Seated on an upright tombstone, close to him, was a strange unearthly figure by Phiz (Hablot K. Browne). Household Edition (1874) of Dickens's Pickwick Papers, p. 193. Engraved by one of the Dalziels. [Click on image to enlarge it.]

In the number immediately following Christmas 1836, Dickens and his illustrator provide two outstanding visual accompaniments to the text, one ("Christmas Eve at Mr. Wardle's") focussing on the titular character's celebration of Old Christmas under the mistletoe, the other whimsically realising the interpolated Christmas ghost story of Gabriel Grub, a proto-Scrooge figure, in "The Goblin and The Sexton". Both subjects very much appealed to the Household Edition's illustrators, although Nast's treatment of "The Goblin and The Sexton" lacks both the humour and the telling detail of Phiz's pair of much more lively renditions. In particular, in Phiz's embedded references to "memory" on a pair of tombstones in the 1873 illustration (down left, and up right), Phiz is connecting the moral life with remembering the collective past of the village or community, an awareness that the misanthropic Gabriel Grub has replaced with self-centredness and giving himself up to mindless drinking. He is, exactly like Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol (1843) "an ill-conditioned, cross-grained, surly fellow — a morose and lonely man who consorted with nobody but himself" (ch. 29, p. 197), so that the supernatural visitation serves as a catalyst to force him to remember his common humanity with those whom he inters. Phiz better realises evocatively the twilight hour and lonely setting in his original illustration, his second iteration being rather "overpopulated" by goblins, so to speak.

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Left: Phiz's original The Goblin and The Sexton. Right — Thomas Nast's version in the Household Edition: His eyes rested on a form that made his blood run cold.. Click on images to enlarge them.

"The Goblin and The Sexton" in the original series (for the January 1837 monthly number) remains a fascinating blend of the weird and macabre on the one hand, and of the comic and whimsical on the other. The tomb and gnarled tree are brilliant devices for setting the mood, so that one wonders why Phiz elected to replace the eerie tree as another person in the scene (right) with a perfectly conventional oak (left) in the 1873 illustration, which, in providing a closeup of the Goblin and the sexton has eliminated the noble English Gothic church, with its square tower reaching heavenward and its elegant stained-glass window in the transept. The scene in the text has so much pictorial potential that Phiz could not resist revisiting the January 1837 illustration; likewise, the American Household Edition illustrator must have felt compelled to try his hand at the same scene, despite his lack of familiarity with such a setting as an English country churchyard. Thomas Nast's Goblin King in "His eyes rested on a form that made his blood run cold" (p. 172) is hardly credible (almost pinata-like in his rotundity and artificial expression), and Nast's catatonic Gabriel Grub (surprisingly impressionistic for a period that valued realism in illustration) is hardly the figure of fun that Phiz's sexton constitutes in "Seated on an upright tombstone, close to him, was a strange unearthly figure" (Household Edition, p. 201). Given the opportunity to rethink his original composition without Dickens's supervision, Phiz seems to be enjoying the whole situation, depicting eight miniature versions of the Goblin chief, who serve as an appreciative audience for Grub's discomfort. Phiz's Gothic church backdrop and tomb, ably engraved by the Dalziels, suggest greater verisimilitude than Nast's cemetery and square-towered country church. However, neither Household Edition illustration is as effective in its depiction of the two figures as Phiz's 1837 original.

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.


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Last modified 9 March 2012