J. Clayton Clarke ("Kyd")
Watercolour reproduced on John Player cigarette card no. 44
Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham
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In Kyd's sequence of fifty cards, fully 13 or over 25% concern a single novel, The Pickwick Papers, attesting to the enduring popularity of the picaresque comic novel and also suggesting that the later, darker novels such as Our Mutual Friend (two characters) and The Mystery of Edwin Drood (no characters depicted) offered little for the caricaturist, the only late characters in the series being the singularly unpleasant and physically odd Silas Wegg and the rough waterman Rogue Riderhood from Our Mutual Friend, and Turveydrop, Jo, Bucket, and Chadband from Bleak House. The popular taste was clearly still towards the earlier farce and character comedy of Dickens. The series, however, includes only three character cards from the cast of Nicholas Nickleby (April 1838 through October 1839), or just 6% of the total: the brutal, semi-literate school-master Wackford Squeers, no. 44; his vain, ungly, spiteful daughter, Fanny, no. 45; and the affable but injudicious drunkard Newmann Noggs, Ralph Nickleby's clerk, no. 46 — characterisations based on the original serial illustrations of Dickens's regular visual interpreter in the 1840s, Phiz, who produced forty steel-engravings and the wrapper design for the Bradbury and Evans nineteen-month serial, as well as two vignettes for the two-volume Library Edition (1858-59): The Nickleby Family and The Mad Gentleman and Mrs. Nickleby. It was subsequently illustrated in the British Household Edition by Fred Barnard and in the New York Harper and Brothers' text by C. S. Reinhart.
Although Kyd's representations are largely based on the original illustrations by Hablot Knight Browne (Phiz), the modelling of the figures is suggestive of those of celebrated Dickensian illustrator Fred Barnard for the Household Edition volume 10 (1875). The anomaly, of course, is that Kyd should elect to depict minor figures from the first Dickens novel such as the Dingley Dell cricketers Dumkins and Luffey and the minor antagonist Major Bagstock in Dombey and Son, but omit significant characters from such later, still-much-read novels as A Tale of Two Cities and Great Expectations. Five of the fifty cards or 10% of the series come from the cast of The Adventures of Oliver Twist; or, The Parish Boy's Progress (1837-39): Oliver himself, asking for more; Fagin with his toasting fork, from the scene in which he prepares dinner for his crew; Sikes holding a beer-mug, and the Artful Dodger in an oversized adult topcoat and crushed top-hat, as he appeared at his trial. Surprisingly, some of the other significant characters, including Nancy and Rose Maylie, are not among the first set of fifty characters, in which Kyd exhibits a strong male bias, as he realizes only seven female characters: only the beloved Nell, the abrasive Sally Brass, and the quirky Marchioness from The Old Curiosity Shop, Sairey Gamp from Martin Chuzzlewit, Aunt Betsey Trotwood from David Copperfield, the burly Mrs. McStinger from Dombey and Son, and the awkward Fanny Squeers from Nicholas Nickleby appear in the essentially comic cavalcade.
The Dickens reader at the fin de siecle must have been surprised to find missing from Kyd's character sketches such significant figures in Nicholas Nickleby as the hero's sister, Kate, his devious uncle, Ralph, and the handicapped orphan (who turns out to be Nicholas's cousin) Smike. Kyd's chief source for his three characterisations was the original serial illustrations of Phiz, specifically for the repulsive Squeers The Yorkshire Schoolmaster at The Saracen's Head (Ch. 4, Apil 1838) and Nicholas Astonishes Mr. Squeers and Family (Ch. 13, July 1838). Certainly, Harrold Copping's 1924 Wackford Squeers and the New Pupil (Character Sketches from Dickens) is much closer to the 1838 serial illustrations than Kyd's study of a middle-aged man in a long great-coat.
Created 16 January 2015