Kit in Jail — fifty-ninth illustration for the novel in Master Humphrey's Clock, Part 36. 3 ½ x 4 ½ inches (9.3 cm high x 11.4 cm wide). Charles Dickens's The Old Curiosity Shop, Part 33 (London: Chapman & Hall, 19 December 1840), Chapter 61, 142.

Passage Illustrated: Kit's Mother visits her son in the lockup

"Where to, Sir?" asked Kit.

The man contented himself by briefly replying "Wisitors;" and taking him by the arm in exactly the same manner as the constable had done the day before, led him, through several winding ways and strong gates, into a passage, where he placed him at a grating and turned upon his heel. Beyond this grating, at the distance of about four or five feet, was another exactly like it. In the space between, sat a turnkey reading a newspaper, and outside the further railing, Kit saw, with a palpitating heart, his mother with the baby in her arms; Barbara’s mother with her never-failing umbrella; and poor little Jacob, staring in with all his might, as though he were looking for the bird, or the wild beast, and thought the men were mere accidents with whom the bars could have no possible concern.

But when little Jacob saw his brother, and, thrusting his arms between the rails to hug him, found that he came no nearer, but still stood afar off with his head resting on the arm by which he held to one of the bars, he began to cry most piteously; whereupon, Kit’s mother and Barbara’s mother, who had restrained themselves as much as possible, burst out sobbing and weeping afresh. Poor Kit could not help joining them, and not one of them could speak a word.

During this melancholy pause, the turnkey read his newspaper with a waggish look (he had evidently got among the facetious paragraphs) until, happening to take his eyes off for an instant, as if to get by dint of contemplation at the very marrow of some joke of a deeper sort than the rest, it appeared to occur to him, for the first time, that somebody was crying. [Chapter the Forty-first, 141-42]


Phiz has has given prominence to Dickens's parenthetical comment upon the English legal system in the person of the oblivious turnkey. He is so thoroughly engaged in reading the daily newspaper that he turns a blind eye (and a deaf ear) to the crying of the prisoner, distressed beyond measure that his mother, centre, and younger brother should see him in such a deplorable situation. The turnkey likewise ignores the crying of the little boy, his distraught mother, and her upset companion, the housemaid Barbara's mother. Dickens describes the circumstances of the lockup with journalistic economy and precision: "Beyond this grating, at the distance of about four or five feet, was another exactly like it. In the space between, sat a turnkey reading a newspaper, and outside the further railing" (141) the prisoner's visitors. Phiz describes the scene not from the perspective of the turnkey or the ladies, but from a vantage point behind the grating that securely separates the languishing Kit from his supportive family and his mother's new-found friend.

Relevant Illustration from the American Household Edition (1872)

Above: Mrs. Nubbles visits her son, and asks the turnkey's permission to give him something to eat in He sat down on the ground, and ate as hard as he could by Thomas Worth.

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.]


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.

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

Last modified 18 October 2020