Forgive Me, Pity Me, Help Me!

"Forgive Me, Pity Me, Help Me!" by Charles S. Reinhart. 1870. 13.3 cm wide by 10.2 cm high (horizontally mounted, with text above and below on a page 24 cm high by 16.2 cm wide). This plate illustrates Book Three -- "Garnering," Chapter One, "Another Thing Needful" in Charles Dickens's Hard Times, which appeared in American Household Edition, 1870. Page 203.

This illustration of perfect sympathy between the maternal poor girl, Sissy Jupe, who has grown to maturity in the Gradgrind Household, and Louisa, recently tempted to break her marriage vows, reminds one of Katherine Mansfield's remark in the short story "A Cup of Tea" that all women are sisters, and never more so than in adversity. This is Reinhart's sixth bedroom scene, the others being plates 3, 4, 5, 9, and 10, but it is very different from the last of the series, in which, in the dark, Louisa atrtempted to serve as Tom's confessor. The text which the twelfth plate accompanies casts black-garbed Sissy in the role of priestly confessor to Louisa's supplicant. The colour symbolism works in reverse, of course, since, although in white, Louisa confesses herself "quite devoid" of good, while Dickens almost canonizes "the stroller's child" as a compound of "brave affection," "devoted spirit," and moral beacon: "the once deserted girl shone like a beautiful light upon the darkness of the other" (203). The caption leaves the reader-viewer in constant anticipation until the very last line of the chapter, the moment Reinhart has chosen to realise. However, he has adjusted the juxtaposition of the two young women so that Louisa is not upon her knees, clinging desperately to Sissy as she cries out for "compassion" in almost biblical terms, as suiggested in such words and phrases as "a guide to peace," "innocence," and "veneration."

Turning from page 202 to 203 and regarding the simple trust that each girl shows the other, one is struck prior to completing the reading of the chapter at the subtlty of the plate in contrast to the high Victorian sentimentality of the letter-press. Perhaps it was Dickens's chief failing that he heightened the language in both dialogue and description to command the reader's tears to flow when the situation presented faithfully should have won that reader's sympathy without rhetorical manipulation.

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


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Last modified 22 October 2002