Phiz (Hablot K. Browne)
Etching on steel
Dickens's David Copperfield, chapter 22, "Some Old Scenes, and Some New People."
Source: Centenary Edition, facing page 402.
Image scan, caption, and commentary below by Philip V. Allingham.
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According to J. A. Hammerton (1910), "Martha," the second illustration for the eighth monthly number (chapters 22, 23, and 24), realizes the scene in chapter 22 in which Dickens foreshadows the fate of Em'ly in the present state of her fellow seamstress, Martha Endell: "The girl — the same I had seen upon the sands — was near the fire [in the home of Clara Barkis]. She was sitting on the ground, with her head and one arm lying on a chair" (404). Once again, Phiz uses a picture-within-the-picture in the manner of Hogarth, that of Mary Magdalene and Jesus Christ above the mantlepiece, to represent his interpretation of the text, just as he had used the pictures of the shipwreck and the scene from Faust in the previous etching
In its companion, "Martha" (ch. 22), David is again a naive, somewhat bemused onlooker, so deeply clothed in shadow as to be easily overlooked at first glance. The arrangement of figures and emblems, however, makes naiveté on the reader's part less likely: we are well aware that Martha's fate may be Emily's. The two girls are connected visually, first of all, by the luster in their dark hair (Harvey makes a similar point about the parallel between Dora and her dog Jip, in "Our Housekeeping" p. 151). Although Martha's kneeling position is specified in the text, Browne takes this further by mirroring it with the pose of Mary Magdalene anointing the feet of Christ, in a picture over the mantel.
This last detail brings out several analogies when one recalls that the sister of Mary Magdalene was named Martha, for this suggests both a link between' the latter two, and a sisterly link between Martha and Emily. Further, Ham Peggotty is closest to imitating the position of Christ in the picture, which reminds us of Ham's charity in not scorning Martha and in adding to the purse of money Emily gives her. As Martha kneels almost directly beneath the picture of the Magdalene, so Emily stands beneath a print of Eve and the serpent. The clear implication is that Emily is being tempted to evil, while Martha is on the path to reform through her own remorse and others' forgiveness, although she does not yet recognize the path. Such parallels and foreshadowings again involve Browne in presenting iconographic commentaries which would seem terribly heavy and moralistic in the text; and it is worth considering that such practice is analogous to the marginal commentaries in editions of Pilgrim's Progress or the Bible, which were familiar and would feel natural to readers of Dickens' and Browne's time. [Steig 125-126]
In fact, the disposition of the figures in the biblical illustration is echoed in the disposition of the figures of the Peggottys and David Copperfield:
The picture forms the top of a triangle linking Martha, who is identified with the Magdalene by her similar posture and isolation from the group, and Em'ly, whose contrasting purity is suggested by the whiteness of her skirt. To reinforce Dickens's implicit assertion of the need and authority for forgiveness, Browne makes the heads of his characters follow an ascending diagonal line to that of Christ's in the picture (as the heads of those surrounding the dying Barkis lead to Jesus in a print of Raphael's 'Transfiguration' over the bed. . . . [Cohen 106]
Undoubtedly the topos of the fallen or lost woman, found throughout nineteenth-century art and literature, emanates from socio-economic rather than purely moralistic concerns. She is, after all, "lost" to her family, and has "fallen" from the middle-class; the stereotype, evident in David Copperfield in the figures of Martha and Em'ly, is a young woman of the lower middle class who has been seduced by a libertine, treated for a time as a "lady," and then abandoned. Works as different as Hood's "Song of the Shirt" (Punch, 1843) and Dickens's The Chimes (1844) assert that the lower-middle class woman cannot subscribe to the idyll of of the chatelaine, the family-oriented "Angel in the House" whose sole business is the running of the household and the raising of children. On the middle-class marriage market, young women at the lower end of the middle classes, without either dowries or prospects of substantial inheritances, would have to survive as nannies, nursemaids, and seamstresses, occupations not especially well-paid, in order to avoid falling out of the middle class entirely. The ever-present danger to such young women stemmed from the temptation or the necessity to supplement their incomes through prostitution (at the extreme) or becoming, like Tess in Hardy's novel, the mistress of a wealthy man who would not marry below his class, or, as in the case of Edward Rochester in Jane Eyre, who already had a wife and therefore was not free to marry. The ending of a stereotypical fallen woman cautionary narrative is given in the eighth and final plate of George Cruikshank's "glyphographic" sequence The Drunkard's Children (1848): "The poor girl, homeless, friendless, deserted, destitute, and gin-mad, commits self-murder" (Meisel 137), apparently by jumping off London Bridge, a mode of "self-murder" repeated on the cover of Dicks' Standard Play #791 (1886), Charles Selby's London by Night, "First Produced at the Strand Theatre, January 11th, 1844" (Meisel 140), responding to The Great Social Evil of the 1840s.
