Hard Times (American Household Edition, 1876), 217. Running heads: "The Old Pit" (217) and "Stephen Drawn out of the Pit" (219).by Charles S. Reinhart. 13.2 cm wide by 10.3 cm high. This plate illustrates "Garnering," Chapter Six, "The Starlight" in Charles Dickens's
Context of the Illustration: The Hat lying by the Old Hell Shaft
The sun was high when they sat down to rest. They had seen no one, near or distant, for a long time; and the solitude remained unbroken. "It is so still here, Rachael, and the way is so untrodden, that I think we must be the first who have been here all the summer."
As Sissy said it, her eyes were attracted by another of those rotten fragments of fence upon the ground. She got up to look at it. "And yet I don’t know. This has not been broken very long. The wood is quite fresh where it gave way. Here are footsteps too. Oh, Rachael!"
She ran back, and caught her round the neck. Rachael had already started up.
"What is the matter?"
"I don’t know. There is a hat lying in the grass." They went forward together. Rachael took it up, shaking from head to foot. She broke into a passion of tears and lamentations: Stephen Blackpool was written in his own hand on the inside.
"Oh, the poor lad, the poor lad! He has been made away with. He is lying murdered here!"
"Is there — has the hat any blood upon it?" Sissy faltered.
They were afraid to look; but they did examine it, and found no mark of violence, inside or out. It had been lying there some days, for rain and dew had stained it, and the mark of its shape was on the grass where it had fallen. They looked fearfully about them, without moving, but could see nothing more. "Rachael," Sissy whispered, "I will go on a little by myself."
She had unclasped her hand, and was in the act of stepping forward, when Rachael caught her in both arms with a scream that resounded over the wide landscape. Before them, at their very feet, was the brink of a black ragged chasm hidden by the thick grass. They sprang back, and fell upon their knees, each hiding her face upon the other’s neck. [Book Three, Chapter VI, "The Starlight," 216-17]
Commentary: Resurrection from The Old Hell Shaft
Two of the story's principal female characters, Sissy Jupe and Rachael, the factory worker in love with Stephen Blackpool, stand aghast at the brink of the Old Hell Shaft. Reinhart has given both women fashionable, middle-class dresses, but has distinguished Rachael by her large plaid shawl. In a somewhat melodramatic poses, they recoil from the mouth of the Old Hell Pit. Near the margin of the worked-out coal shaft, which has been overgrown with weeds but is not fenced off, they have just discovered Stephen's hat. Just after the moment realised, the pair spring back from the edge and fall on their knees, holding each other in fright as Stephen's fate (signified by his hat, abandoned nearby) becomes suddenly apparent. The time is noon on a fine fall Sunday, the only day of the week on which Coketown's factories are not belching smoke on the Black Country.
Suspecting that Stephen may have fallen ill upon the road four days earlier, Sissy and Rachael had agreed on the Friday to walk into the country on the following Sunday in hopes of discovering his whereabouts. As is consistent with Dickens's letterpress, the plate depicts an autumnal landscape in the background — the novel indicates the setting is "about midway between the town and Mr. Bounderby's retreat" (217). Certainly, Sissy and Rachael are far enough from Coketown that they have escaped the effects of its polluting smoke-serpents, which will be idle until Monday morning. Beneath a clear sky leafless trees proclaim the season. In the left rear is a fragment of rotten fence but recently broken. Although Reinhart does not show Stephen's footprints, at Rachael's feet on the grass lies Stephen's hat, which in the text Sissy has just taken up to read Stephen's name wreitten on the inside band. Presumably she should still be holding the hat as she catches her companion on "the brink of a black ragged chasm hidden by thick grass" in the foreground. However, Reinhart has left Stephen's hat upon the ground, perhaps to draw the reader's attention to it. Reinhart has captured well the look of horror on their faces as they realise the fate they have narrowly avoided but which, in all likelihood, has overtaken the honest factory-hand, ostracized by labour and management alike. The subsequent rescue of Stephen from the shaft has been the subject of several nineteenth-century illustrations.
Relevant Illustrations from Other Editions: 1868 and 1876
Left: Harry French's equally dramatic scene in which workers have brought the still-breathing body of Stephen Blackpool to the surface: She Stooped down on the Grass at His Side, and Bent over Him (British Household Edition, 1876). Right: In the Illustrated Library Edition of 1868, Fred Walker realised the same recue scene with torchlight ands a monumental stillness: Stephen Blackpool recovered from the Old Hell Shaft (1868).
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. Hard Times fpr These Times. Illustrated by Fred Walker. The Illustrated Library Edition. London: Chapman and Hall, 1868.
_______. Hard Times for These Times. Illustrated by C. S. Reinhart. The Household Edition. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1876.
_______. Hard Times for These Times. Illustrated by Harry French. The Household Edition. London: Chapman and Hall, 1877.
Houfe, Simon. The Dictionary of Nineteenth-Century British Book Illustrators and Caricaturists. Woodbridge, Suffolk: Antique Collectors' Club, 1978.
Pennell, Joseph. The Adventures of An Illustrator Mostly in Following His Authors in America and Europe. Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1925.
Created 22 October 2002
Last modified 18 August 2020