"Janet! Donkeys!" — Ch. 13
Felix O. C. Darley
9.3 x 8.8 cm vignetted
Frontispiece for Dickens's David Copperfield in the New York Household Edition.
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Janet had gone away to get the bath ready, when my aunt, to my great alarm, became in one moment rigid with indignation, and had hardly voice to cry out, "Janet! Donkeys!"
Upon which, Janet came running up the stairs as if the house were in flames, darted out on a little piece of green in front, and warned off two saddle-donkeys, lady-ridden, that had presumed to set hoof upon it; while my aunt, rushing out of the house, seized the bridle of a third animal laden with a bestriding child, turned him, led him forth from those sacred precincts, and boxed the ears of the unlucky urchin in attendance who had dared to profane that hallowed ground.
To this hour I don't know whether my aunt had any lawful right of way over that patch of green; but she had settled it in her own mind that she had, and it was all the same to her. The one great outrage of her life, demanding to be constantly avenged, was the passage of a donkey over that immaculate spot. In whatever occupation she was engaged, however interesting to her the conversation in which she was taking part, a donkey turned the current of her ideas in a moment, and she was upon him straight. Jugs of water, and watering-pots, were kept in secret places ready to be discharged on the offending boys; sticks were laid in ambush behind the door; sallies were made at all hours; and incessant war prevailed. Perhaps this was an agreeable excitement to the donkey-boys; or perhaps the more sagacious of the donkeys, understanding how the case stood, delighted with constitutional obstinacy in coming that way. I only know that there were three alarms before the bath was ready; and that on the occasion of the last and most desperate of all, I saw my aunt engage, single-handed, with a sandy-headed lad of fifteen, and bump his sandy head against her own gate, before he seemed to comprehend what was the matter. These interruptions were of the more ridiculous to me, because she was giving me broth out of a table-spoon at the time (having firmly persuaded herself that I was actually starving, and must receive nourishment at first in very small quantities), and, while my mouth was yet open to receive the spoon, she would put it back into the basin, cry "Janet! Donkeys!" and go out to the assault. — Volume 1, Chapter 13, "The Sequel of my Resolution," pages 281-282.
Determined to escape the squalor of London and the servitude of the wine-bottling warehouse — the equivalent of the blacking factory from the author's own childhood — in Chapter 13 David resolves to take the high road to Dover and take the gamble of throwing himself upon the mercy of his aunt, Betsey Trotwood, on the outskirts of Dover — a considerable distance for a pedestrian with no resources, let alone a child. No sooner has he arrived at her door than Aunt Betsey, thinking him one of the donkey-boys from the common, she tries to shoo him away — until he reveals his identity. At the opening of Chapter 14 (the opening chapter of the second volume), David learns from his aunt that his "father-in-law" Mr. Murdstone and his sister are expected to arrive, and that perhaps they will re-claim him, but the interview does not go well for the Murdstones, whom Miss Trotwood accuses of abusing David's mother and of tormenting her boy. The frontispiece for the second volume actually involves the battle on the green towards the end of the first volume, so that the frontispiece for the second volume must be read analeptically, after the events described in the illustration have already transpired in the text. This is the first frontispiece in the Household Edition that does not foreshadow events to come in the volume.
Although the monthly illustration by Hablot Knight Browne in the September 1849 number offered Darley a possible model of young David, looking thoroughly disreputable, meeting his Aunt Bestey, the battle with the donkeys in the fifth serial number has already occurred before the moment realised in Phiz's steel-engraving I make myself known to my Aunt (Chapter 13, September 1849) — which clearly shows David's ragged condition, although (as a scion of the bourgeoisie) he has retained his hat, battered though it may be.
At about the same time that Darley executed these frontispieces for David Copperfield, his colleague at Ticknor & Fields in Boston, Sol Eytinge, Jr., was working on a short series of illustrations for The Personal History of David Copperfield as part of the mammoth task of illustrating single-handedly the entire Diamond Edition. The small-scale wood-engraving of Aunt Betsey and Mr. Dick does not show the pair in action, but does include Mr. Dick's kite; however, Miss Trotwood and Mr. Dick shows the self-composed spinster in more formal attire, perhaps dressed for her interview with the Murdstones.
Whereas Barnard in the 1872 Household Edition wood-engraving The Battle on the Green effectively depicts the determined aunt doing battle with the donkey-boys as Jane Murdstone arrives on a donkey. Thus, Darley's illustration is distinctive in the moment realised. David and Mr. Dick are nowhere to be seen as Aunt Bestey, her broom raised, defends her cottage (right rear) by knocking one of the donkey-boys off his substantial mount, even as the maid, Janet, pursues another one down the hill. In the background, Darley has drawn the Channel coast and Dover harbour, in contradiction to Phiz's illustration, which shows the boys and the donkeys retreating uphill, in the direction of Dover Castle (upper centre). Darley conveys well her energetic extirpation of the donkey-boys.
The Relevant Illustrations from Various Editions
Left: Phiz's description of the culmination of David's six-day journey on the Kent Road, Sept. 1849: I make myself known to my Aunt. Centre: Eytinge's 1867 realisation of the original odd couple of Dover: Miss Trotwood and Mr. Dick. Right: Kyd's 1910 cigarette card no. 36 representing Aunt Betsey in her housekeeping clothes, Betsey Trotwood. [Click on the images to enlarge them.]
Household Edition illustration of David and The Donkeys
Above: Fred Barnard's 1872 engraving of Aunt Betsey's checking yet another invasion of the donkeys in her garden, The Battle on the Green, featuring the Murdstones. [Click on the image to enlarge it.]
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F. O. C.
Last modified 5 November 2015