Outside the Seamen's Boarding House.
14 x 7.2 cm framed
Dickens's Our Mutual Friend in the Charles Dickens Library Edition, Vol. 2, Book Two, Ch. 12, "More Birds of Prey," facing p. 384.
[Click on image to enlarge it.]
Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham.
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Passage Illustrated: "Outside the Seamen's Boarding House"
Not on a summer evening did she come to her little shop-door, when a certain man standing over against the house on the opposite side of the street took notice of her. That was on a cold shrewd windy evening, after dark. Pleasant Riderhood shared with most of the lady inhabitants of the Hole, the peculiarity that her hair was a ragged knot, constantly coming down behind, and that she never could enter upon any undertaking without first twisting it into place. At that particular moment, being newly come to the threshold to take a look out of doors, she was winding herself up with both hands after this fashion. And so prevalent was the fashion, that on the occasion of a fight or other disturbance in the Hole, the ladies would be seen flocking from all quarters universally twisting their back-hair as they came along, and many of them, in the hurry of the moment, carrying their back-combs in their mouths.
It was a wretched little shop, with a roof that any man standing in it could touch with his hand; little better than a cellar or cave, down three steps. Yet in its ill-lighted window, among a flaring handkerchief or two, an old peacoat or so, a few valueless watches and compasses, a jar of tobacco and two crossed pipes, a bottle of walnut ketchup, and some horrible sweets these creature discomforts serving as a blind to the main business of the Leaving Shop — was displayed the inscription SEAMAN'S BOARDING-HOUSE.
Taking notice of Pleasant Riderhood at the door, the man crossed so quickly that she was still winding herself up, when he stood close before her.
"Is your father at home?" said he. — Book Two, "Birds of a Feather"; Chapter 12, "More Birds of Prey," p. 366.
The meaning of situation in the Furniss illustration should be apparent to any reader of this fifteenth volume of The Charles Dickens Library Edition since the reader will already have encountered the passage realised in the previous chapter. However, an analeptic reading of an illustration encourages the reader to check details in the illustration against the text. In his "List of Special Plates" (vii) Furniss has given the location of the thirteenth illustration as "facing p. 384, a location well beyond Chapter 12 in the second book, pp. 364-378. Consequently, to appraise the accuracy and intention of the thirteenth illustration by turning back to p. 366 from p. 384 in the following chapter. What is happening, however, is reasonably clear: John Rokesmith, disguised as a merchant-seaman, is casually leaning against a nearby building, observing Pleasant Riderhood outside her shop, putting up her hair.
The scene in other illustrators' interpretations is not outside the shop, but afterwards, inside the kitchen-parlour-and-pawnbroker's shop of Pleasant Riderhood's lodging house for merchant sailors in the dockyard London district known as Limehouse. The clothing hanging in the background (not evident in the front window of the shop in the Furniss illustration) are items of apparel pawned by sailors down on their luck. While Rogue Riderhood, a waterman who scavenges the Thames, has been momentarily out of the shop, John Harmon (that is to say, the supposedly murdered "John Rokesmith," disguised as a sailor) subsequent to the Furniss illustration strikes up a conversation with the proprietess and begins to question her. As in the original monthly part illustration (January 1865) by Marcus Stone, in the 1866 interpretation by Felix Octavius Carr Darley, she is still endeavouring to put up her hair — evidently in preparation for ironing. The bearded stranger seen lounging across the street in the Furniss illustration in these other illustrations has entered the business and is interrogating either Pleasant (in Miss Riderhood at Home, for instance) or her father, as in Darley's Riderhood Checkmated. In an odd twist on the usual detective story plot, the murdered man is playing detective to uncover the circumstances surrounding the murder; here, he is leveraging what evidence he has against Riderhood to compel the dishonest waterman to exonerate his fellow waterman, Gaffer Hexam, of any implication that he murdered a recently arrived passenger whose body was found in Thames.
In contrast to the subtlety of Darley's engraving, the other illustrations utlise bold lines to establish a sinister mood — in Furniss's illustration, the dark lines establish the atmosphere of the locale. As both J. A. Hammerton and Frederic G. Kitton have noted, the original illustration by Marcus Stone, who worked closely with Dickens, bears the stamp of authorial intention, influencing later illustrators as an adjunct to the original text. Conversations with and detailed notes from the novelist gave young Stone direct access to what he himself termed Dickens's "pictorialism" (Kitton, 197), that is, an innate sense of what in in a text will be most suitable as an illustration. However, Furniss seems to have reacted against Miss Riderhood at Home by showing how carefully Rokesmith laid the groundwork for his visit. Furniss's Outside the Seamen's Boarding-House is a highly energetic, impressionistic pen-and-ink study of the two figures and the neighbourhood that underscores Rokesmith's approaching the Riderhoods with extreme caution.
As opposed to the static illustrations of Stone and Furniss, those of Eytinge and Darley capture the characters in the midst of action, a moment of tableau, as the most active figure in the scene, Riderhood, holds aloft a boot and is about to strike in Eytinge, and Riderhood, rising, when accused of lying to the lawyer about the murder, "as though he would fling his glass in the man's face" in Darley. Rokesmith in Furniss's illustration projects an impression of casual idleness, assuming the position of a flaneur in order to conduct a thorough surveillance of the premises before venturing to enter in order to be sure when he confronts Rogue Riderhood that he holds all the cards and can checkmate his opponent.
Rokesmith disguised in the original and later editions, 1865-1875
Left: Marcus Stone's January 1865 serial illustration of Rokesmith's visit to the Riderhoods' shop and rooming-house, Miss Riderhood at Home. Centre: Sol Eytinge, Junior's dual character study of the Riderhoods, Rogue Riderhood and Miss Pleasant at Home (1867). Right: F. O. C. Darley's version of Rokesmith's interviewing Rogue Riderhood in the "leaving shop," Riderhood Checkmated (1866). [Click on images to enlarge them.]
Above: James Mahoney's realistic interpretation of Rokesmith's confronting Rogue Riderhood about Gaffer's being guilty of murder, And now, as the man held out the bottle to fill all round, Riderhood stood up, leaned over the table to take a closer look at the knife, and stared from it to him (Household Edition, 1875). [Click on the image to enlarge it.]
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Last modified 20 November 2015