Phiz (Hablot K. Browne)
Part XI, Ch. 29 (November 1843)
Dickens's Martin Chuzzlewit
[See commentary below]
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In "Easy Shaving," the second illustration for the November 1843 instalment, Phiz underscores Tigg's unexpected rise in fortune by providing as a visual analogue the concomitant rise of Master Bailey to the enviable position of the financier Montague's liveried footman. His old friend, the barber-cum-bird fancier Poll Sweedlepipe, is astonished at his old friend's apotheosis. As Michael Steig remarks in Dickens and Phiz,
The themes of metamorphosis and parody are worked out intricately, for in the first etching ["The Board"] Browne parodies the melodramatic pose of "Montague" by a still more pretentious portrait. . . . The parallels in the companion plate amusingly deflate Tigg's pretence: Bailey is being shaved by the genuinely admiring Poll, although his beard — like Tigg's respectability and his capital — is imaginary. [71-72]
The footman's livery seems too big for Bailey, who is so small that he can barely straddle the barber's easy-shaving chair, the analogue for Montague's throne-like regency chair in the companion piece. And just as Poll studies the effect of his shaving on Bailey's visage, so Bailey seems impressed by the effect of his footman's hat and wig on Poll's coat rack (left), while a wig block (right) and the owl in a cage seem amazed — either at the transformation or at Bailey's effrontery. Steig notes the thematic connection between the two plates for November, 1843:
And as Tigg is being obsequiously waited upon by an associate, butler, servant, and physician, far beyond his intrinsic deserts, so Bailey is being served by the barber, Sweedlepipe, despite the totally imaginary quality of his "beard." This parody is something not brought out directly in the text, and it is a matter of speculation whether the idea to emphasize it in the illustrations was Dickens's or Browne's, since we have no such direct clue as contrasting captions. [Steig, DSA 2, 136]
Dickens takes considerable pains at the opening of chapter 26 to establish the reality of the easy-shaving shop and birds' nest as well as the odd figure of the barbering bird-fancier, a Regency throwback, "a little elderly man" in a velveteen coat, blue stockings, ankle boots, bright-coloured neckerchief, grimy apron, corduroy knee-shorts, and very tall hat. In drawing Poll Phiz, who has substituted leanness for shortness, has in fact given him top-boots to emphasize his height and angularity.
Only later, however, does Master Bailey actually enter the barber's and demand a shave. Browne emphasizes his short stature by his turned-down top-boots, over-sized waistcoat, and white corduroy breeches with a low crotch (all of which, of course, the fashion-conscious Poll pronounces "Beau-ti-ful!" in chapter 26). In chapter 26, Bailey bumps into the barber at the corner of Holborn and Kingsgate, agreeing to bear Poll company to Jonas Chuzzlewit's. Finally in chapter 29 we see together in a single scene Mr. Bailey clad as a footman and the interior of the bird-fancier's shop. The plate accurately includes details from the descriptions in both chapters 26 and 29: the favourite owl, the strop, the razors laid out in a row (right), and Bailey's smooth chin. Phiz, however, invented many of the details, including a can of bear's grease (at the left) and the wig stand surmounted by Bailey's imposing hat plus the large promotional sign "Shaving for the Million," which perhaps alludes obliquely to the Anglo-Bengalee Disinterested Loan and Life Assurance Company and its promise to unwary investors of profits and which complements the advertisement for that useful Eastern commodity, Macassar oil (at right).
Phiz also poses Bailey's head here to match that of "Tigg Montague" in the portrait featured in the companion plate. Family portraits like high-crowned hats were marks of respectability, but in these plates signify the duplicity behind each stately image. Here, Bailey apes his master as his master there apes a gentleman. The exotic oriental screen behind Poll further connects the bird-fancier's and financier's worlds in that the latter, too, has an Eastern furnishing, "a Turkey carpet," which serves as a tangible assurance of the firm's "property in Bengal" (chapter 27).
The precise comic moment that the plate realizes appears in the following sentences: "Go with the grain, Poll, all round, please," said Mr. Bailey, screwing up his face for the reception of the lather. "You may do wot you like with the bits of whisker. I don't care for 'em." Although the "bits of whisker" are as illusionary as the funds supporting the Anglo-Bengalee Life Assurance Company, like Pecksniff and Jonas, who place credence in Tigg's company owing to its respectable and confident appearance, Poll is caught up by Bailey's confident imposture and credits Bailey with possessing "the beard of a Jewish rabbi" (chapter 29). However, the reader wonders whether, unlike Mr. Montague, Mr. Bailey is merely deluding himself. Perhaps Dickens and Phiz imply that the artful Tigg, who once abandoned his troops to preserve himself, will fleece his unknowing board as easily as Poll shaves the beardless Bailey and abscond once again.
Steig, Michael. "Martin Chuzzlewit's Progress by Dickens and Phiz." Dickens Studies Annual 2 (1972): 119-149.
_____. "From Caricature to Progress: Master Humphrey's Clock and Martin Chuzzlewit." "Dickens and Phiz. Bloomington & London: Indiana U. P., 1978. Pp. 49-85.
Last modified 3 January 2008