Quilp defies the Dog by Hablot Knight Browne (Phiz). Wood engraving, 3 ½ x 4 ½ inches (9 x 11.3 cm). — Part Thirteen, Chapter 21, The Old Curiosity Shop. [For passage illustrated see below.] Date of original serial publication: 1 August 1840. Master Humphrey's Clock, no. 16, 211.

Context of the Illustration: Quilp Taunts the Watchdog

"Here’s sport!" he cried, "sport ready to my hand, all invented and arranged, and only to be enjoyed. It was this shallow-pated fellow who made my bones ache t’other day, was it? It was his friend and fellow-plotter, Mr. Trent, that once made eyes at Mrs. Quilp, and leered and looked, was it? After labouring for two or three years in their precious scheme, to find that they’ve got a beggar at last, and one of them tied for life. Ha ha ha! He shall marry Nell. He shall have her, and I’ll be the first man, when the knot’s tied hard and fast, to tell ‘em what they’ve gained and what I’ve helped ‘em to. Here will be a clearing of old scores, here will be a time to remind ‘em what a capital friend I was, and how I helped them to the heiress. Ha ha ha!"

In the height of his ecstasy, Mr Quilp had like to have met with a disagreeable check, for rolling very near a broken dog-kennel, there leapt forth a large fierce dog, who, but that his chain was of the shortest, would have given him a disagreeable salute. As it was, the dwarf remained upon his back in perfect safety, taunting the dog with hideous faces, and triumphing over him in his inability to advance another inch, though there were not a couple of feet between them.

"Why don’t you come and bite me, why don’t you come and tear me to pieces, you coward?" said Quilp, hissing and worrying the animal till he was nearly mad. "You’re afraid, you bully, you’re afraid, you know you are."

The dog tore and strained at his chain with starting eyes and furious bark, but there the dwarf lay, snapping his fingers with gestures of defiance and contempt. When he had sufficiently recovered from his delight, he rose, and with his arms a-kimbo, achieved a kind of demon-dance round the kennel, just without the limits of the chain, driving the dog quite wild. [Chapter XXI, 211-12]

Commentary: An Urban and Industrial Backdrop

Phiz interprets Quilp's behaviour as evidence of his debased, animalistic nature. He shows Quilp vindictively taunting the chained watch-dog and enjoying the animal's discomfiture. As the dog tugs at its chain, trying to retaliate against Quilp, the dwarf knows exactly how far he can go in approaching the animal with impunity. He celebrates his manipulation of Dick Swiveller as a prospective bridegroom for Nell Trent, and in soliloquy congratulates himself for setting in motion his plot to defraud the Trents. The reader sees the irony in Quilp's self-congratulation for he is utterly mistaken about Grandfather Trent's having secreted away a fortune. Quilp knows nothing about the Trents' wanderings and their vagabond existence on the road; if he knew they were homeless and without resources, he would hardly be celebrating his plan to marry Nell off to his willing dupe.

The picture does not merely describe the principal figures, the rollicking dwarf and the frustrated watchdog; it renders believable the ramshackle public house on the Thames where Quilp has just taken Swiveller to drink illegally imported Dutch spirits. Phiz has incorporated a remarkable degree of background detail in the wood-engraving by showing the further ("Surrey") shore through the archway, reinforcing the blighted urban setting which serves to contrast to the rural scenes in which the Trents have been interacting with itinerant entertainers since they left London at the conclusion of Chapter 12. The tailpiece for Chapter 21, therefore, reminds the reader of the decrepit, polluted, industrialized, and corrupt world that the Trents have fled, and underscores their fortuitous escape from the scheming Quilp.

Relevant Scene from the American Household Edition (1872)

Worth's illustration of the run-down tavern in the industrial area on the Thames shore: "Miss Sophie Wackles that is — Mrs. Richard Swiveller that is to be" (Chapter XXI).

Related Resources

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.]

Bibliography: The Old Curiosity Shop (1841-1924)

Cohen, Jane Rabb. "Part Two: Dickens and His Principal Illustrator. 4. Hablot Browne." (Part 1). Charles Dickens and His Original Illustrators. Columbus: Ohio U. P., 1980. 59-80.

Davis, Paul. Charles Dickens A to Z: The Essential Reference to His Life and Work. New York: Facts On File, 1998.

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.

Hammerton, J. A. "XIII. The Old Curiosity Shop." The Dickens Picture-Book. The Charles Dickens Library Edition. London: Educational Book, 1910. 170-211.

Lester, Valerie Browne. Phiz: The Man Who Drew Dickens. London: Chatto and Windus, 2004.

Steig, Michael. Chapter 3, "From Caricature to Progress: Master Humphrey's Clock and Martin Chuzzlewit." Dickens and Phiz. Bloomington & London: Indiana U. P., 1978. 51-85.

Stevens, Joan. "'Woodcuts Dropped into the Text': The Illustrations in The Old Curiosity Shop and Barnaby Rudge." Studies in Bibliography. 20 (1967), 113-134.

Vann, J. Don. "The Old Curiosity Shop in Master Humphrey's Clock, 25 April 1840-6 February 1841." Victorian Novels in Serial. New York: MLA, 1985. 64-5.

Created 10 May 2020

Last modified 10 October 2020