Mrs. Clennam seeks Little Dorrit
13.8 x 9.6 cm vignetted
Final illustration for little Dorrit, Charles Dickens Library Edition (1910), vol. 12, facing p. 800.
Whereas Dickens's original illustrator, Hablot Knight Browne, probably in conjunction with the author, elected to realise the scene in which the Marshalsea community and the friends of Arthur and Amy come together to witness their marriage, Harry Furniss has chosen a much more melodramatic moment for his final illustration. The supposed invalid, Mrs. Clennam, rushes through the streets to the Marshalsea to seek Little Dorrit's forgiveness for having excluded her from her rightful inheritance.
Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham.
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The sun had set, and the streets were dim in the dusty twilight, when the figure so long unused to them hurried on its way. In the immediate neighbourhood of the old house it attracted little attention, for there were only a few straggling people to notice it; but, ascending from the river by the crooked ways that led to London Bridge, and passing into the great main road, it became surrounded by astonishment.
Resolute and wild of look, rapid of foot and yet weak and uncertain, conspicuously dressed in its black garments and with its hurried head-covering, gaunt and of an unearthly paleness, it pressed forward, taking no more heed of the throng than a sleep-walker. More remarkable by being so removed from the crowd it was among than if it had been lifted on a pedestal to be seen, the figure attracted all eyes. Saunterers pricked up their attention to observe it; busy people, crossing it, slackened their pace and turned their heads; companions pausing and standing aside, whispered one another to ook at this spectral woman who was coming by; and the sweep of the figure as it passed seemed to create a vortex, drawing the most idle and most curious after it.
Made giddy by the turbulent irruption of this multitude of staring faces into her cell of years, by the confusing sensation of being in the air, and the yet more confusing sensation of being afoot, by the unexpected changes in half-remembered objects, and the want of likeness between the controllable pictures her imagination had often drawn of the life from which she was secluded and the overwhelming rush of the reality, she held her way as if she were environed by distracting thoughts, rather than by external humanity and observation. But, having crossed the bridge and gone some distance straight onward, she remembered that she must ask for a direction; and it was only then, when she stopped and turned to look about her for a promising place of inquiry, that she found herself surrounded by an eager glare of faces.
"Why are you encircling me?" she asked, trembling.
None of those who were nearest answered; but from the outer ring there arose a shrill cry of "'Cause you're mad!" — Book the Second, "Riches," Chapter 31, "Closed," p. 819.
In this final Furniss illustration, the witch-like Mrs. Clennam confronts jeering street-boys as a purgatorial experience just prior to the collapse of her house. Having suppressed a codicil in the will left by Arthur's uncle, she has deprived Little Dorrit of a fortune in her own right. Since Rigaud ("Blandois") has given the copies of the papers he acquired from Miss Wade to Amy, Mrs. Clennam realizes that, if nobody claims the incriminating documents before the gates of the Marshalse close, Amy will open them and reveal Mrs. Clennam's duplicity. She ventures through the streets and across London Bridge into the Borough to beg Amy's forgiveness. So desperate is she that Mrs. Clennam has risen from her wheelchair and walked for the first time in fifteen years. Shortly, witnessing the collapse of her house, Providence will strike Mrs. Clennam with total paralysis for her sins, trapping her in an immobile body for three years before her death.
Whereas Phiz concludes his narrative-pictorial sequence with the marriage of Little Dorrit and Arthur Clennam in Book Two, Chapter 34, Furniss has chosen Mrs. Clennam's comeuppance as his final subject, preferring comedy rather than romance as the ultimate statement of poetic justice. Delighting in exercising such a choice that permits him to show the London Streets of seventy years earlier, Furniss includes the name of one his great artistic predecessors, John Leech in the chemist's sign above the shrouded figure of Mrs. Clennam. Fashionably dressed, middle-class adults stare at the odd spectacle, while a policeman in the uniform of a "Peeler" (upper left) watches curiously as street-boys, so many Artful Dodgers, taunt her.
Relevant Illustrations of the Novel's Conclusion from Other Editions, 1867-1910
Left: James Mahoney's uncaptioned tailpiece for the 1873 Household Edition, Little Dorrit and her husband walked out of the church alone — Chap. xxxiv. Right: Phiz's closing illustration (Book 2, Chapter 34 (originally in Parts 19-20, June 1857), in which the novel's protagonists, Arthur Clennam and Little Dorrit, marry at St. George's Church, near the Marshalsea in the Borough, The Third Volume of the Registers. [Click on the images to enlarge them.]
Sol Eytinge, Junior's dual study Casby and Pancks, the final plate in the 1867 Diamond Edition but one which has little to do with the marriage of the two protagonists. [Click on the image to enlarge it.]
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Last modified 6 May 2016