The inexpensive and highly portable Penguin edition of the novel, first issued in paperback in 1968 and re-published many times since, positions the original Hablot Knight Browne ('Phiz') illustrations in close proximity to the textual passages they realize. Phiz has captioned each illustration because he is not merely trying to encapsulate a scene but capture a textual moment. Although better formatted for reading, the Oxford World's Classics edition, based on the authoritative Clarendon edition (which, edited by Margaret Cardwell, contained all of Phiz's illustrations), unfortunately includes only a handful of the original steels of 1843-44. J. A. Hammeron, one of Phiz's earliest admirers in the period of neglect of master of visual satire that followed Dickens's death in 1870, notes that Phiz's

plates for Chuzzlewit are, for the most part, effective illustrations, restrained in their humour, and at times inclined a little to dulness of treatment. Pecksniff, fortunately, is not burlesqued unduly. (267)

However, for collectors, the first collected edition issued after Dickens's death, the 1870s Household Edition, with the wholly new series of nineteen wood-cuts by one of those much vaunted new illustrators of the Sixties, Fred Barnard (1846-1896), is certainly an attractive alternative. However good Barnard's "quarto-page" illustrations may be, they are not the result of the same mutually collaborative relationship as the Phiz plates, which are so intimately bound up in the creative process that sometimes, as in the case of Pecksniff's bust and portrait, it is impossible to determine which preceded the other, the graphic or the verbal description. Although Dickens has great fun poking holes in the hypocrite's sanctimonious facade, he does not offer a great many clues as to Pecksniff's physical appearance, a obligatory part of the comedy of character.

The artist, unexpectedly given a free hand, did not abuse the license by gross caricature. Seizing the ironic spirit of Dickens's description, Browne clearly established the moral impostor from the outset (II, facing p. 18). He wisely changed Pecksniff's cravat from white--as specified by Dickens--to black for needed visual contrast as well as to indicate the fact that the man is a widower. His clasped hands are both obsequious and complacent; his hair carefully dressed, its tuft as upright as his public facade. (Cohen 85)

For the book's other triumph of comedic characterization, Sairey Gamp, Phiz was once again equal to the task of visualising the figure that goes with that inimitable voice; indeed, the longevity of the novel owes much to Phiz's portrayals of the self-serving, alcoholic nurse and mid-wife, a kind of W. C. Fields in drag. As John Harvey has demonstrated, Phiz's visualization of the immortal character is probably derived from a recent study of a sick-nurse by the French caricaturist Honoré Daumier: "La Garde-Malade" in the magazine Le Charivari, 22 May 1842. Indeed, throughout Phiz's plates for the novel one sees the influences of a host of previous illustrators, from Hogarth and Gillray to George Cruikshank. Moreover, although he had never seen America himself, Phiz seems to have imbibed its free-wheeling, turbulent, materialistic spirit from Dickens's letterpress (and unusually detailed instructions!) so well that the reader derives a vivid sense of place from Phiz's Yankee illustrations, particularly those of the ironically-named Eden in the Mississippi valley. As Boz distinguishes the American from the English characters by their peculiarities of speech, so Phiz distinguishes Jefferson Brick, Scadder, and the rest by their markedly un-European dress, particularly by their outlandish head-gear.

Whereas Phiz was obliged to take suggestion from the Inimitable as direction, and to provide two steels for each monthly part, Fred Barnard operated under no such constraints. He remained, however, true to the images of the Dickens characters as two generations had known and loved them. Barnard took what Phiz had bequeathed him and made the images more three-dimensional and less like caricatures. Whereas Phiz had tended toward visual distortion and hyperbole, especially in his depictions of Dickens's eccentric and comic characters, Barnard humanized them, setting them in more believable, less cluttered, but more generalized backgrounds. There is something of the cleverness of the "in joke" in Phiz's designs, in his free-ranging allusions to the culture and objects of the contemporary scene, that is entirely lacking in Barnard's more straightforward, timeless compositions.

Although they lack the solidity of Barnard's illustrations, Phiz's reveal from the first his primary strengths: parodic humour, whimsical characterization, and a wealth of emblematic detail. In Barnard's ability to dispose his figures realistically in space and catch them in action we see the influence of the foremost of the "New Men of the Sixties," the creative leader of the period's innovation in illustration, Fred Walker. Whereas Phiz provides a precise visual analogue for Dickens's letterpress, Barnard captures a scene rather than a moment, and gives the viewer a clear sense not merely of the characters' appearances and costumes but also of their relationship to one another. In contrast, Phiz's figures sometimes seem to have been posed in a cluttered Victorian stage-set, full of fascinating bric-a-brac but difficult to navigate, Barnard's backdrops are open and accessible, in no way detracting from his focus on the characters. Phiz excels at "cast shots" such as the "Pleasant Little Family Party at Mr. Pecksniff's" (plate 3) and the execution of horses in general which, as in the title-page vignette for Martin Chuzzlewit, are always convincing in their actions and proportions. Instead of consistently exploiting their possibilities for comedy, Barnard provides psychological studies of Dickens's characters. Naturally, in hindsight we can see that Phiz's chief limitation was that as he sketched he usually had little or no knowledge of what would come next, whereas Barnard's illustrations benefit from his thoroughly having read and re-read a Dickens novel written before he was even born.

Reference

Cohen, Jane Rabb. Charles Dickens and His Original Illustrators. Columbus: Ohio State U. P., 1980.

Hammerton, J. A. Ch. 15, "Martin Chuzzlewit." The Dickens Picture-Book: A Record of the Dickens Illustrations With 600 Illustrations and a Frontispiece by Harry Furniss. London: Educational Book, 1906. Pp. 266-293.

Harvey, John. R. Ch. 6, "Dickens and Browne: Martin Chuzzledwit to Bleak House." Victorian Novelists and Their Illustrators. London: Sidgwick and Jackson, 1970.


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Last modified 26 April 2007