The Discovery of Jingle in the Fleet
Phiz (Hablot K. Browne)
Dickens's Pickwick Papers
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Despite the comedy that confidence man Alfred Jingle has afforded in the picaresque plot, he is nonetheless a disruptive force — a comic antagonist — whose misdemeanours nevertheless warrant a milder poetic justice than gradually starving to death in a dreary common room in the Fleet Prison. After the prank at the young ladies' boarding school, in which he and his devious servant, Job Trotter, delude Pickwick into believing he must invade the Junonian precincts in order to frustrate Jingle's mercenary designs on a young heiress, the pair of malefactors disappear. However, as one should expect in a picaresque novel, they now resurface. Pickwick, looking for somebody to run errands, encounters these pitiful, scantily clothed subjects of nemesis, Jingle and Trotter, at their lowest ebb, Jingle having pawned his clothing for a small cut of lamb, which Trotter (who is at liberty to come and go, not being an incarcerated debtor himself) is about to deliver to his master in the common room on the poor side. Phiz has rendered neither of them as scantily clad as Dickens's text, but Victorian standards of decency forbade a more faithful treatment of their figures.
Jingle's degradation is reminiscent of that of Hogarth's Tom Rakewell in the seventh "scene" of The Rake's Progress, "The Prison Scene", both are which are set in a "common room" on the "poor" side of a debtors' prison where the inmates can afford neither rent nor "chummage." The once daring protagonist who lived well beyond his means (and, in Jingle's case, by his wits) is now without liberty — or hope. Although Hogarth's Tom has been a naive dupe, whereas Boz's Jingle is a practised confidence man, the deeply depressed Tom at least still has most of his clothing, including his wig. Having dined on his wardrobe, Jingle now finds his "cupboard" — like his own person — nearly bare.
The general aspect of the room recalled him to himself at once; but he had no sooner cast his eye on the figure of a man who was brooding over the dusty fire, than, letting his hat fall on the floor, he stood perfectly fixed and immovable with astonishment.
Yes; in tattered garments, and without a coat; his common calico shirt, yellow and in rags; his hair hanging over his face; his features changed with suffering, and pinched with famine — there sat Mr. Alfred Jingle; his head resting on his hands, his eyes fixed upon the fire, and his whole appearance denoting misery and dejection!
Near him, leaning listlessly against the wall, stood a strong-built countryman, flicking with a worn — out hunting — whip the top-boot that adorned his right foot; his left being thrust into an old slipper. Horses, dogs, and drink had brought him there, pell-mell. There was a rusty spur on the solitary boot, which he occasionally jerked into the empty air, at the same time giving the boot a smart blow, and muttering some of the sounds by which a sportsman encourages his horse. He was riding, in imagination, some desperate steeplechase at that moment. Poor wretch! He never rode a match on the swiftest animal in his costly stud, with half the speed at which he had torn along the course that ended in the Fleet.
On the opposite side of the room an old man was seated on a small wooden box, with his eyes riveted on the floor, and his face settled into an expression of the deepest and most hopeless despair. A young girl — his little grand — daughter — was hanging about him, endeavouring, with a thousand childish devices, to engage his attention; but the old man neither saw nor heard her. The voice that had been music to him, and the eyes that had been light, fell coldly on his senses. His limbs were shaking with disease, and the palsy had fastened on his mind.
There were two or three other men in the room, congregated in a little knot, and noiselessly talking among themselves. There was a lean and haggard woman, too — a prisoner’s wife — who was watering, with great solicitude, the wretched stump of a dried–up, withered plant, which, it was plain to see, could never send forth a green leaf again — too true an emblem, perhaps, of the office she had come there to discharge.
Such were the objects which presented themselves to Mr. Pickwick’s view, as he looked round him in amazement. The noise of some one stumbling hastily into the room, roused him. Turning his eyes towards the door, they encountered the new–comer; and in him, through his rags and dirt, he recognised the familiar features of Mr. Job Trotter.
"Mr. Pickwick!" exclaimed Job aloud.
"Eh?" said Jingle, starting from his seat. ‘Mr. — ! So it is — queer place — strange things — serves me right — very." Mr. Jingle thrust his hands into the place where his trousers pockets used to be, and, dropping his chin upon his breast, sank back into his chair.
Mr. Pickwick was affected; the two men looked so very miserable. The sharp, involuntary glance Jingle had cast at a small piece of raw loin of mutton, which Job had brought in with him, said more of their reduced state than two hours' explanation could have done. [chapter 42]
Taking his cues from Dickens's descriptions of the various inmates, Phiz has focussed on two characters in the centre of the composition — Mr. Pickwick in a melodramatic "recognition" pose, and Jingle in a posture suggestive of deep melancholy. However, the illustrator also features the mad huntsman prominently (right), leaning beside the diminutive fireplace (rather than the wall, as in the text). In the background, Phiz has incorporated the knot of three (rather than the text's "two or three") men conversing noisily at the window, and the prisoner's wife (certainly "lean," but not "haggard") tending the dessicated plant at the grimy window (left). He has also filled out the scene with a pair of figures whom Dickens does not describe: a Hogarthesque harridan immediately behind Job Trotter, and a barking Yorkshire terrier at the huntsman's slippered foot. The attentive little dog, trying in vain to engage his distracted master's attention, parallels the granddaughter who fruitlessly tries to rouse her grandfather to an awareness of her and their surroundings. In Phiz's illustration, she expresses deep concern for her grandfather as she takes him by the hand. But the most significant visual interpolation, already noted, is the alcoholic female entering the common room just behind Job Trotter. Her raised fist suggests her impatience with Job's blocking her way, giving her an inner life — Phiz's ironically implied observation is that she is in a hurry, with no place to go.
Cohen, Jane Rabb. Charles Dickens and His Original Illustrators. Columbus: Ohio State U. P., 1980.
Guiliano, Edward, and Philip Collins, eds. The Annotated Dickens. Vol. 1. New York: Clarkson N. Potter, 1986.
Hammerton, J. A. The Dickens Picture-Book. London: Educational Book Co., 1910.
Steig, Michael. Dickens and Phiz. Bloomington & London: Indiana U.P., 1978.
Dickens, Charles. "Pickwick Papers (1836-37). Il. Hablot Knight Browne. London: Chapman & Hall. Facing page 369.
Last modified 20 December 2011