Somebody turns up

Somebody turns up by Phiz (Hablot K. Browne). October 1849. Steel etching. Illustration for Charles Dickens's David Copperfield Source: Centenary Edition (1911), volume one. 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.]

Commentary

For the second illustration in the sixth monthly part, for October 1849, Phiz reintroduces Wilkins Micawber (right, in the doorway) somewhat improbably as David pays a visit to the "umble" cottage of Uriah Heep, Mr. Whitfield's legal clerk, and his mother. One can scarcely credit the coincidence of the Micawbers' abandoning London for a provincial capital in hopes that "something will turn up" and (not to put too fine a point upon it) that they can escape debts amassed in the capital. The illustration serves to introduce the obsequious clerk and his pious mother into the narrative-pictorial sequence. The textual passage realized is this:

I had begun to be a little uncomfortable, and to wish myself well out of the visit, when a figure coming down the street passed the door — it stood open to air the room, which was warm, the weather being close for the time of the year — came back again, looked in, and walked in, exclaiming loudly, "Copperfield! Is it possible?" [307]

Steig's comment on this scene emphasizes Phiz's utilizing background details to reveal the true natures of Uriah and his mother, even though at this point in the narrative David does not really understand Uriah's hypocrisy, although it certainly makes him "a little uncomfortable":

"Somebody turns up" (ch. 17) finds David in his new, middle-class existence, now a young gentleman, someone to be deferred to by the Heeps, although actually as much a victim as ever. His pride at being "entertained, as an honoured guest" (p. 181) by the fawning Heeps is indicated in the pleasure with which his prissy little face and figure seem to be enjoying Uriah's obsequiousness; it is understandable why he is not glad of Micawber's interruption, but his annoyance is shown in the door knocker's grimace at that gentleman rather than in his own face. Yet the real nature of the event taking place, the corkscrewing of facts about himself out of David — the metaphor is Dickens' own — is indicated by the corkscrew hanging on the wall, the stuffed owl which implies the predatory watchfulness of the Heeps, the mousetrap, and even the ceramic cats, which, together with the real cat next to Mrs. Heep, could represent the Heeps' ability alternately to fawn and purr, and to hiss, spit, and scratch, or destroy a "mouse." [Steig 120-121]

Cohen also notes the mousetrap as symbolic, and the juxtaposition of the legal almanac with it and the two ceramic cats; she does not, however, mention either the many legal documents and books on the sideboard and precarious shelf above it, or the portrait of magistrate in a wig in the right hand corner, all of which imply both Uriah's methods of advancement and his pretensions to power, status, and above all respectability. In the text, David "reads" none of these objects, but in such details "Browne's illustrations often bridge the gap between the the hero's naivete and the world's realities" (Cohen 105).

References

Cohen, Jane Rabb. Charles Dickens and His Original Illustrators. Columbus: Ohio State U.P., 1980.

Dickens, Charles. The Personal History of David Copperfield, il. Hablot Knight Browne ("Phiz"). The Centenary Edition. London & New York: Chapman & Hall, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1911.

Hammerton, J. A., ed. The Dickens Picture-Book: A Record of the the Dickens Illustrations. London: Educational Book, 1910.

Steig, Michael. Dickens and Phiz. Bloomington & London: Indiana U.P., 1978.


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Last modified 2 December 2009