Mrs. Gamp creates a sensation with her umbrella (1872). Forty-fifth Household Edition illustration by Fred Barnard for Dickens's Martin Chuzzlewit (Chapter XL), page 313. [On the London docks, Tom and Ruth run into Mrs. Gamp, who is looking for the "Ankworks package," or Antwerp packet steamer and their landlord, who turns out to be none other than Montague Tigg's private detective, Mr. Nadgett.] 9.3 x 13.9 cm. 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.]

Passage Illustrated

It was so amusing, that Tom, with Ruth upon his arm, stood looking down from the wharf, as nearly regardless as it was in the nature of flesh and blood to be, of an elderly lady behind him, who had brought a large umbrella with her, and didn't know what to do with it. This tremendous instrument had a hooked handle; and its vicinity was first made known to him by a painful pressure on the windpipe, consequent upon its having caught him round the throat. Soon after disengaging himself with perfect good humour, he had a sensation of the ferule in his back; immediately afterwards, of the hook entangling his ankles; then of the umbrella generally, wandering about his hat, and flapping at it like a great bird; and, lastly, of a poke or thrust below the ribs, which give him such exceeding anguish, that he could not refrain from turning round to offer a mild remonstrance.

Upon his turning round, he found the owner of the umbrella struggling on tip-toe, with a countenance expressive of violent animosity, to look down upon the steam-boats; from which he inferred that she had attacked him, standing in the front row, by design, and as her natural enemy.

"What a very ill-natured person you must be!" said Tom.

The lady cried out fiercely, "Where's the pelisse!" meaning the constabulary — and went on to say, shaking the handle of the umbrella at Tom, that but for them fellers never being in the way when they was wanted, she d have given him in charge, she would.

"If they greased their whiskers less, and minded the duties which they're paid so heavy for, a little more," she observed, "no one needn't be drove mad by scrouding so!"

She had been grievously knocked about, no doubt, for her bonnet was bent into the shape of a cocked hat. Being a fat little woman, too, she was in a state of great exhaustion and intense heat. Instead of pursuing the altercation, therefore, Tom civilly inquired what boat she wanted to go on board of?

"I suppose," returned the lady, "as nobody but yourself can want to look at a steam package, without wanting to go a-boarding of it, can they! Booby!"

"Which one do you want to look at then?" said Tom. "We'll make room for you if we can. Don't be so ill-tempered."

"No blessed creetur as ever I was with in trying times," returned the lady, somewhat softened, "and they're a many in their numbers, ever brought it as a charge again myself that I was anythin' but mild and equal in my spirits. Never mind a contradicting of me, if you seem to feel it does you good, ma'am, I often says, for well you know that Sairey may be trusted not to give it back again. But I will not denige that I am worrited and wexed this day, and with good reagion, Lord forbid!"

By this time, Mrs. Gamp (for it was no other than that experienced practitioner) had, with Tom's assistance, squeezed and worked herself into a small corner between Ruth and the rail; where, after breathing very hard for some little time, and performing a short series of dangerous evolutions with her umbrella, she managed to establish herself pretty comfortably.

"And which of all them smoking monsters is the Ankworks boat, I wonder. Goodness me!" cried Mrs. Gamp.

"What boat did you want?" asked Ruth. — Chapter 40, "The Pinches make a new acquaintance, and have fresh occasion for surprise and wonder," p. 316.


Although Dickens and Phiz did not avail themselves of this opportunity to inject Mrs. Gamp's spewcial brand of verbal humour and physical comedy at this point, both Fred Barnard and Harry Furniss exploited the comic moment, although, whereas Barnard places the androgynous nurse in the midst of the action, Furniss places her to one side as the incident's chief interest is the failure of Jonas Chuzzlewit (heavily muffled as a disguise which the cunning detective, Mr. Nadgett, nevertheless penetrates) to escape to the Continent at this point. The voice and form of the boozy nurse are as instantly recognizable as her trademark umbrella.

Whereas Hablot Knight Browne in the original serial illustration for this chapter focussed on Tom's staring in confusion at the books surrounding him in the library in the Temple, Fred Barnard has provided realisations of both scenes in Chapters 39-40, with Tom's inquiring of Fips about the owner of the library (Chapter 39), and Sairey Gamp's fortuitously bumping into Tom on the upper wharf when hoping to prevent Jonas from taking Mercy aboard the Antwerp packet-steamer (Chapter 39). However, Furniss's treatment of the wharfside scene is panoramic and suspenseful whereas Barnard's is focussed on Sairey and the Pinches — and is essentially comic. Furthermore, to establish the quayside setting Barnard has brought the trio down onto the dock, whereas the text clearly indicates that they are above the scene. Moreover, Furniss brilliantly synthesizes all the elements of the Antwerp steamer's berth, with longshoremen, sailors, bales being loaded by a crane — and both Nadgett and the Pecksniffs in the very centre of the composition, the reader's attention to the couple boarding the packet-boat being guided by a Baroque pointer, Sairey Gamp. In the Barnard illustration, in contradiction of the text, she has become caught up in a length of hempen rope at the gangway and grabs onto Tom for support as she jabs the handle of her umbrella into Tom's face, so that Dickens's character comedy, particularly Sairey's malapropisms, is transformed into the pratfalls of stage farce.

Relevant Illustrations, 1843-1910

Left: Hablot Knight Browne's version of the conclusion of the interview between Tom Pinch and Mr. Fips (departing, right), Mysterious Installation of Mr. Pinch (Chapter 39, March 1844). Centre: Sol Eytinge, Jr.'s secretive​observer of events in Montague Tigg's sumptuous suite, standing before the fire, Mr. Nadgett (1867). Right: Harry Furniss's version of the Pinches' encountering Mrs. Gamp at the London docks, Mrs. Gamp at the Docks (Chapter 40, 1910). [Click on the images to enlarge them.]


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Last modified 4 August 2016