I make myself known to my Aunt
Phiz (Hablot K. Browne)
Dickens's David Copperfield, ch. 12, "The Sequel of My Resolution."
Source: Centenary Edition, facing page 228.
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.]
First September 1849 illustration for Charles Dickens's David Copperfield. Steel etching. Source: Centenary Edition (1911), volume one, facing page 228. 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 "life 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.]
The first illustration for the fifth monthly number, containing chapters 13, 14, and 15, marks the transition of the narrator's identity, from "David" to "Trotwood," and from a neglected orphan and vagabond to a child adopted by an unconventional family, his aunt, the affluent but eccentric Betsey Trotwood, and her companion, the benign but demented Mr. Dick. Volume readers have already been introduced to Miss Betsey through the novel's frontispiece, but the serial readers had encountered her only briefly in the opening chapter. The fairy-godmother of this modern rags-to- riches fairy-tale, Aunt Betsey will become the surrogate mother for whom David has been searching ever since his mother's death. The scene occurs at her cottage not far from Dover, to which David has walked all the way from London, the crotchety old maid being the boy's last best hope of salvation:
One of the best known of Browne's illustrations is the first of the pair concluding David's childhood tribulations. Browne originally offered a drawing for "I make myself known to my Aunt" (ch. 13) that showed Betsey Trotwood sitting "flat down in the garden-path" with astonishment when David announces who he is. The etching (for which I have not located the final, working drawing, though the other two, as well as a preliminary first version, are in Elkins) combines the figure of Betsey in the second version (Illus. 79) with the more appealing figure of David as he is in the first. It is a good solution, since Betsey's essential dignity is retained without scanting her personal eccentricity. When asked what is Betsey's reaction to David, I would wager that most readers of the illustrated edition would reply in terms of Phiz's etching rather than the text. [Steig 119]
And, of course, most readers would be wrong, since the sketch which Dickens rejected, in which Browne depicts Aunt Betsey sitting upright on the ground, and therefore no higher than David. The original sketches of "I make myself known to my Aunt," each approximately six-inches square, are now in the Elkins Collection of the Rare Book Department of The Free Library of Philadelphia, and have been reproduced by both Steig and Cohen. In these pencil sketches, as in the final version, Aunt Betsey is in her gardening costume, and has hollyhocks behind her, climbing the wall, so that the wall and plant are analagous to the woman and the boy, who with her support will grow emotionally as well as physically. Allowed to go to seed through the neglect of the Murdstones, David finds himself in a more nurturing environment, as is evident from the abundant growth of the plants in Aunt Betsey's garden. Discounting the presence of the young donkey-boys and their obstreperous charges (who will shortly appear as interlopers in the well-tended garden in the text), upper centre, the moment dramatized in the illustration does not quite correspond to the momentous meeting of David and his aunt as described by Dickens:
there came out of the house a lady with her handkerchief tied over her cap, and a pair of gardening gloves on her hands, wearing a gardening pocket like a toll-man's apron, and carrying a great knife. I knew her immediately to be Miss Betsey, fr she came stalking out of the house exactly as my poor mother had so often described her stalking up our garden at Blunderstone Rookery.
"Go away!" said Miss Betsey, shaking her head, and making a distant chop in the air with her knife. "Go along! No boys here."
I watched her, with my heart at my lips, as she marched to a corner of her garden, and stooped to dig up some little root there. Then, without a scrap of courage, but with a great deal of desperation, I went softly in and stood beside her, touching her with my finger.
"If you please, ma'am," I began.
She started and looked up.
"If you please, aunt."
"Eh?" exclaimed Miss Betsey, in a tone of amazement I have never heard approached.
"if you please, aunt, I am your nephew." 
Since she is still standing, rather than bowled over with amazement, this is the point captured, even if the donkey-boy and mount shown approaching Miss Betsey's garden gate do not in fact arrive for some four pages.
Cohen, Jane Rabb. Charles 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., 1910.
Steig, Michael. Dickens and Phiz. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana U. P., 1978.
Last modified 24 November 2009