Instinct Stronger than Training by Phiz (Hablot K. Browne) from Dickens's Little Dorrit, Book the Second, "Riches," Chapter 6, "Something Right Somewhere" (November 1856: Part Twelve), facing p. 424. 11.5 cm high by 16.9 cm wide, vignetted. [Click on the image to enlarge it.]

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Passage Illustrated

His face was so directed in reference to the spot where Little Dorrit stood by the easel, that throughout he looked at her. Once attracted by his peculiar eyes, she could not remove her own, and they had looked at each other all the time. She trembled now; Gowan, feeling it, and supposing her to be alarmed by the large dog beside him, whose head she caressed in her hand, and who had just uttered a low growl, glanced at her to say, "He won't hurt you, Miss Dorrit."

"I am not afraid of him," she returned in the same breath; "but will you look at him?"

In a moment Gowan had thrown down his brush, and seized the dog with both hands by the collar.

"Blandois! How can you be such a fool as to provoke him! By Heaven, and the other place too, he'll tear you to bits! Lie down! Lion! Do you hear my voice, you rebel!"

The great dog, regardless of being half-choked by his collar, was obdurately pulling with his dead weight against his master, resolved to get across the room. He had been crouching for a spring at the moment when his master caught him.

"Lion! Lion!" He was up on his hind legs, and it was a wrestle between master and dog. "Get back! Down, Lion! Get out of his sight, Blandois! What devil have you conjured into the dog?"

"I have done nothing to him."

"Get out of his sight or I can't hold the wild beast! Get out of the room! By my soul, he'll kill you!" — Book the Second, "Riches," Chapter 6, "Something Right Somewhere," p. 423.


Although Gowan secretly detests his new-found, foreign friend Monsieur Blandois of Paris, he finds him useful in deliberately upsetting his young wife to keep her in her place. But Gowan's great dog, recognizing Blandois for the villain he is, menaces the sinister Frenchman. In the illustration, Blandois is in the position of Henry Gowan's model, left, while the artist wrestles with the dog, centre; to the right, the three young woman (Little Dorrit,Fanny, and Minnie Gowan) are alarmed by Gowan's brutal treatment of the heretofore gentle animal.

The scene is the romantic and rapidly decaying city of Venice, another instance in the novel of physical decadence. However, whereas Phiz here has illustrated the chapter set in Venice by portraying the studio of Henry Gowan above a bank on an islet, providing little local colour but describing well the characters of the artist and the murderer, Blandois, the other illustrators of the novel at this point have been sure to include a gondola to underscore the exotic Italian setting. However, Mahoney's using the text of the closing of the chapter as his subject allows him to complement the original serial illustration by focussing on Blandois' comment that somebody (undoubtedly himself) has poisoned Lion, Gowan's great-hearted dog.

The reader experiences the scene in Phiz's steel-engraving from the perspective of the outsider, Little Dorrit. Upon entering the studio to visit Minnie Gowan, she finds Henry painting a portrait with his model, Blandois, in a hooded cloak in the act of turning away from the viewer. What is not shocking is the dog's growling at the devious Frenchman (which has just occurred), but rather how the fashionably-dressed Henry Gowan savagely rebukes the animal in the presence of the three young ladies — exhibiting his power over the brute by knocking the animal to the floor and (in the accompanying text) repeatedly kicking it until its jaws are bloody. Despite the civilised environment of the dilettante's studio, with its classical statues, bric-a-brac, armour, and sketches, the true subject is the savage nature of a supposedly modern, sophisticated young Englishman of the upper-middle class. Significantly, Phiz embeds emblems of violence around Blandois — a mediaeval broadsword beside him and a flintlock pistol on the platform at his feet. A gorgon's head and fragmentary female bust look up, apparently regarding Blandois rather than Gowan in alarm. Rather than kicking his faithful pet as in the text, Gowan in the illustration appears to be strangling the dog, just as he has been systematically suffocating Minnie (extreme right) emotionally.

Pertinent illustrations in other early editions, 1867 to 1910

Left: Eytinge, Junior's dual study of the delicate, tentative bride and the boorish artist-husband, Mr. and Mrs. Henry Gowan (1867). Right: The Harry Furniss realisation of the gondola scene at the quay later that same day, as Fanny attempts to put the obtuse Edmund Sparker in his place, Miss Fanny meets an acquaintance (1910). [Click on images to enlarge them.]

Above: Mahoney's British Household Edition scene at the quay which underscores Blandois' vindictive character, even as it provides local colour with a Venetian gondola and a domed church (possibly San Michele in Isola) in the background, On the brink of the quay, they all came together (1873). [Click on the image to enlarge it.]


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Last modified 12 May 2016