"Poor Mr. Pickwick! He had never played with three thorough-paced female card-players before by Phiz (Hablot K. Browne). Household Edition (1874) of Dickens's Pickwick Papers, p. 249. [Click on image to enlarge it.]

In his fifty-seven woodcuts produced in 1873 for the new Chapman and Hall Household Edition volume of The Pickwick Papers, Phiz is most successful when adapts the subject of an earlier illustration such as "The card-room at Bath" to the new Sixties style of illustration inaugurated by George Du Maurier and Fred Walker, making the rather old-fashioned, Cruikshankian figures look more substantial and narrowing his perspective to study a few characters in a close-up rather than maintaining a panoramic treatment.

The Card Room at Bath

The Card Room at Bath by Phiz (April 1837).

For example, in his thirty-fifth woodcut he transforms the subject from a locale ("The Cardroom at Bath") to a situation, Pickwick's difficulty in leaving up to his card-partner's expectations. The trial Pickwick undergoes is again one in which practical experience rather "book learning" should be his guide. Shifting the emphasis from the assembled company and the magnificent setting of enormous mirrors and gassolier in the original April 1837 engraving, "The Card Room at Bath," Phiz effectively contrasts the composition's two central figures: Pickwick, seated, and puzzling over how to bid; and "Grand Master" Angelo Cyrus Bantam, Esquire, the Master of the Ceremonies, still dressed impeccably, now substantial, pillar-like, and serenely self-confident. One could plausibly argue that in the original engraving Phiz had erred in letting the furnishings of the card-room dominate the figures, and that the poses of the figures are somewhat awkward and wooden, and that although Phiz has foregrounded his subjects — Pickwick, the other card-players, Bantam, and the two Bath spinsters the Misses Matinter — he has not brought them forward, so that they are much the same size as the six figures in the second rank (left). The moment realised in both 1837 and 1873 illustrations is this:

Mr. Pickwick bowed to each of the ladies, and, finding escape impossible, cut. Mr. Pickwick and Miss Bolo against Lady Snuphanuph and Mrs. Colonel Wugsby.

As the trump card was turned up, at the commencement of the second deal, two young ladies hurried into the room, and took their stations on either side of Mrs. Colonel Wugsby's chair, where they waited patiently until the hand was over.

"Now, Jane," said Mrs. Colonel Wugsby, turning to one of the girls, "what is it?"

"I came to ask, ma, whether I might dance with the youngest Mr. Crawley," whispered the prettier and younger of the two.

"Good God, Jane, how can you think of such things?" replied the mamma indignantly. "Haven't you repeatedly heard that his father has eight hundred a year, which dies with him? I am ashamed of you. Not on any account."

"Ma," whispered the other, who was much older than her sister, and very insipid and artificial, 'Lord Mutanhed has been introduced to me. I said I thought I wasn't engaged, ma."

"You're a sweet pet, my love," replied Mrs. Colonel Wugsby, tapping her daughter's cheek with her fan, "and are always to be trusted. He's immensely rich, my dear. Bless you!" With these words Mrs. Colonel Wugsby kissed her eldest daughter most affectionately, and frowning in a warning manner upon the other, sorted her cards.

Poor Mr. Pickwick! he had never played with three thorough-paced female card-players before. They were so desperately sharp, that they quite frightened him. If he played a wrong card, Miss Bolo looked a small armoury of daggers; if he stopped to consider which was the right one, Lady Snuphanuph would throw herself back in her chair, and smile with a mingled glance of impatience and pity to Mrs. Colonel Wugsby, at which Mrs. Colonel Wugsby would shrug up her shoulders, and cough, as much as to say she wondered whether he ever would begin. [Chapter 36, Chapman & Hall's Household Edition, p. 252]

Whereas the 1837 engraving positions the card-players to the right, occupying much of the foreground, Phiz has shifted them to the left, and placed Bantam (wearing stovepipe trousers and tuxedo in the Victorian fashion and standing straight, rather than bending forward) in the very centre of the composition; furthermore, Phiz replaces the 1837 plate's pair of "spinsters" (mentioned specifically in the text) with whom Bantam converses — a middle-aged woman and her less-than-attractive sister — with three beautifully dressed, slender, and elegantly coiffed young women in the 1873 woodcut, thereby contrasting the balding Pickwick and the singularly unattractive, elderly ladies with whom Pickwick is attempting to play whist. The subject (Pickwick at cards) is further emphasised by the fact that Phiz does not show the other players actually holding cards; Pickwick's partner looks sourly upon him, while their opponent intently examines her cards — and the table appears to have shrunk. Unfortunately, in order to retain the gassolier, Phiz has had to reposition it so that it seems to be immediately above the heads of the card-players, rather than some fifteen feet above them, as in the original. Although he has been able to retain the glass sconces, Phiz has had to eliminate the ornately framed Rococo mirrors that add so much character to the original engraving. The shadowy society figures in the background of the 1837 engraving become slightly smaller but much more sharply realised in the 1873 woodcut. However, positions of the card-players relative to one another and their extraordinary hats are precisely the same in both illustrations.

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 10 March 2012