In contrast to the dominant construction of the Fallen Woman in the 1840s, Dickens's and Phiz's Martha is a pitiable outcast, by implication a victim, and certainly not the agent of disease, vice, and crime. The other picture in Phiz's illustration, Eve tempted by the Serpent in the Garden of Eden, perhaps playing on the phallic associations of the snake, links religious and moral transgression, both for Martha and for Em'ly.
Hinting at yet another downfall is a scene of Eve's temptation, located significantly over and behind Em'ly's head, partly obscured by shadows and the door as the nature of her attraction to Steerforth is obscured in her mind and heart. [Cohen 106]
Significantly, Steerforth's gentlemanly double, David, occupies that shadowy space. While Ham's fiancee, Emily, still pure in act if not thought, is patently nubile, Martha, the woman with a sexual past, is her antithesis: without family or friends, judged by everyone who encounters her in the streets of Yarmouth, prostrate, and blighted by some unspecified sexual experience outside marriage. Phiz enables us to identify the nature of Martha's sin by contrasting her with the respectable married woman in the white cap, Clara Barkis, and her engaged niece, just as Dickens dramatizes Annie Strong's compromised virtue by juxtaposing her with the true, faithful, and selfless Agnes Wickfield. Thus, of the three standard mid-Victorian responses to the plight of the Fallen Woman — Calvinist condemnation, evangelical pity, and socially scientific analysis, Phiz reinforces the second strain, evident too in Dickens's text. Like other Liberals of the 1840s, Dickens was caught up in a general
resurgence of sympathy for prostitutes, whom social reformers portrayed as victims of the sweating system in dressmaking or millinery workshops. Societies for the prevention of juvenile prostitution were formed in London and Edinburgh in 1834 in response to widely publicized instances of young teenaged girls being entrapped into brothels. [Clark 643]
As a writer for the respectable classes Dickens could not go so far as justifying the fallen woman, but he could — and did — compel his readers to sympathize with her, in part, by avoiding describing the precise nature of her transgression. Rather, he shows the effects of her sin: her loss of gainful, respectable employment; her rejection by local sopciety; and her determination to seek the anonymity of the metropolis. Such, too, was the case with Dickens's contemporary Augustus Egg in Past and Present (1858), the first part of which also contains a shipwreck, although the subject is not the fallen woman's morally outcast state per se as adultery, for the narrative-pictorial sequence makes plain that the wife has committed a crime against the institution of the Victorian family and the benevolent despotism of the Pater Familias, a "three-part domestic drama" (Meisel 24-25). In the "discovery" scene, a letter informs the upper-middle class husband of his wife's adultery; she, like Martha in Phiz's illustration, lies on the floor, prostrate with remorse.
Additional information about the plate
Second December 1849 illustration. Source: Centenary Edition (1911), volume one, facing page 402. 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.
Clark, Anna. "Prostitution." Victorian Britain: An Encyclopaedia, ed. Sally Mitchell. New York and London: Garland, 1988.
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.
Meisel, Martin. Realizations: Narrative, Pictorial, and Theatrical Arts in Nineteenth-Century England. Princeton, NJ: Princeton U. P., 1983.
Cohen, Jane Rabb. Charles Dickens and His Original Illustrators. Columbus, Ohio: Ohio U. P., 1980.
Steig, Michael. Dickens and Phiz. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana U. P., 1978.
Last modified 20 December 2009