The Fisherman's Hut by Phiz (Hablot Knight Browne), December 1848. Steel-engraving. 8 cm high by 12.8 cm wide (3 ¼ by 5 inches), framed, full-page dark plate for Roland Cashel, Chapter XXIX, "Storm and Wreck." (December 1848), facing p. 266. [Click on the image to enlarge it; mouse over links.]

Passage Illustrated: In an anteroom of the fisherman's hut after the wreck of the Lucciola

The stillness that now reigned in the little cabin, only broken by the low whisperings without, the calm tranquillity so suddenly succeeding to the terrible convulsion, the crowd of sensations pressing on the brain, and, above all, the immense fatigue he had gone through, brought on such a sense of stupor that Cashel fell heavily on the floor, and with his head leaning against the settle, fell into a sound sleep.

Before evening had closed in most of the party had recovered from their fatigues, and sat grouped in various attitudes round the blazing fire of the cabin. In a deep, old-fashioned straw chair, reclined, rather than sat, Lady Kilgoff; a slightly feverish flush lent a brilliancy to her otherwise pale features, deepening the expression of her full soft eyes, and giving a more animated character to the placid beauty of her face. Her hair, in all the loose freedom of its uncared for state, fell in great voluptuous masses along her neck and shoulders, while part of a finely-turned arm peeped out beneath the folds of the wide scarlet cloak which the fisherman's wife had lent her in lieu of her own costly “Cashmere.”

Next to her sat Roland; and although dressed in the rough jacket of a sailor, his throat encircled by a rude cravat of coloured worsted, he seemed in the very costume to have regained some of his long-lost joyousness, and, notwithstanding the sad event of the night, to be in a very ecstasy of high spirits. Sickleton, too, seemed like one who regarded the whole adventure as a circumstance too common-place for much thought, and busied himself writing letters to various persons at Cashel's dictation, sorely puzzled from time to time to follow out the thread of an intention, which Roland's devotion to the lady at his side more than once interrupted. [Chapter XXIX, "Storm and Wreck," 267]

Commentary: How Phiz has adapted his subject to Rembrandt's style

Behind them, and in a wider circle, sat the fisherman and his family, the occasional flash of the fire lighting up the gloom where they sat, and showing, as in a Rembrandt, the strong and vigorous lines of features where health and hardship were united — the whole forming in the light and shadow a perfect subject for a painter. [268]

The essence of Phiz's style here is the focus on just two figures using chiaroscuro to throw the surrounding room into shadow. Thus, in order to achieve this Rembrandtesque concentration on the figures of the young sleepers, the exhausted Cashel and the woman whom he has guarded for hours and preserved, Lady Laura Kilgoff, Phiz has rejected entirely all the other characters whom Lever mentions, and has placed the sleeping beauty voluptuously on the bed, accentuating her breasts and the line of her leg, rather than as Lever stipulates in the straw chair (down left). Instead of a hut crowded with curious local onlookers, and the passengers and crew of the schooner yacht Lucciola, Phiz gives us a theatrical cutaway, with quantities of fisherman's realia to the left. Picking up Lever's suggestion as to composition, Phiz affects a Dutch, seventeenth-century simplicity. He discards, so to speak, the fisherman and his family, owners of the humble cabin on the seashore near the scene of the wreck, to isolate two of the three notable survivors: masculine and physically robust Roland, dressed in the rough jacket of a sailor, not merely "rough," but shredded, and the beautiful, recumbent female form not covered by either seacloak or blanket. Notably absent from Phiz's realisation are the jovial Royal Navy veteran, Lieutenant Sickleton, and the crusty old aristocrat, Lord Kilgoff, whose antiphonal observations animate the scene after Lever's exciting description of the high seas and shipwreck. In particular, the illustrator gives us all in white, unmarred and refined, the "calm loveliness" of young Lady Laura, "pale and scarce breathing." Throughout the shipping diaster the young wife of the decrepit aristocrat has indecorously paid far too much attention to the handsome protagonist.

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.]


Lever, Charles. Roland Cashel. With 39 illustrations and engraved title-vignette by Phiz. London: Chapman & Hall, 1850.

Lever, Charles. Roland Cashel. Illustrated by Phiz [Hablot Knight Browne]. Novels and Romances of Charles Lever. Vols. I and II. In two volumes. Boston: Little, Brown, 1907. Project Gutenberg. Last Updated: 19 August 2010.

Steig, Michael. Chapter VII, "Phiz the Illustrator: An Overview and a Summing Up." Dickens and Phiz. Bloomington: Indiana U. P., 1978. Pp. 299-316.

Created 29 December 2022