I am hospitably received by Mr Peggotty

I am hospitably received by Mr Peggotty by Phiz (Hablot K. Browne). May 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.]

Steig notes that the underlying structure of the first and second illustrations is a gothic arch, the organizing principle behind the village church and the upside-down Peggotty boathouse. The focus of both plates on the figures, however, obscures the arches in the vertical and horizontal illustrations in the initial instalment. The plates may be taken as complementary in that David is an observer rather than an active participant. In the former, he studies key figures in the little community; in the latter, he studies the members of the "blended" Peggotty family organized around a surrogate father, Daniel Peggotty, as good-hearted and generous as Murdstone, who studies how to become David's stepfather in the former plate, is hard-hearted and controlling.

The figures in the illustration from left to right are Ham Peggotty, Dan'l Peggotty (centre left), David (seated), Clara Peggotty (identifiable by her elaborate bonnet from the previous illustration), Mrs. Gummidge, and Little Em'ly. The details in the background are consistent with the letterpress: a table (right), chest of drawers surmounted by a painted tea-tray and a bible (left), sundry pictures on the walls (subjects indistinguishable, a little mantel-shelf (rear), boxes, seats, and chairs, and "hooks in the beams of the ceiling" (36). According to Hammerton (343) the moment realized is this:

"I'm much obliged to her [David's mother], I'm sure," said Mr. Peggotty. "Well, sir, if you can make out here, for a fortnut, 'long wi' her," nodding to his sister, "and Ham, and little Em'ly, we shall be proud of your company." (37)

However, the pot and kettle which Mr. Peggotty holds points towards the moment following this salutation:

Having done the honours of his house in this hospitable manner. Mr. Peggotty went out to wash himself in a kettleful of hot water, remarking that "cold would never get his muck off."

The companion plates for the May 1849 inaugural instalment establish David as an observer rather than an actor on the stage of his own life. His own respectable, middle-class home seems devoid of the kind of camaraderie and jollity that fills the unconventional dwelling of the "blended" Peggotty clan. David implicitly contrasts his dour stepfather-to-be with the companionable, working class surrogate father, Daniel Peggotty. Certainly the Peggottys will prove to be significant characters throughout the novel, giving the narrator- protagonist a proper sense of family life. The false scent upon which the novelist and illustrator set the reader is the suggested importance of Little Em'ly (implied by her peaking out from behind Mrs. Gummidge at David), who does not turn out to be the great love of David Copperfield's life, but merely a kind of stepsister.

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., 1980.


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Last modified 14 November 2009

-- Philip V. Allingham, Ph. D., Associate Professor, Faculty of Education, and Adjunct Professor, Department of English, Lakehead University; Contributing Editor of The Victorian Web; Editorial Consultant, The Dickens Magazine; Chair, Undergraduate Studies in Education. Office phone: 807-343-8897.