Take this little villain away, said the agonised Mr. Pickwick

Take this little villain away, said the agonised Mr. Pickwick. by Phiz (Hablot K. Browne). Household Edition (1874) of Dickens's Pickwick Papers, p. 78. Engraved by one of the Dalziels. [Click on image to enlarge it.]

In Dickens and Phiz, Michael Steig points out that the 1836 and 1838 versions of this illustration

provide an especially interesting example of this talent and its development. In the 1836 plate, with its harsh and scarcely relieved verticals, the rendering of both room and characters is rudimentary and stiff. Considered abstractly, the overall composition adequately conveys the point of the scene — Mr. Pickwick at the center holds Mrs. Bardell, harried by Master Bardell on one side while scrutinized by his friends on the other. Most interesting, however, are the rather tentatively etched details above the door: a stuffed owl and the sculptured head of what appears to be an elderly man. Presumably these constitute some kind of ironic reference to wisdom and sagacity, or perhaps the head simply suggests Pickwick's rather advanced age.

In the redesigned plate for the 1838 edition not only has Browne enormously improved the rendering of characters and scene so that the illustration comes alive in contrast to the stiff, formal feeling of the earlier one, but he eliminates the two vaguely emblematic details and introduces three new, much clearer ones: a framed picture above the mirror, showing Cupid aiming an arrow at a languid nude; on the chimneypiece, a pair of [26/27] vases with fresh flowers in them; and between these, an ornamental clock featuring Father Time with his scythe. The clock is immediately behind Pickwick's head, while the right-hand vase is behind Mrs. Bardell's, so that the clear implication is a lightly ironic commentary upon the conjunction of age and (relative) youth. [Steig, Dickens and Phiz, pp. 26-27]

Accordingly, in the Household Edition's version of this scene ("'Take this little villain away,' said the agonised Mr. Pickwick," p. 73), one might expect further emblematic development. In fact, in revising in the more realistic style of the sixties, Phiz has emphasized the theatrical over the emblematic, eliminating background details that parenthetically comment upon Pickwick's situation. Nast's American Household Edition version is even more barren, including as it does does no background elements, nor even the audience of Pickwickians; in fact, there is nothing apparently dramatic about Nast's scene since an elderly Mrs. Bardell and equally elderly Mr. Pickwick are not realised in a compromising situation, but are talking rationally about "a companion" for Master Bardell.

The 1873 versions of this scene have almost no such tantalising Hogarthian details in the background (the exception being the dessicated pllant in the vase, right, which would seem to be a comment on the nature of the "lovers"). Phiz's focus in his Household Edition woodcut is solely on the foregrounded action, which fills the horizontal frame: the smirking friends, among whom Tupman alone seems solicitous of Mrs. Bardell's condition; and Pickwick, trying to prevent Martha Bardell from falling, even as her ten-year-old, Tommy, tries to throw Pickwick himself off balance by kicking his shins and tugging at his coat-tail. Although the later illustration is decidedly inferior in its lack of emblematic detail and its failure to convey as sharply the reactions of the three comic Pickwickians to the spectacle of the fainting widow, the Household Edition woodcut has the virtue of making Mrs. Bardell more comely — and of making Master Tommy, with his wild hair, more of an individual than a type. The three friends (well individualised in face and form) enter from the right in the 1836 illustration, but from the usual direction for stage entrances (the left; i. e., stage right) in the Household Edition woodcut, which in its solidity, grouping of figures, and minimising of the properties in the background seems more of a theatrical moment or tableau vivant. The continuity between the two illustrations lies — despite the shifting of the observers from right to left — in the costuming, juxtapositions, and postures of the six characters: in particular, we note Tupman's girth, Pickwick's rotund figure and obvious dismay, Mrs. Bardell's hat and apron, and Mr. Winkle's gaiters. The two illustrations are also not inconsistent in the artist's use of a blank mirror above the mantelpiece to imply a lack of perception or clarity of apprehension, for Pickwick often fails to see himself as others see him; in the 1873 illustration, the heads of Mr. Pickwick and Mrs. Bardell are so positioned that the viewer cannot see whether the Father Time clock is still present, and the top register of the 1873 coincides with the top of the mirror, so that one cannot see the ornately-framed (and ironically themed) neoclassical picture of the triumph of erotic desire.

He, too will have a companion

"He, too will have a companion," resumed Mr. Pickwick by Thomas Nast. [Click on thumbnail to enlarge the image.]

Utterly lacking in such emblematic detail, Thomas Nast's "'He, too will have a companion,' resumed Mr. Pickwick" implies a convivial relationship between Pickwick and his landlady, who seem (ironically) to be understanding one another perfectly. A curious detail is Pickwick's easy-chair, which Nast appears to have appropriated directly from Phiz's 1836 illustration. Mrs. Bardell, too, despite her much greater age and less comely face and figure, is dressed in the Nast plate precisely as she is in the original Phiz engraving, and yet the American illustrator has deliberately avoided the situation comedy of that earlier plate in order to focus on the two characters.

Related Material

Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham. Formatting by George P. Landow. [You may use these images without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the photographer and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one.]

References

Dickens, Charles. Pickwick Papers. The Household Edition. London: Chapman and Hall, 1874; New York: Harpers, 1874.

Steig, Michael. Dickens and Phiz. Bloomington & London: Indiana U.P., 1978. [e-text in Victorian Web.]


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Last modified 29 March 2012