Miss Wren fixes her Idea

Miss Wren fixes her Idea by Marcus Stone. Wood engraving by Dalziel. 9.2 cm high x 14.6 cm wide, vignetted. First illustration for the eighteenth monthly number of Our Mutual Friend, Chapter Nine, "Two Places Vacated," in the fourth book, "A Turning." The Authentic edition, facing p. 638. [This part of the novel originally appeared in periodical form in October 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.]

Once again, Marcus Stone has chosen the appealing child-adult Jenny Wren and the benevolent Jew, Riah, as the subjects of illustration, the doll's dressmaker having already appeared prominently in "The Person of the House and the Bad Child" (October 1864), "The Garden on the Roof" (November 1864), and "Trying on for the Dolls' Dressmaker" (March 1865); thus, she is tied with Rogue Riderhood at four appearances, making her and the waterman the most illustrated secondary characters in Stone's sequence. The title of the illustration alludes to this earlier passage:

The dolls' dressmaker sat holding the old man by the hand, and looking thoughtfully in his face.

'Thus I reflected, I say, sitting that evening in my garden on the housetop. And passing the painful scene of that day in review before me many times, I always saw that the poor gentleman believed the story readily, because I was one of the Jews — that you believed the story readily, my child, because I was one of the Jews — that the story itself first came into the invention of the originator thereof, because I was one of the Jews. This was the result of my having had you three before me, face to face, and seeing the thing visibly presented as upon a theatre. Wherefore I perceived that the obligation was upon me to leave this service. But Jenny, my dear,' said Riah, breaking off, 'I promised that you should pursue your questions, and I obstruct them.'

'On the contrary, godmother; my idea is as large now as a pumpkin — and you know what a pumpkin is, don't you? So you gave notice that you were going? Does that come next?' asked Miss Jenny with a look of close attention. [631]

Jenny has had her doubts about Riah's being what he seems — a decent, honest, caring individual — based on his affiliation with the usurious money-lending firm of Pubsey & Co., Saine Mary Axe. But sometimes in Dickens characters are what they seem to be, and Riah has exonerated himself by quitting Fledgeby's employ. Riah is, of course, the kind of father figure for whom Jenny has been yearning; and shortly, with the death of her biological father, "Mr. Dolls," she will acquire the father and friend she deserves. Sentiment and affiliation by choice, implies Dickens, are more important than mere biology in the formation of families — as we have already seen in the formation of the unconventional Peggotty family in David Copperfield. Quick-minded Jenny has finally sorted out who is actually Pubsey and Co., and has to repent of her misjudgement of Riah, a misjudgement of Jews in general made by so many of Dickens's readers. To Jenny, Riah is once again a fairy "Godmother" rather than the "Wolf" in her real-life fairy-tale, which is apparently a conflation of "Cinderella" and "Little Red Riding-hood."

However, the passage realised in this illustration occurs not in the Pubsey and Co. offices, but around Jenny's dressmaking table in her own apartments when, having buried her father, Jenny has another idea to "fix," namely making a doll clergyman for a dolls' wedding:

So, it came into my head while I was weeping at my poor boy's grave, that something in my way might be done with a clergyman.' [637]

Thus, in this Stone illustration Jenny points to a doll clergyman as Riah tries to understand exactly what "idea" she is attempting to "fix." Although her staff is still obvious enough, her deformity is not.


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 23 July 2011