The Parting by the River

The Parting by the River by Marcus Stone. Wood engraving by Dalziel. 9.6 cm high x 15.8 cm wide, vignetted. First illustration for the seventeenth monthly number of Our Mutual Friend, Chapter Six, "A Cry for Help," in the fourth book, "A Turning." The Authentic edition, facing p. 604. [This part of the novel originally appeared in periodical form in September 1865.] 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 in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one.]

One of the more effective illustrations in the second half of Marcus Stone's narrative-pictorial sequence for the serialisation of Our Mutual Friend from May 1864 through November 1865 is the thirty-fourth, "The Parting by the River," in which Lizzie Hexam reluctantly quits Eugene Wrayburn's company on the banks of the upper Thames, near the paper mill where she works. The illustrator foregrounds a highly dignified Lizzie and her feeling of deep regret in a posture suggestive of mourning for a relationship that a class-conscious society militates against. In the background, left, Eugene Wrayburn contemplates her figure, complementing the text, which foregrounds his consciousness and his honest self-appraisal. Thus, the illustrator captures the external, theatrical aspects of the parting while the writer presents interior analysis. The passage realised in the first September 1865 illustration is accordingly this:

He held her, almost as if she were sanctified to him by death, and kissed her, once, almost as he might have kissed the dead.

'I promised that I would not accompany you, nor follow you. Shall I keep you in view? You have been agitated, and it's growing dark.'

'I am used to be out alone at this hour, and I entreat you not to do so.'

'I promise. I can bring myself to promise nothing more tonight, Lizzie, except that I will try what I can do.'

'There is but one means, Mr. Wrayburn, of sparing yourself and of sparing me, every way. Leave this neighbourhood to-morrow morning.'

'I will try.'

As he spoke the words in a grave voice, she put her hand in his, removed it, and went away by the river-side.

'Now, could Mortimer believe this?' murmured Eugene, still remaining, after a while, where she had left him. 'Can I even believe it myself?'

He referred to the circumstance that there were tears upon his hand, as he stood covering his eyes. 'A most ridiculous position this, to be found out in!' was his next thought. And his next struck its root in a little rising resentment against the cause of the tears. [604]

Symbolically, a stile or wooden fence by the river bank terminates at the figure of Eugene Wrayburn, who has reached a crucial point in his life as he must decide whether to pursue Lizzie against her better judgment and his, or yield to the barriers presented by the class system and abandon any hope of personal fulfilment with her. The skilfully drawn vegetation in the lower left and the artist's rendering of the natural backdrop complement the interior and psychological aspects of the scene, tacitly commenting on the artificiality of the social code that requires the lovers to part. The waters of the Thames like their conflicting feelings are full, nearly reaching the banks on either side, and there is little evidence of civilisation in the sweeping aerial perspective. Although the face is definitely that of the young woman depicted in the first illustration "The Bird of Prey" and the thirteenth, "The Garden on the Roof", Lizzie's attire is now that of a respectable middle-class woman, and she looks inward here in contrast to her previous poses, holding her left hand over her heart as her right droops despondently towards the ground, her body casting a shadow forward, as if implying what her future will be without the love and companionship of this strange, cynical gentleman capable of such passion for her. The romantic setting and the strong feelings of the characters implied by Lizzie's pose and Eugene' s legalistic monologue or "voice-over" underscore the monumentality of the decision that the witty, cavalier attorney must now make.


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

Last modified 21 July 2011