"The State-room" (uncaptioned headpiece) for Chapter I, "Going Away" by Thomas Nast, in Charles Dickens's American Notes, 285. Wood-engraving, 4 ¼ by 5 ½ inches (10.7 cm high by 13.5 cm wide), vignetted.

Passage Illustrated: "The State-room" in "Going Away"

That this state-room had been specially engaged for ‘Charles Dickens, Esquire, and Lady,’ was rendered sufficiently clear even to my scared intellect by a very small manuscript, announcing the fact, which was pinned on a very flat quilt, covering a very thin mattress, spread like a surgical plaster on a most inaccessible shelf. But that this was the state-room concerning which Charles Dickens, Esquire, and Lady, had held daily and nightly conferences for at least four months preceding: that this could by any possibility be that small snug chamber of the imagination, which Charles Dickens, Esquire, with the spirit of prophecy strong upon him, had always foretold would contain at least one little sofa, and which his lady, with a modest yet most magnificent sense of its limited dimensions, had from the first opined would not hold more than two enormous portmanteaus in some odd corner out of sight (portmanteaus which could now no more be got in at the door, not to say stowed away, than a giraffe could be persuaded or forced into a flower-pot): that this utterly impracticable, thoroughly hopeless, and profoundly preposterous box, had the remotest reference to, or connection with, those chaste and pretty, not to say gorgeous little bowers, sketched by a masterly hand, in the highly varnished lithographic plan hanging up in the agent’s counting-house in the city of London: that this room of state, in short, could be anything but a pleasant fiction and cheerful jest of the captain’s, invented and put in practice for the better relish and enjoyment of the real state-room presently to be disclosed: — these were truths which I really could not, for the moment, bring my mind at all to bear upon or comprehend. And I sat down upon a kind of horsehair slab, or perch, of which there were two within; and looked, without any expression of countenance whatever, at some friends who had come on board with us, and who were crushing their faces into all manner of shapes by endeavouring to squeeze them through the small doorway. [Chapter I, 285-96]

Commentary: A Prosaic Opening

Charles and Catherine Dickens together embarked upon the American reading tour in January 1842 at the Port of Liverpool. They boarded the paddle-steamer Britannia, and squeezed themselves into their diminutive "state-room." Although he is endeavouring to realise Dickens's departure, Nast does not depict Mrs. Dickens and describes the writer as somewhat older thirty, in top-hat and topcoat, entering the diminutive stateroom by himself. Moreover, the stolid figure does not struggle with his luggage as the Dickenses did. Nast depicts this room a second time, in total chaos, in "Rather a heavy sea on, sir, and a head-wind" five pages later, in the second chapter. In the much shorter narrative-pictorial series of the British Household Edition, A. B. Frost begins with the storm scene, an in medias res opening, so to speak, in "Rather a heavy sea on, sir, and a head wind". In contrast, Marcus Stone's opening plate in the Illustrated Library Edition (1868), The Emigrants implies an epic voyage of hardship, adventure, and discovery. On the other hand, Nast's cartoon-like style in the first three illustrations strongly implies a satirical intent, particularly respect to law and politics in the Ante Bellum United States of America that Dickens visited during his initial American reading tour.

The Introductory Illustrations in the 1868, 1880, and 1910 Editions

Left: Frost's portrait of a phlegmatic Yankee, characteristically puffing on a cigarette, Title-page Vignette (1880). Centre: Marcus Stone's epic opening illustration, The Emigrants (frontispiece for the 1868 edition). Right: Harry Furniss's psychological study The Solitary Prisoner in the Philadelphia Penitentiary serves as the frontispiece in the 1910 Charles Dickens Library Edition.

Related Material

Scanned image, colour correction, sizing, 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.] Click on the image to enlarge it.


Dickens, Charles. American Notes. Works, New York: Peter Fenelon Collier & Son, 1890.

__________. Pictures from Italy, Sketches by Boz and American Notes. Illustrated by Thomas Nast and Arthur B. Frost. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1877 (copyrighted in 1876).

__________. American Notes for General Circulation and Pictures from Italy. Illustrated by J. Gordon Thomson and A. B. Frost. London: Chapman and Hall, 1880.

Created 21 May 2019

Last modified 8 June 2020