Mrs. Jarley's Waxworks by Hablot Knight Browne (Phiz). Wood engraving, 3 ½ x 4 ½ inches (9 x 11.2 cm). — Part Sixteen, Chapter 28, The Old Curiosity Shop. Date of original serial publication: 22 August 1840. Master Humphrey's Clock, Part 19, 251. [Click on images to enlarge them.]

Context of the Illustration: Nell learns to be Mrs. Jarley's Docent

When Nell had exhausted her first raptures at this glorious sight, Mrs.  Jarley ordered the room to be cleared of all but herself and the child, and, sitting herself down in an arm-chair in the centre, formally invested Nell with a willow wand, long used by herself for pointing out the characters, and was at great pains to instruct her in her duty.

"That," said Mrs. Jarley in her exhibition tone, as Nell touched a figure at the beginning of the platform, "is an unfortunate Maid of Honour in the Time of Queen Elizabeth, who died from pricking her finger in consequence of working upon a Sunday. Observe the blood which is trickling from her finger; also the gold-eyed needle of the period, with which she is at work."

All this, Nell repeated twice or thrice: pointing to the finger and the needle at the right times: and then passed on to the next. {Chapter XXVIII, 251]


Dickens and his chief illustrator continue to demonstrate how those whom Nell and her grandfather encounter on the highroad seek to exploit her appealing vulnerability and engaging beauty. In a room full of distorted shapes designed to entertain a gullible public Nell is the only natural form, distinguished by her diminutive size and her workaday clothing as she points towards the figure in the exaggerated farthingale at the back. The overblown Mrs. Jarley has hired the articulate, literate London child to spell her off as the guide to the travelling waxworks exhibit. In her effigies if not in her person Dickens seems to be satirizing Madame Tussaud's celebrated London waxworks exhibit, although from the eighteenth century such exhibitions had been common enough in the metropolis. As with Jerry and his troupe of performing dogs earlier at The Jolly Sandboys Inn, Dickens here is exposing the seamier side of the early Victorian entertainment industry. As Dickens suggests he should, Phiz has depicted her as "stout and comfortable to look upon," a raconteur who takes great pride in her family of wax dummies. Although she treats Nell and her grandfather with kindness and consideration, Phiz renders her something of a caricature as a florid, overweight quasi-alcoholic in an oversized bonnet which hides her face entirely.

Relevant illustrations from other editions

Left: Harry Furniss's study of Nell and her overblown employer, the florid waxworks exhibiter who resembles her own effigies as a distorted rather than a natural figure in Mrs. Jarley's Waxworks (1910). Right: Thomas Worth's lAmerican Household Edition illustration focuses on the proprietress, but fails to make her either interesting or animated: "That's me. I am Mrs. Jarley." (1872).

Charles Green's less cartoonish Household Edition illustration focuses on the proprietress and her docent rather than on the wax effigies in "That, Ladies and Gentlemen," said Mrs. Jarley, "is Jasper Packlemerton of atrocious memory" (1876).

Left: Furniss's original drawing of Nell assisting Mrs. Jarley with the exhibition, in the Charles Dickens Library edition, Mrs. Jarley's Waxworks (1910). Right: Sol Eytinge, Jr.'s portrait of the affable entertainer, Mrs. Jarley (1867).

Relevant Illustrations from the 1861 and 1888 editions by Darley

Related Resources Including Other Illustrated Editions

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.]

Related Material: Popular Entertainments and Recreations


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, 1841; rpt., Bradbury and Evans, 1849.

_____. The Old Curiosity Shop. Illustrated by Sol Eytinge, Jr. The Diamond Edition. 14 vols. Boston: Ticknor & Fields, 1867. XII.

_____. The Old Curiosity Shop. Illustrated by Charles Green. The Household Edition. 22 vols. London: Chapman and Hall, 1876. XII.

_____. The Old Curiosity Shop. Illustrated by Harry Furniss. The Charles Dickens Library Edition. London: Educational Book, 1910. V.

_____. The Old Curiosity Shop. Illustrated by Thomas Worth. The Household Edition. New York: Harper & Bros., 1872. I.

Created 10 May 2020

Last modified 12 November 2020