Saved from destruction
Felix O. C. Darley
9.3 x 8.3 cm vignetted
Frontispiece for Dickens's David Copperfield in vol. 4 of the New York Household Edition.
[Click on illustration to enlarge it.]
Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham from his personal collection.
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"I think [Martha] was talking to herself. I am sure, although absorbed in gazing at the water, that her shawl was off her shoulders, and that she was muffling her hands in it, in an unsettled and bewildered way, more like the action of a sleep-walker than a waking person. I know, and never can forget, that there was that in her wild manner which gave me no assurance but that she would sink before my eyes, until I had her arm within my grasp.
At the same moment I said "Martha!"
She uttered a terrified scream, and struggled with me with such strength that I doubt if I could have held her alone. But a stronger hand than mine was laid upon her; and when she raised her frightened eyes and saw whose it was, she made but one more effort and dropped down between us. We carried her away from the water to where there were some dry stones, and there laid her down, crying and moaning. In a little while she sat among the stones, holding her wretched head with both her hands.
"Oh, the river!" she cried passionately. "Oh, the river!"
"Hush, hush!" said I. "Calm yourself."
But she still repeated the same words, continually exclaiming, "Oh, the river!" over and over again.
"I know it's like me!" she exclaimed. "I know that I belong to it. I know that it's the natural company of such as I am! It comes from country places, where there was once no harm in it — and it creeps through the dismal streets, defiled and miserable — and it goes away, like my life, to a great sea, that is always troubled — and I feel that I must go with it!" I have never known what despair was, except in the tone of those words.
"I can't keep away from it. I can't forget it. It haunts me day and night. It's the only thing in all the world that I am fit for, or that's fit for me. Oh, the dreadful river!" — Chapter 47, "Martha," IV, 28-29.
Darley might have chosen the title "Saved from Self-destruction"; certainly inventing such captions rather than choosing appropriate quotations is unusual among Darley's illustrations in the so-called "Household Edition" (1861-1871). In the parallel scene in the original serial, Phiz's The River for Chapter 47, "Martha" (August 1850), the background includes the dome of St. Paul's, whereas Darley includes only the spire of one of Sir Christopher Wren's city churches — possibly Southwark Cathedral rather than St. Magnus Martyr on the City side. On the other hand, Fred Barnard's version, "Oh, the river!" she cried passionately. "Oh, the river!" for the Household Edition includes no contextualizing landmarksexcept the decaying "old ferry-house" noted at the beginning of Chapter 47, although the illustrator has developed the weeds and sedge in the foreground to imply the unpleasant nature of the river shore at Westminster where Martha has attempted to commit suicide. For the first of two August 1850 illustrations, Phiz chose to realize the emotionally charged moment at which the despondent Martha, formerly a seamstress at Yarmouth, is about to drown herself at Millbank Pond on the Thames, the area's industrial wasteland forming a psychic backdrop for her attempted suicide which reprises Meggy Veck's attempted suicide in Trotty's dream vision at its culmination in The Chimes, Margaret and Her Child, which likewise describes the plight of the Fallen Woman. The channel marker (left) is not something that Dickens mentions, but the small objects on the sand in the foreground and the wooden boat (intended to stand for "boats and barges astrand in the mud")to the right are intended to create an appropriate sense of "corruption and decay" (28; Darley gives no sense of the shadow of the iron bridge, "the lights crookedly reflected in the strong tide." However, the illustrator effectively employs the dark clouds to create an appropriately gloomy atmosphere. Here is melancholy investing all surrounding objects, but the illustration lacks the iron detritus of the industrial revolution, the "clash and glare of sundry fiery Works" (27), the pall of chimney smoke, and the "ooze and slush of the ebb tide" (28) through which Fred Barnard communicates a sense of Martha's despondency.
What distinguishes Darley's treatment is his blocking of the scene, foreground David and obscuring the reader's view of Dan'l Peggotty. The picture exemplifies a notion of charity as administered by members of the lower-middle and upper-middle classes, as the clothing of the Yarmouth sailor and the young urban professional suggest. Darley's Martha is not an ill-clad prostitute, but by her dress a woman of the middle classes who hides her face in shame. Although Darley undoubtedly consulted the illustrations in the original serial, for this 1863 volume he would not have had access to later mid-19th century programs of illustration such as those by Sol Eytinge, Jr. in TheDiamond Edition (1867) and Fred Barnard inthe Household Edition, so that we may regard this frontispiece as a realistic re-working of the Phiz illustration for August 1850, with the low-lying Surrey shore and a single church spire substituted for the landmarks that Phiz moved from the northern to the southern shore of the Thames.
The Relevant Illustrations of Martha from Early Editions
Left: Phiz's description of the industrial wasteland at Millbank, the culmination of Davidand Dan'l Peggotty's following Martha to the Westminster shore of the Thames, August 1850: The River.Centre: Eytinge's 1867 realisation of the desperate, wind-blown fallen woman, contemplating suicide: Martha. Right: Kyd's (Clayton J. Clarke's) depiction of the Yarmouth fisherman in conventional merchant seaman's uniform, Dan'l Peggotty (1910).[Click on the images to enlarge them.]
The Household Edition illustration of Martha and her rescuers (1872)
Above: Fred Barnard's 1872 engraving of the purgartorial scene at Millbank Pond, "Oh, the river!" she cried passionately. "Oh, the river!" [Click on the image to enlarge it.]
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F. O. C.
Last modified 6 November 2015