Mark Begins to be Jolly Under Creditable Circumstances
Phiz (Hablot K. Browne)
"'Good-by'e one, good-by'e all' cried Mark, waving his hat on the top of his walking-stick. "Hearty chaps them wheelwrights — hurrah! And Mr, Pinch a-going to his organ — good-by'e, sir! I'm uncommon jolly. Not quite as jolly as I could wish to be but very near" — Chapter 7
Dickens's Martin Chuzzlewit
Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham.
[This image may be used without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose.]
After a rather pedestrian opening, with the selfishness of the Chuzzlewit clan and the exploitation and hypocrisy of Pecksniff made manifest, the narrative begins to take flight as we move from a cultural milieu that Dickens — despite his nostalgia for it — little understood, the rural village, to the teeming and tawdry life of the lower-middle class of the sprawling metropolis. After the falling off in the fifth and sixth chapters, necessarily establishing the contrasting characters of the inconsiderate young Martin, the deferential Tom, and the ebullient Mark, the action begins to rise again, first with the introduction of that engaging rascal Tigg, and then with Mark's sudden decision to leave the bucolic paradise in order to save his soul from complacency. Albert Guerard rightly expresses the feeling that the story "achieves sustained life only in the third monthly part, with the movement to London in chapter 8" (235). In saying farewell to the multi-gabled Elizabethan Green Dragon and his friends and neighbours as he takes the high road (his trunk having already gone up by waggon two days before), Mark Tapley, the jovial ostler of the local, seems to be saying goodbye to a way of life found in the hamlets of England's rural counties from Tudor times (recalled by the thatched roofs of the forge and the inn in this picture) to the railway age. He departs on foot for the capital as lads ever since young Shakespeare's time have done, but he is in fact not a denizen of the little Wiltshire village at all; rather, he was born in Kent and worked in London (sharing a little of Dickens's own life's story) prior to working for the kindly Mrs. Lupin at the Dragon. Nevertheless, in just a few years he seems to have established himself in the villagers' hearts, if Dickens's description of his circumstances in Chapters 5 through 7 and Phiz's sixth plate are to be credited.
Although he has risen early, in part, one suspects, to avoid tearful farewells, already the villagers, their children, several dogs, Tom Pinch (left) and the Widow Lupin herself (in the window, centre) are up to see him off, the plate's realisation of the event paralleling Dickens's description, but for the crowd of young admirers that Dickens implies in "children enough to hand down human natur to the latest posterity" (Ch. 7, Penguin p. 172, Oxford p. 102). Though both a crowd scene and a set piece (a "departure" in a "progress"), the picture has both drama and pathos without any sense of crowding. Phiz has, as it were, filled in the blanks in Dickens's mere half-page description of the scene, adding the buildings and subtracting the garden. Something of the energy of the dashes and reiterated "good-by'es" in the letterpress is communicated through the waving hands of Tom Pinch, the conclave of wheelwrights, and the crowd in front of the inn, so vividly realised in the clear air that we are soon to exchange for the smog of Todgers's and vicinity. Phiz's humanizing touch is the lone child, right, whose posture, gesture, and facial expression reveal how much everyone in the little community will miss jolly Mark. His jacket blows in the stiff breeze from left to right, a wind of destiny that in agitating the bottom of his garment draws the eye to the significant words on the poster: "Lost, Stolen." Reiterating the left-to-right movement is the fingerpost above Mark's beaver, with the word "Salisbury" just decipherable. The church spire and the gables of the Blue Dragon reinforce the upward movement of Mark's figure, as if heaven, emigration, and the pursuit of jollity under trying circumstances are all connected.
The execution of the whole scene is an artistic tour de force, as J. R. Harvey remarks of the majority of Phiz's etchings in the narrative-pictorial series for Martin Chuzzlewit: here, unlike some of his plates for the two novels in Master Humphrey's Clock,
his work is crisp and bright. His figures are full-size and solid, and while he retains the acuteness and economy of his caricatures, he seems less concerned with caricaturing people and more with drawing them well. The biting-in has produced an unusually clean line that shows Browne's etching at its most sensitive; the line takes delicate curves yet looks as though it has been slit in the paper with a razor. (130)
Although the picaresque novel's Sancho Panza figure, Mark Tapley, in his obsession with remaining "jolly" in the face of frustration, malevolence, and adversity would seem to be a mere caricature at this point in the textual narrative, Phiz has taken pains to individualise him. From his tousled hair, swirling neck-cloth, neat leggings, and hat held jauntily aloft on a rather short walking-stick (a mere flourish to the travelling costume rather than a functional prop for this strapping giant) we have a clear conception of his style and manner; a significant touch is the slightly melancholy visage, betokening an inner conflict as he leaves the woman he has grown to love for an uncertain future. Phiz leaves us in no doubt that Mark is the subject of the picture, for his solid and robust figure fills the frame, from the dog in vigorous movement and the child in stasis at the bottom to the open sky above.
The illustration is full of the clean lines and delicate curves that characterize a well-bitten steel plate, implying a thoroughness of execution and attention to detail in every aspect of the process, from initial drawing through etching to printing. We note in Phiz's handling of the gabled Blue Dragon Inn the influence of antiquarian George Cattermole's "A Very Aged, Ghostly Place" and "The Maypole Inn" from Master Humphrey's Clock. The artist's signature is discretely concealed at the bottom right , immediately below the butcher's dog, whose bouncing gait and wagging tail add to the sense of urgency. Mark, despite feelings of uncertainty about his decisions and of pain at separation from a way of life, a people, and a place he has loved, must be off. The future (and, unbeknownst to Mark, at this point, America) beckons.
As J. R. Harvey remarks of Plate 36, "Mr. Pinch is Amazed by an Unexpected Apparition" (from the eighteenth instalment),
the plate simply demonstrates an unlaboured mastery of design, drawing, and the suggestion of space. . . . . it shows how mature, as an artist, [Phiz] had become [by early 1843]. (130)
What awaits Mark Tapley and the novel is a highly necessary change of venue. Although Londoner Charles Dickens yearned for the simplicity of village life, unlike George Eliot he was not especially adept at capturing its intense inward-turning, tightly knit society. Having offered neither bucolic tranquility nor the incisive dialogue of Eliot's village worthies, and watching the sales of the monthly numbers stagnate, Dickens must felt the necessity to move the narrative along.
Cohen, Jane Rabb. Charles Dickens and His Original Illustrators. Columbus: Ohio State U. P., 1980.
Guerard, Albert J. "Martin Chuzzlewit: The Novel as Comic Entertainment." The Triumph of the Novel: Dickens, Dostoevsky, Faulkner. Chicago & London: U. Chicago P., 1976. Pp. 235-260.
Hammerton, J. A. Ch. 15, "Martin Chuzzlewit." The Dickens Picture-Book: A Record of the Dickens Illustrations With 600 Illustrations and a Frontispiece by Harry Furniss. London: Educational Book, 1910. Pp. 266-293.
Harvey, John. R. Ch. 6, "Dickens and Browne: Martin Chuzzledwit to Bleak House." Victorian Novelists and Their Illustrators. London: Sidgwick and Jackson, 1970.
Steig, Michael. Dickens and Phiz. Bloomington and London: Indiana U. P., 1978.
_____. "Martin Chuzzlewit's Progress by Dickens and Phiz." Dickens Studies Annual 2 (1972): 119-149.
Last modified 1 May 2007