"Changes at Home"
Phiz (Halbot K. Browne)
Dickens's David Copperfield, ch. 8, "My Holidays. Especially One Happy Afternoon."
Source: Centenary Edition, facing page 130.
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.]
Second July 1849 illustration for Charles Dickens's David Copperfield. Steel etching. Source: Centenary Edition (1911), volume one, facing page 130. 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 "lie 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.]
The second illustration for the third monthly number, containing chapters 7, 8, and 9, reverts to quiet, intensely personal moment, in sharp contrast to the uproarious and dramatic scene that Phiz selected for the subject pf his first illustration in this third instalment. In contrast to his first four appearances, in this sixth monthly plate David is standing; moreover, in contrast to all his previous depictions, here he is an active investigator rather than an entirely passive observer. David remains, however, detached and watchful rather than socially integrated as he stumbles upon his mother breast- feeding David's infant brother. This is the first illustration in which Phiz realizes David as a distinct individual, although he wears precisely the same clothes that he is wearing in "Steerforth and Mr. Mell" and "The Friendly Waiter and I." The domestic moment captured in this sixth monthly illustration is this:
I believed, from the solitary and thoughtful way in which my mother murmured her song, that she was alone. And I went softly into the room. She was sitting by the fire, suckling an infant, whose tiny hand she held against her neck. Her eyes were looking down upon its face, and she sat singing to it. 
Phiz has dealt with the subject of breast-feeding in a sensitive and discrete manner, treating David's mother as yet another instance of the mid-Victorian "Angel in the House," presenting her as Dickens had Millie Swidger in The Haunted Man (1848), as an idealized image of tender motherhood, a nineteenth-century Raphael Madonna.
Jane Rabb Cohen interprets the illustration as a variation on the earlier Phiz depicted Florence Dombey in Dombey and Son (1846-48). David, contends Cohen, is similarly cut off from the intimate moment by the chair back and his mother's focus upon the other child. "
His unsettled stance and expression is at odds with his mother's composure, his awkwardness contrasting with the graceful curves of her head, the baby's clothes and draped bassinet, and the oval frames of the pictures behind and above the pair. 
Steig's analysis, preceding Cohen's by some two years, focuses on Phiz's use of symbolic details, such as the companion pictures above the fireplace illustrating scenes from the life of the biblical prophet Moses. These are doubly appropriate since Moses is generally credited with having written the first five books of the Old Testament; therefore, his childhood tribulations suggest that his may serve as the prototype for David's early life, his being consigned to the care of strangers, alienated from his family, and becoming an outcast before he attains social recognition as an inspired writer. Steig comments upon such details as "the decorative wings on the clock behind him [which] suggest the rapid passage of time" (118) and the overall composition of the scene:
The space between mother and boy is charged with the tension of an uncompleted action. Mother and infant are centered in such a way as to recall the stock image of Madonna and Child, consistent with the rather heavy religiosity of Dickens' text; they are also watched over by an angel on the fireplace surround, hinting at perhaps both holiness and impending death. But we are brought back to earth by the overturned reticule with its sewing implements spilled out on the floor, a reminder of Clara's acceptance of her Murdstone-assigned role as a flighty child and incompetent housekeeper. 
Although critic Q. D. Leavis had proposed that the portrait above Clara Copperfield's head is of herself as a younger woman, Steig notes that the mature woman does not resemble David's mother and is dressed in a pre-nineteenth-century fashion, so that the lady in the oval frame who dominates the upper register may be regarded more safely as a female ancestor, perhaps a great-grandmother:
The portrait's emphasis on the lady's breasts suggests a connection with motherhood, although in the working drawing the breasts are represented only as blind indentations. To the extent that the portrait has anything to do with Clara, there may be some sense in its juxtaposition with prints of the Prodigal Son and Moses in the Bullrushes. But David is a prodigal son only from the standpoint of the, Murdstones, who consider him to be willfully bad; Clara regards him so only to the extent that they have been able to influence her. The print of Moses, on the other hand, suggests both David's being found again, so to speak, by his mother, and his own unexpected discovery of his baby brother. 
Certainly the biblical illustrations and the low-relief sculptural groups in the roundels on either side of David's mother which emphasize a triad family grouping (perhaps the "Holy Family" of Mother Mary, Joseph, and the Christ child), as well as the angel supporting the mantelpiece (left), confer, as Steig proposes, religious associations upon the scene quite in keeping with the obvious religiosity of the accompanying text. The overturned sewing box and the spilled contents at Clara Copperfield's feet may do more than imply Clara's incompetence as a housekeeper, or her neglect of domestic responsibilities as she tends to her newborn. They may also be symbolic of David's feelings of neglect, of his mother's narrow focus on her new child to the exclusion of worrying about her first, so total is her absorption with her infant in the narrow world of the Blunderstone Rookery.
David implies a sense of alienation at this point in the letterpress, for when he characterizeses his mother's manner of singing as "solitary" and "thoughtful," he in fact describes himself. Momentarily, the music has acted as an objective correlative, carrying the narrator back to his own infancy. And so, his heart "brimful" (131) of tender emotions stirred to life by his mother's singing, he is "rediscovered" by and reunited with his mother, entering a momentary state of heightened awareness or bliss: "I should have been more fit for Heaven than I ever have been since" (131). But the moment captured, of David's inquisitively following the sound of his mother's music through the door and into the nursery, hardly prepares us for this imminent Joycean epiphany. The effect of the letterpress may well strike the contemporary reader as "mawkish," as Steig asserts; the effect of the illustration is far from such.
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 19 November 2009