her face turned away from us, Bestey Trotwood remains an enigmatic figure. We are left to speculate upon the quirky spinster's facial features and expression until "I make myself known to my Aunt" in the fifth monthly number. Significantly, amidst the copse, upper right, is a large tombstone that implies the presence of David's father, whose early death results in his wife and son being subjected to the domination and indignities of the Murdstone marriage. The rustic setting is suggestive, too, of the fairy-tale milieu in which the narrator speaks of Aunt Betsey throughout this first chapter, all but the last page of which anticipates his birth as a girl rather than a boy. The plate for the volume reader is spurious in that it establishes an anticipatory set (a tale of country life, perhaps in the manner of Oliver Goldsmith's The Vicar of Wakefield or its Dickensian derivative, The Battle of Life) that the narrative will not realize.
Cohen, Jane Rabb. Dickens and His Original Illustrators. Columbus, Ohio: Ohio U. P., 1980.
Dickens, Charles. David Copperfield, il. Hablot Knight Browne ("Phiz"). The Centenary Edition. London and New York: Chapman & Hall, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1911.
Hammerton, J. A. The Dickens Picture-Book. London: Educational Book Co. .
Steig, Michael. Dickens and Phiz. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana U. P., 1973.
Last modified 4 November 2009