Mr. Cheggs’s Jealousy by Hablot Knight Browne (Phiz). Wood engraving, 3 ¼ x 4 ½ inches (8.4 x 11 cm). — Chapter 8, The Old Curiosity Shop, Part Six. Date of original serial publication: 6 June 1840. Master Humphrey's Clock, Part 9, 125. [Click on images to enlarge them.]

Passage Illustrated: Dick finds Breaking Up a Disagreeable Necessity

"You must dance with Miss Cheggs," said Miss Sophy to Dick Swiviller, after she had herself danced twice with Mr. Cheggs and made great show of encouraging his advances. "She’s a nice girl — and her brother’s quite delightful."

"Quite delightful, is he?" muttered Dick. "Quite delighted too, I should say, from the manner in which he’s looking this way."

Here Miss Jane (previously instructed for the purpose) interposed her many curls and whispered her sister to observe how jealous Mr. Cheggs was. [Chapter VIII, 125, title as identified by Hammerton, 177]

Commentary: An illustration or an extension of the text?

Dick initially rebels against the notion of marrying Nel because she is a mere thirteen-year-old, but accedes to his devious friend Fred's suggestion of a three- or four-year engagement. After all, by which conclusion of the engagement Grandfather Trent's heiress would be eighteen — and Trent himself might be dead. However, having accepted his mercenary friend's "cool proposal," Dick must now divest himself of his present romantic interest: teacher Sophy Whackles. The situation in the illustration seems highly reminiscent of Dickens's early London Sketches, particularly "The Dancing Academy" and "Horatio Sparkins." Even the location smacks of the early Sketches by Boz. Illustrative of every-day life and every-day people (1833-36). The introduction to the action of this chapter certainly reads like one of those Monthly Magazine or Morning Chronicle Regency London scenes:

The spot was at Chelsea, for there Miss Sophia Wackles resided with her widowed mother and two sisters, in conjunction with whom she maintained a very small day-school for young ladies of proportionate dimensions; a circumstance which was made known to the neighbourhood by an oval board over the front first-floor windows, whereupon appeared in circumambient flourishes the words ‘Ladies’ Seminary’; and which was further published and proclaimed at intervals between the hours of half-past nine and ten in the morning, by a straggling and solitary young lady of tender years standing on the scraper on the tips of her toes and making futile attempts to reach the knocker with a spelling-book. The several duties of instruction in this establishment were thus discharged. English grammar, composition, geography, and the use of the dumb-bells, by Miss Melissa Wackles; writing, arithmetic, dancing, music, and general fascination, by Miss Sophia Wackles; the art of needle-work, marking, and samplery, by Miss Jane Wackles; corporal punishment, fasting, and other tortures and terrors, by Mrs Wackles. Miss Melissa Wackles was the eldest daughter, Miss Sophy the next, and Miss Jane the youngest. Miss Melissa might have seen five-and-thirty summers or thereabouts, and verged on the autumnal; Miss Sophy was a fresh, good humoured, buxom girl of twenty; and Miss Jane numbered scarcely sixteen years. Mrs Wackles was an excellent but rather venomous old lady of three-score. [Chapter VIII, 123]

The extensive cast of characters has not made the illustrator's task any easier, but Phiz seems to have filled up the scene with a great many characters to whom Dickens has not alluded. In the digressive episode, Dick Swiveller attends the late afternoon dance at the ladies' seminary run by the Wackles family. Prominent in the picture should be twenty-year-old teacher Sophy herself; her sixty-year old mother, principal of the school; Alick Cheggs, the young market-gardener and Dick's romantic rival; his conniving sister, Miss Cheggs; and sixteen-year-old Jane Wackles, plus sundry small day-scholars, dressed for the quadrille. The Wackles hope to use Cheggs to draw out a marriage proposal from Dick, who has come looking for a  pretext to quarrel with Sophy and break off their relationship. An early edition's caption should suggest the disposition of the figures: "Mr. Swiveller had Miss Sophy’s hand for the first quadrille . . . and so gained an advantage over his rival." Young Cheggs should be sitting "despondingly in a corner and contemplat[ing] the glorious figure of the young lady as she moved through the mazy dance" (124, opposite the illustration).

The clean-shaven, slender Dick in fashionable Regency stirrup-trousers and floral waistcoat from earlier scenes (particularly Chapter 7's A Cool Proposal) should dominate the composition. However, Phiz adopts a very different compositional strategy: while Dick and Sophy are dancing (but not in a quadrille) to the extreme right, a tall young man with mutton-chop whiskers glares at them from the extreme left; by his posture and movements he seems to be dancing with the little day-scholar in the foreground. Diminutive Jane Wackles of the bouncing curls is possibly the short young woman with the high hairdo, centre, leaving the reader to identify the young lady dancing with the older man, centre, as Miss Cheggs. The seminary's principal does not feature in the composition at all, although logically she should be observing the rivalry between her daughter's suitors carefully. Since the figure whom we have identified as Dick does not much resemble the figure of the young law-clerk in previous pictures, we cannot connect Dickens's narration point by point with the illustration of the school dance.

The Equivalent Household Edition Illustration (1874)

For the American Household Edition Worth probably derived this comic scene from Phiz's original, but he effectively sharpens the conflict between Swiveller and Cheggs in "Did you speak to me, sir?"

Related Resources Including Other Illustrated Editions

Scanned image by Simon Cooke; 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. The Old Curiosity Shop in Master Humphrey's Clock. Illustrated by Phiz, George Cattermole, Samuel Williams, and Daniel Maclise. 3 vols. London: Chapman and Hall, 1840.

Created 10 May 2020

Last modified 11 November 2020