The Fat Boy
Wood engraving, approximately 10 cm high by 7.5 cm wide (framed)
Illustration for Dickens's The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club in the Ticknor and Fields (Boston, 1867) Diamond Edition, facing p. 437.
In this fifteenth full-page character study for the last novel in the compact American publication, Eytinge finally incorporates the "Fat Boy," the somnolent page from Dingley Dell, into his visual sequence, whereas Phiz, with far more opportunities for illustration, had already shown Joe catching Tracy Tupman and Miss Rachael Wardle in a compromising position in the summer-house at Dingley Dell in "The Fat Boy Awake Again" (plate), for chapter 8 (June 1836). [continued below.]
Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham.
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The object that presented itself to the eyes of the astonished clerk, was a boy — a wonderfully fat boy — habited as a serving lad, standing upright on the mat, with his eyes closed as if in sleep. He had never seen such a fat boy, in or out of a travelling caravan; and this, coupled with the calmness and repose of his appearance, so very different from what was reasonably to have been expected of the inflicter of such knocks, smote him with wonder.
"What’s the matter?" inquired the clerk.
The extraordinary boy replied not a word; but he nodded once, and seemed, to the clerk’s imagination, to snore feebly.
"Where do you come from?" inquired the clerk.
The boy made no sign. He breathed heavily, but in all other respects was motionless.
The clerk repeated the question thrice, and receiving no answer, prepared to shut the door, when the boy suddenly opened his eyes, winked several times, sneezed once, and raised his hand as if to repeat the knocking. Finding the door open, he stared about him with astonishment, and at length fixed his eyes on Mr. Lowten’s face.
"What the devil do you knock in that way for?" inquired the clerk angrily.
"Which way?" said the boy, in a slow and sleepy voice.
"Why, like forty hackney-coachmen," replied the clerk.
"Because master said, I wasn’t to leave off knocking till they opened the door, for fear I should go to sleep," said the boy.
"Well," said the clerk, "what message have you brought?"
"He’s downstairs," rejoined the boy.
"Master. He wants to know whether you’re at home." [Chapter 54, p.]
Despite the fact that the printers at Ticknor Fields placed this illustration immediately before the opening of chapter 54, from its content it should be understood to be a realisation of the following passage, when Joe sits down to polish off a gigantic meat pie, as in the original November 1837 Phiz illustration "Mary and The Fat Boy" (plate):
With these words, the fat boy led the way downstairs; his pretty companion captivating all the waiters and angering all the chambermaids as she followed him to the eating-room.
There was the meat-pie of which the youth had spoken so feelingly, and there were, moreover, a steak, and a dish of potatoes, and a pot of porter.
"Sit down," said the fat boy. "Oh, my eye, how prime! I am so hungry."
Having apostrophised his eye, in a species of rapture, five or six times, the youth took the head of the little table, and Mary seated herself at the bottom.
"Will you have some of this?" said the fat boy, plunging into the pie up to the very ferules of the knife and fork.
"A little, if you please,’ replied Mary.
The fat boy assisted Mary to a little, and himself to a great deal, and was just going to begin eating when he suddenly laid down his knife and fork, leaned forward in his chair, and letting his hands, with the knife and fork in them, fall on his knees, said, very slowly —
"I say! How nice you look!" [chapter 54, p.]
The subject that Eytinge has chosen, the gormandising of the Fat Boy, Joe. Mr. Wardle's page from Dingley Dell, is precisely that which Dickens and Phiz chose for the original serialisation of the novel in November 1837, "Mary and The Fat Boy" (plate). The psychological dimension of the original illustration — Joe's sexual appetite being stimulated by eating — is lacking because in choosing to foreground Joe and his repast Eytinge has omitted the women who are serving Joe. As Guiliano and Collins point out, "Joe's unexpected and comic attempt to kiss Mary may be attributable to his illness. One of the symptoms of the Kleine-Levin syndrome . . . is a propensity to precocious, amorous overtures" (508). But Eytinge already has Joe falling asleep, whereas, for example, in The Charles Dickens Edition (1910), Harry Furniss depicts Joe imploring Mary for a kiss, and Mary as demurring.
The woodcut is unusual among the Eytinge series in the amount of contextual material it contains: hams and spices hang behind the table; a sideboard with plates has been sketched in; in the foreground, Joe's hat sits on a sturdy stool; and beside the "jolly" meat pie (nearly half-consumed already) is a clay rather than pewter pitcher of porter. The vessel's roundness mirrors Joe's own, and indicates his capacity for both food and drank, the comestibles in the original Phiz engraving not being nearly as realistic or believable. Another interesting Eytinge detail is his exposing a portion of the boy's shirt, as if the page's uniform simply cannot contain his girth. A somewhat dreamy look on his face suggests that the very act of eating is putting him to sleep as he pauses to consider the next mouthful. In contrast to the pear-shaped body that Phiz has given him, Joe in Eytinge's illustration has heavy arms and legs, and a very thick neck. Our impression of him in "The Fat Boy Awake Again" (the first illustration that was Phiz's in the series after Seymour's suicide) is confined to his general form since Phiz offers no particulars about his face and hair, his focus being the spinster aunt and her middle-aged beau caught in the garden bower. Indeed, Joe seems almost an afterthought since even the manor house in the background receives a more detailed treatment.
In Phiz's 1873 reworking of the illustration for the Household Edition, "Mr. Tupman Looked Round. There was the Fat Boy" (page 49), the illustrator has taken a greater interest in Joe, but has also trimmed a considerable amount of weight off his frame, and has chosen a middle-distance study of the scene that increases the size of the figures and decreases the amount of background, thereby suggesting a greater interest in the three characters. In "I say, how nice you look!" (p. 385), Phiz interprets Joe as a mere pre-adolescent, and therefore one who would not logically paying court to the comely Mary. The Fat Boy in these 1873 studies seems far more alert than his 1836-37 and 1867 counterparts.
Other artists who illustrated this work
Bentley, Nicolas, Michael Slater, and Nina Burgis. The Dickens Index. Oxford and New York: Oxford U. P., 1988.
Cohen, Jane Rabb. "Dickens and His Principal Illustrator, Hablot Knight Browne." Charles Dickens and His Original Illustrators. Columbus: Ohio State U. P., 1980. Pp. 61-122.
Davis, Paul. Charles Dickens A to Z: The Essential Reference to His Life and Work. New York: Checkmark and Facts On File, 1998.
Dickens, Charles. The Posthumous Adventures of the Pickwick Club. Il. Sol Eytinge, Jr. Boston: Ticknor and Fields, 1869.
Dickens, Charles. "Pickwick Papers (1836-37). Il. Hablot Knight Browne. The Charles Dickens Edition. Boston: Ticknor & Fields, 1867.
Dickens, Charles. "Pickwick Papers (1836-37). Il. Hablot Knight Browne. The Household Edition. London: Chapman and Hall, 1873.
Dickens, Charles. "Pickwick Papers (1836-37). Il. Thomas Nast. The Household Edition. New York: Harper and Bros., 1873.
Guiliano, Edward, and Philip Collins, eds. The Annotated Dickens. Vol. 1. New York: Clarkson N. Potter, 1986.
Hammerton, J. A. The Dickens Picture-Book. London: Educational Book Co., 1910.
Kitton, Frederic G. Dickens and His Illustrators. 1899. Rpt. Honolulu: U. Press of the Pacific, 2004.
Steig, Michael. Dickens and Phiz. Bloomington & London: Indiana U.P., 1978.
Last modified 28 February 2012