I return to the Doctor's after the party
Phiz (Hablot K. Browne)
Dickens's David Copperfield, ch. 16, "I Am a New Boy in More Senses Than One."
Source: Centenary Edition, facing page 294.
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 October 1849 illustration for Charles Dickens's David Copperfield. Steel etching. Source: Centenary Edition (1911), volume one, facing page 294. 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 in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one. ]
"I return to the Doctor's after the party," the first illustration for the sixth monthly number, containing chapters 16, 17, and 18, illustrates the following textual passage from chapter 16, according to J. A. Hammerton (1910):
The Doctor was sitting in his easy-chair by the fireside and his young wife was on a stool at his feet.
As in the text, David tentatively enters, unseen for the moment by the Strongs, as the elderly scholar reads aloud from a manuscript, and his young wife looks up at him in rapt attention. Were the viewer unfamiliar with the context, he or she might well conceive of the couple as father and daughter, as David did when he first met them. And, indeed, this unsuitability of the marriage of partners of such different ages is Dickens's salient point in these chapters. Whereas, however, Dickens's Dr. Strong is a benign mentor for the students in his charge, who admire him immensely, Phiz's aged scholar lacks the "complacent smile" that reflects his delight in his lifetime's philological labour, producing "that interminable Dictionary" (294).
The silent observer of the couple in Phiz's illustration is very much a peripheral character here; the focus of the plate is the relationship between the old doctor and his young wife, whose anxious expression in the illustration realizes Dickens's description of her face as "so full of a wild, sleep-walking, dreamy horror of I don't know what" (294). Although Phiz offers no suggestion as to the boy's appraisal of this relationship, as opposed to the narrator's seeing "Penitence,humiliation,shame, pride, love, and trustfulness" (295), the artist provides background details that reflect the character of the study's chief occupant. One receives an overall impression of disorder as pieces of paper litter the floor, the waste-paper basket is full to overflowing, and large tomes balance precariously upon one another behind the doctor's chair. Like the doctor's thinning hair, everywhere in the room is disorder, with books occupying chairs and unrecognizable specimens of natural history occupying the space above the bookshelf. Underneath the map of Europe and Asia is the only readily decipherable piece of writing in the room, "Brick [from] Babylon." Phiz is presumably alluding to what must have seemed the impossible archaeological task of unearthing and reconstructing the ancient cities of Nineveh and Babylon by Sir Austen Henry Layard, whose second expedition to these Assyrian sites was reported in the British press in 1849 through 1851, although Strong is hardly the dashing adventurer that Layard must have seemed in late 1849 when he published Nineveh and Its Remains after his discovery of Sennacherib's Palace at Koujunjik in Mesopotamia.
As in "Changes at home", David is separated from the two central figures of the composition by chairbacks, suggesting the gulf of experience between the child-observer and the adult couple. Phiz intensifies the reader's sense that David lacks sufficient maturity to offer a thorough appraisal of this May/December marriage because he cannot understand the sexuality of the beautiful young wife, to whose charms (emphasized by her bare shoulders) her academically-obsessed, emotionally dessicated husband seems obvious. Thus the chairbacks are a physical representation of David's lack of relevant experience or lack of awareness, which Dickens fails to dramatize since his narrator combines the observational powers of the child with the insights of the adult who is narrating the story of his life. David in this illustration may be, as he describes himself at school in Canterbury, "a new boy in more senses than one," but, in his now-familiar schoolboy's uniform and in his accustomed pose as an observer of the adult world around him, he is David Copperfield, middle-class child, once more, receiving lessons in relationships and in life.
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 29 November 2009