The Old Curiosity Shop, Part 38. 20 June 1841 in serial publication (seventy-second plate in the series). The picture ilustrates "Kit darted off, the birdcage in his hand, towards the spot where the light was shining in the parsonage" (fifty-fifth plate in the series) in Master Humphrey's Clock, Part 41, Vol. 2, 204. [Click on the image to enlarge it.]or by George Cattermole. 3 ½ x 4 ½ inches. Wood-engraving. Tailpiece for Chapter 70,
Context of the Illustration
Kit interposed directly, and begged that, while they rang and waited at the gate, they would let him make his way to where this light was shining, and try to ascertain if any people were about. Obtaining the permission he desired, he darted off with breathless eagerness, and, still carrying the birdcage in his hand, made straight towards the spot.
It was not easy to hold that pace among the graves, and at another time he might have gone more slowly, or round by the path. Unmindful of all obstacles, however, he pressed forward without slackening his speed, and soon arrived within a few yards of the window. He approached as softly as he could, and advancing so near the wall as to brush the whitened ivy with his dress, listened. There was no sound inside. The church itself was not more quiet. Touching the glass with his cheek, he listened again. No. And yet there was such a silence all around, that he felt sure he could have heard even the breathing of a sleeper, if there had been one there. [Chapter LXX, 203]
Kit races forward, reinforcing the reader's expectations for the happy reunion of the Trent brothers — and the Single Gentleman's finally getting to meet his grandniece. Cattermole depicts Kit blithely crossing the frozen churchyard to reach Little Nell's cottage as quickly as he can — but he is too late. Dickens and Cattermole employ Kit's carrying the cage of Nell's pet finch to recall the outset of the journey that has culminated in Nell's taking refuge with the kindly schoolmaster in the little Shropshire village. Kit's happiness in anticipation of finding Nell proves short-lived, although Dickens keeps readers in suspense as to whether, as Grandfather Trent wishes to believe, she is merely sleeping, when in fact she has died from the sheer exhaustion of caring for her grandfather and trying to keep him away from gambling.
Dickens assigned the final illustrations involving Nell's death to Cattermole, signalling the writer's intention to place the death of the child-heroine in a visual context of mediaeval architecture. The Gothic tracery and figures externalise of the idea that the saintly Nell in death has escaped the vicissitudes of the present and become one with the tranquil past. In this respect, underscoring the sense of anticipation about the fate of Little Nell that gripped readers on both sides of the Atlantic in June 1841, Kit darted off, the birdcage in his hand, towards the spot where the light was shining in the parsonage effectively establishes the elegiac mood for the scene that ensues when Kit enters the ornate cottage, which barren boughs and dark winter sky mournfully frame. Once again, as Jane Rabb Cohen has remarked, "Cattermole provided more effective settings than people" (128). Cohen notes again Cattermole's reluctance to draw characters and his tendency to develop elaborate architectural settings:
Cattermole provided more effective settings than people. His first task was to portray Kit, Nell's birdcage in hand, arriving at the snow-covered parsonage (LXX, 568). According to Dickens's brief summary, a lighted window was to obscure the fact that the child lay dead inside; lacking the completed text, however, Cattermole forgot to draw the requisite curtain over the lower half of the window, though suspense is maintained because of the viewer's distance from it (fig. 121). The artist makes the parsonage the center of interest instead of Kit. 
Related Material Including Other Illustrated Editions of The Old Curiosity Shop
- The Old Curiosity Shop by Charles Dickens (homepage)
- The Old Curiosity Shop Illustrated: A Team Effort by "The Clock Works."
- The Original Serial Illustrations for The Old Curiosity Shop (1840-41)
- Felix O. C. Darley (4 photogravure plates, 1861)
- Sol Eytinge, Jr. (12 wood engravings, 1867)
- Thomas Worth (53 wood-engravings, 1872)
- Charles Green (39 wood-engravings, 1876)
- The Old Curiosity Shop by W. H. C. Groome in the Collins' Clear-Type Press Edition (nine lithographs, 1900)
- The Old Curiosity Shop (1910) by Harry Furniss in the British Charles Dickens Library Edition (31 lithographs plus engraved title)
- J. Clayton Clarke ("Kyd") (13 lithographs from watercolours)
- Harold Copping (2 chromolithographs selected)
Scanned image by George P. Landow; caption and commentary 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 in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one.]
Cohen, Jane Rabb. "Chapter Five: George Cattermole." Charles Dickens and His Original Illustrators. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1980. 125-34.
Dickens, Charles. The Old Curiosity Shop in Master Humphrey's Clock. Illustrated by Phiz, George Cattermole, Samuel Williams, and Daniel Maclise. 3 vols. London: Chapman and Hall, 1841; rpt., Bradbury and Evans, 1849.
Vann, J. Don. "The Old Curiosity Shop in Master Humphrey's Clock, 25 April 1840-6 February 1841." Victorian Novels in Serial. New York: MLA, 1985. 64-65.
Created 4 January 2006
18 November 2020