Taken by a Single Gentleman by Hablot Knight Browne (Phiz). Wood engraving, 3 1/4 x 4 ½ inches (8.1 x 11.9 cm). — Chapter 34, The Old Curiosity Shop, Part Nineteen. Date of original serial publication: 12 September 1840. Master Humphrey's Clock, Part 22, tailpiece, 288. [Click on images to enlarge them.]

Passage Illustrated: Dick rents the Brasses' Spare Room

Mr. Swiveller was so much confounded by the single gentleman riding roughshod over him at this rate, that he stood looking at him almost as hard as he had looked at Miss Sally. The single gentleman, however, was not in the slightest degree affected by this circumstance, but proceeded with perfect composure to unwind the shawl which was tied round his neck, and then to pull off his boots. Freed of these encumbrances, he went on to divest himself of his other clothing, which he folded up, piece by piece, and ranged in order on the trunk. Then, he pulled down the window-blinds, drew the curtains, wound up his watch, and, quite leisurely and methodically, got into bed. [Chapter XXXIV, 340]

Commentary: Introducing The Marchioness and The Single Gentleman

Fred Trent's whimsical friend, the Comic Man Dick Swiveller, and the secondary villains (the unscrupulous Bevis Marks attorney Sampson Brass and his termagant sister, Sally), now become the focus of the serial as Dickens leaves his weekly readers to wonder about the fortunes of Little Nell and her gambling addicted grandfather in the little country town. Only well into the narrative, apparently, did Dickens conceive of the "little servant" of the Brasses, the workhouse (and therefore illegitimate) child whom Dick meets when the Single Gentleman calls to enquire about renting the Brasses' spare room:

Dick leant over the table, and descried a small slipshod girl in a dirty coarse apron and bib, which left nothing of her visible but her face and feet. She might as well have been dressed in a violin-case. . . . . There never was such an old-fashioned child in her looks and manner. She must have been at work from her cradle. She seemed as much afraid of Dick, as Dick was amazed at her. [Chapter XXXIV, 337]

Just when Dick believes himself abandoned by his friend Fred Trent and his rich aunt in the country (who has just written him out of her will and cut off her occasional cash presents), Dick has the most significant meeting of his life. The shrewd little household servant who insists that Dick show the upstairs room to the prospective lodger exhibits commercial and life-skills that Dick entirely lacks, and knows exactly how to rent the vacant room. Although the Brasses have been quite prepared to exploit the child, they will not permit her to be their public spokesperson in such negotiations. Roughly two-thirds of the way through the narrative, Dickens adopted the expedient of introducing three new characters (Sampson Brass's "dragon" sister, Sally; the single gentleman lodger; and the little servant-girl whom Dick dubs "The Marchioness"). The first two will enable him to resolve the plot elements involving Quilp and the wanderers, but he seems to have intended the last of the trio of late arrivals to provide character comedy and social commentary. One wonders whether Dickens felt that his reader's interest was beginning to flag.

Although Dickens has just introduced The Marchioness, the illustrations do not feature the shrewd servant-girl until the next chapter with Brass at the Keyhole. Phiz maintains the riddle of the stranger's intentions and identity by showing him unwrap himself from his winter clothing, which contradicts the outside temperature of 81 Fahrenheit. Dressed in his nautical office-coat, Dick gestures, as if indicating the room's advantages in vague terms: "'They are very charming apartments, sir. They command an uninterrupted view of — of over the way, and they are within one minute’s walk of — of the corner of the street. There is exceedingly mild porter, sir, in the immediate vicinity, and the contingent advantages are extraordinary'" (339). The coachman, hat in hand, having just assisted in the delivery of the enormous trunk upon which the gentleman is sitting, seems to be waiting to be dismissed — and possibly to receive a tip

The Household Edition Illustrations of the Single Gentleman's Arrival (1874 & 1876)

Left: Sol Eytinge, Jr.'s gentleman lodger whose introduction will facilitate Dickens's resolution of the story, The Single Gentleman (1867). Middle: Green's realisation of the Small Servant's asking Dick to show the vacant room, situation which results in Dick's becoming the official go-between for the Brasses in dealing with the Single Gentleman, "Oh, please," said a little voice very low down in the doorway, "will you come and show the lodgings?". Right: Thomas Worth's realisation of the same scene presents the new tenant as a little eccentric, but, after all, he has lived abroad many years: Take down the bill (1872).

Related Resources Including Other Illustrated Editions

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.]


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 Thomas Worth. The Household Edition. New York: Harper & Bros., 1872. I.

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

Created 10 May 2020

Last modified 12 November 2020