Mr. and Mrs. Boffin in consultation (p. 52)/

Mr. and Mrs. Boffin in consultation (p. 52) . James Mahoney's ninth illustration for Dickens's Our Mutual Friend, Household Edition, 1875. Wood engraving by the Dalziels, 10.4 cm high x 13.4 cm wide.

Although Mahoney's woodcut for chapter nine ("Mr. and Mrs. Boffin in Consultation") has the rather laconic and unimaginative title, "Mr. and Mrs. Boffin in consultation," in the Harper's printing of the novel, in the Chapman and Hall printing the same illustration has a much lengthier caption that points to a very specific moment in the text:

"Noddy!" said Mrs. Boffin, coming from her fashionable sofa to his side on the plain settle, and hooking her comfortable arm through his. [52]

Although the hair styles of both husband and wife, and the face and general shape of the head of Noddy Boffin here resemble their counterparts in Eytinge's dual character study "Mr. and Mrs. Boffin" for the Diamond Edition of the novel (1867, reprinted as the Illustrated Household Edition, 1870), Mahoney gives us far more detail from the text than their mere figures and Mrs. Boffin's flowered sofa (in Mahoney's woodcut, an ottoman suggestive of her aspirations to join "Society," down right). Indeed, Mahoney's vividly realized plain wooden settle, long-stemmed, clayed pipes neatly ordered on the mantelpiece, and the cat perched in front of the hearth, all imply Noddy Boffin's expressed desire to live happily, within their more than adequate means, without noveau riche ostentation, following Mrs. Boffin's dictum (dubiously applied in her desire to cut a figure in a carriage) "like our means, without extravagance" (51). A devoted couple, the Boffins in old age have been blessed with a comfortable upper-middle class existence, epitomized by their capacious figures and comfortable sitting-room, devoid of the usual paintings and bric-a-brac of a Victorian upper-middle-class interior. Mahoney's Mrs. Boffin, like Eytinge's, is "a smiling creature, broad of figure and simple of nature . . . with buxom creases in her throat (51), but Mahoney's character possesses a dignity or gravity that Eytinge's plump matron lacks. Stone's treatment of the couple in "The Boffin Progress" is closer to Mahoney's, although the Chapman and Hall serial illustrator chose a scene later in the chapter, the Boffins in their carriage, as the subject for the July 1864 instalment. Consistently the illustrators realize Mrs. Boffin's "walking dress of black velvet and feathers" (50), emblematic of her mistaken notion of the kind of garb she must affect in order to join the "Fashionable Society" that inhabits their new neighbourhood.

What the Boffins' hearth-side ease lacks, as a Victorian reader would have noticed immediately, is offspring, a deficit which the Boffins are now addressing in two very different ways: to adopt an infant "orphan," whom they will re-name "Johnny" in memory of John Harmon; to take John's "widow," Bella Wilfer, under their own roof and treat her to the life of affluence for which she has been yearning.

Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham. [You may use this image without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the person who scanned the image and (2) link your document to this URL.]


Dickens, Charles. Our Mutual Friend. Il. Sol Eytinge, Jr. The Illustrated Household Edition. Boston: Ticknor & Field; Lee & Shepard; New York: Charles T. Dillingham, 1870.

Dickens, Charles. Our Mutual Friend. Il. Marcus Stone. Volume 14 of the Authentic Edition. London: Chapman and Hall; New York: Charles Scribners' Sons, 1901.

Dickens, Charles. Our Mutual Friend. Il. James Mahoney. Household Edition. London: Chapman and Hall; New York, Harper Brothers, 1875.

Last modified 25 December 2010