Traddles and I in conference with the Misses Spenlow
Phiz (Hablot K. Browne)
Etching on steel
Dickens's David Copperfield, chapter 41, "Dora's Aunts."
Source: Centenary Edition, volume two, facing page 190.
Image scan, caption, and commentary below 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.]
David Copperfield. Source: Centenary Edition (1911), volume two. 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. ]by Phiz (Hablot K. Browne). June 1850. Steel etching. Illustration for chapter 41, "Dora's Aunts," in Charles Dickens's
In the first illustration in the fourteenth monthly number, which was issued in June 1850 and comprises chapters 41 through 43, Phiz telegraphs how the marriage negotiations superintended by Tommy Traddles will end by providing numerous background clues in the book titles and the captions for embedded pictures. As Michael Steig has noted,
At times the use of such details may seem crude and obvious, as when David Copperfield's suit to Dora via her aunts in "Traddles and I, conference with the Misses Spenlow," is commented on by a trio of pictures captioned "The Momentous Question," "The Last Appeal," and "Arcadia," as well as the books Paradise Regained and The Loves of Angels, and the figurine of a girl picking the petals off a flower. It could be argued, I suppose, that the very obviousness of these details has a comic effect appropriate to David's passion for silly little Dora; but the same illustration contains two more details of greater significance: in a cage, two lovebirds sit apart while in small bowl one goldfish seems to pursue the other. If these pairs of creatures represent David and Dora, the fact that they are fulfilling their loves in small, enclosed containers from which there is no escape is a subtle and easily overlooked comment on the realities of the new status in life to which David so enthusiastically aspires. [Steig 13]
According to J. A. Hammerton (1910), the moment that Phiz has satirically realized in the courtship plot is this:
Both Miss Clarissa and Miss Lavinia leaned a little forward to speak, and became upright again when silent — Copperfield chap. xli. [Hammerton 359]
In fact, the scene set in the maiden aunts' drawing-room in their bungalow at Putney encompasses almost a complete page of text, beginning:
"Mr. Copperfield!" said the sister with the letter.
I did something — bowed, I suppose — and was all attention, when the other sister struck in.
"My sister Lavinia," said she, "being conversant with matters of this nature, will state what we consider most calculated to promote the happiness of both parties." [vol. 2, 190-191]
Thus, the sister holding the letter, sharing the central position of the illustration, must be the younger of the two, Lavinia. Tommy Traddles, like Seth Pecksniff in Phiz's illustrations for Martin Chuzzlewit (1843-44), is readily identifiable by his rebellious hair; he has the same tonsure, clothing, and round, jovial visage seen in "Traddles makes a figure in parliament and I report him" in the May 1850 number. David Copperfield, too, is immediately recognizable by his awkward posture and lack of composure, his emotions suggested by a sort of halo of seven lines radiating from his head. Although this is Phiz's only representation of Dora's aunts, they, too, are immediately recognizable as the sisters of Dora's father as represented by Phiz in "I fall into Captivity" from the January 1850 number, the long neck and nose of Miss Lavinia echoing precisely those of Mr. Spenlow and thereby realizing Dickens's description of Dora's guardians being "two dry little elderly ladies, dressed in black [i. e., full mourning], and each looking wonderfully like a preparation in chip or tan of the late Mr. Spenlow" (190). Steig has noted the series of emblems in the picture that represent the humourously amorous relationship of David and Dora, whose unseen presence is suggested by the statue on the piano, and the instrument itself immediately behind David:
a piano is also present which in view of the rest of the series may represent Dora's eternal singing of "enchanted ballads ... generally to the effect that, whatever was the matter, we ought always to dance, Ta ra la, Ta ra la!" (ch. 26, p. 277). A piano turns up again in "Traddles and I in conference with the Misses Spenlow" (ch. 41; Illus. 5) where, as I have noted in my first chapter, it is adorned with numerous emblems of Dora and of David's love for her. [Steig 122].
The symbol of caged birds once again presents Phiz's comment upon the immaturity of the story's irrational "love birds," David and Dora; however, in this particular plate Phiz provides a parallel symbol, the pair of goldfish in the bowl situated between Traddles and the younger Miss Spenlow suggestive of the enclosed, insulated environment in which Dora has been raised; to marriage and the real world beyond her father's estate she will react like a fish out of water. Dickens compares the Spenlow sisters to birds, "having a sharp, brisk, sudden manner, and a little short, spruce way of adjusting themselves, like canaries" (vol. 2, 192). Thus, the caged birds immediately behind the elder Miss Spenlow may, in fact, represent the sisters' secluded existence at Putney, self- exiled from their brother, his wife, and their daughter Dora, by their jealousy of Mrs. Spenlow.
Phiz's editorial additions here are not entirely consistent with Dickens's text, since the novelist mentions "an old-fashioned clock ticking away on the chimney-piece" (190) instead of a piano, and the young men's sitting "on a sofa" (189) rather than chairs. However, in terms of composition, small chairs are preferable since they emphasize the figures, who occupy the stage symmetrically; the exception, of course, is the substantial chair occupied by Miss Lavinia, who queen-like receives the young men's petition. This first June illustration in its satirical visual touches is in sharp contrast to the last scene, "The Wanderer", whose embedded visual symbols — the shipping poster and map of the hemispheres — point to the larger world beyond the public-room at the inn which is representative of the masculine sphere. Phiz pokes fun at the cloying, enclosed domestic space, suggested by the cage and fishbowl, and typified by the maiden aunts' emphasis on furnishings, possessions, paintings, and bric a brac:
even the titles of the pictures on their walls — 'The Last Appeal' [above the piano], 'The Momentous Question' [above Miss Clarissa], and 'Arcadia' [above the double doorway, and perhaps implying what David hopes to enjoy with Dora, the sort of unreal existence posited in Christopher Marlowe's pastoral idyll "The Passionate Shepherd to His Love"] — comment on the nature of [David's] errand, and books — [beside Traddles] Loves of the Angels and Paradise Regained — anticipate his success. [Cohen 104]
The book entitled "Music" is intended to represent Dora, closeted somewhere nearby with his obstreperous dog.
Additional information about the plate
Initial June 1850 illustration. Source: Centenary Edition (1911), volume two, facing page 190. 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.
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. 2 vols. London and New York: Chapman & Hall, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1911.
Steig, Michael. Dickens and Phiz. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana U. P., 1978.
Last modified 10 January 2010