Emotion of Mr. Kenwigs on Hearing the Family News
from Nicholas

Emotion of Mr. Kenwigs on Hearing the Family News from Nicholas (February 1839), Chapter 36

Phiz (Hablot K. Browne)

Dickens's Nicholas Nickleby

1839

Steel engraving

Source: J. A. Hammerton, The Dickens Picture-Book, p. 160.

"At Portsmouth, Henrietta Petowker is," observed Mr. Kenwigs.

"Yes," said Nicholas, "Mr. Lillyvick is there."

Mr. Kenwigs turned pale, but recovered, and said, that was an odd coincidence also.

"The message is from him," said Nicholas.

Mr. Kenwigs appeared to revive. He knew that his niece was in a delicate state, and had, no doubt, sent word that they were to forward full particulars. Yes. That was very kind of him; so like him too!

"He desired me to give his kindest love," said Nicholas.

"Very much obliged to him, I'm sure. Your great-uncle Lillyvick, my dears," interposed Mr. Kenwigs, condescendingly explaining it to the children.

"His kindest love" resumed Nicholas; "and to say that he had no time to write, but that he was married to Miss Petowker."

Mr. Kenwigs started from his seat with a petrified stare, caught his second daughter by her flaxen tail, and covered his face with his pocket-handkerchief. [Ch. 36, "Private and Confidential; relating to Family Matters. Showing how Mr. Kenwigs underwent violent Agitation, and how Mrs. Kenwigs was as well as could be expected," Part 11, February 1839]

Victorian domestic farce is certainly the style of both the passage illustrated and the illustration itself, the composition suggesting the cluttered realism of the contemporary theatre. Phiz seems to have both shrunk and sidelined Nicholas in order to shed the spotlight upon the Kenwigses and their nurse, a comic domestic subject allowing the artist to give free vent to his penchant for humourous caricature. In making this selection, however, Phiz has bypassed one of the key meetings in the plot, that of Nicholas Nickleby and the benevolent businessman Charles Cheeryble at the local employment office.

Image scan and text by Philip V. Allingham.

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