One man slowly moving on towards Chalons was the only visible figure in the landscape. (See page 63.) — Book I, chap. 11, "Let Loose." Sixties' illustrator James Mahoney's eleventh illustration for Charles Dickens's Little Dorrit, Household Edition, 1873. The wood-engraving by the Dalziels occurs on p. 57 in the Chapman & Hall volume, with the running head The Barnacles. 9.5 cm high x 13.8 cm wide, framed. The accompanying caption is somewhat longer in the Harper & Bros. edition: One man slowly moving on towards Chalons was the only visible figure in the landscape. Cain might have looked as lonely and avoided — Book 1, chap. xi. The Mahoney illustration complements rather than repeats the Phiz illustration of the anxious Italian running away from the Burgundian town of Chalons, Making Off (February 1856).

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

A late, dull autumn night was closing in upon the river Saone. The stream, like a sullied looking-glass in a gloomy place, reflected the clouds heavily; and the low banks leaned over here and there, as if they were half curious, and half afraid, to see their darkening pictures in the water. The flat expanse of country about Chalons lay a long heavy streak, occasionally made a little ragged by a row of poplar trees against the wrathful sunset. On the banks of the river Saone it was wet, depressing, solitary; and the night deepened fast.

One man slowly moving on towards Chalons was the only visible figure in the landscape. Cain might have looked as lonely and avoided. With an old sheepskin knapsack at his back, and a rough, unbarked stick cut out of some wood in his hand; miry, footsore, his shoes and gaiters trodden out, his hair and beard untrimmed; the cloak he carried over his shoulder, and the clothes he wore, sodden with wet; limping along in pain and difficulty; he looked as if the clouds were hurrying from him, as if the wail of the wind and the shuddering of the grass were directed against him, as if the low mysterious plashing of the water murmured at him, as if the fitful autumn night were disturbed by him. — Book the First, "Poverty," Chapter 11, "Let Loose," p. 63.


The name of the river given in this passage at the beginning of the chapter, the Saone, gives the town in Burgundy its full name, "Chalon-sur-Saône." Against the flat horizon, the traveller can already see "Chalons" (sic) in the distance, as darkness and rain are coming on — a suitably dramatic visual complement to the highly descriptive text, and one which, appearing six pages ahead of the opening of Chapter 11, seems intended to generate an anticipatory set and a proleptic reading that only the reading of the text itself will clarify.

Whereas Hablot Knight Browne, Dickens's original illustrator, for this chapter, in Making Off, focusses on the escaping John Baptist (the description of his flight from Chalon appears on the facing page in the volume editions, clarifying the identity of the figure fleeing along the tree-lined avenue) at the close of "Let Loose," James Mahoney instead depicts the disgruntled, inwardly cursing traveller who by his nose, moustache, and nutcracker chin must be Rigaud, the former Marseilles prisoner.

In the illustration, Mahoney juxtaposes the lone traveller, left, with the distant city (upper right) and a tempestuous sky, a vigorous wind blowing the clouds and the trees on the horizon, immediately behind the walker. Agitated vegetation on the river bank completes the sense that nature itself is opposing Rigaud, complementing his assertion that the whole of French society seems to have turned against him.

Rigaud and John Baptist in other early editions, 1856 to 1910

Left: The initial frontispiece in the New York "Household Edition" volumes, Darley's engraving of the Marseilles cellmates, Feeding the Birds (1863). Centre: Sol Eytinge, Junior's study of the little smuggler and the wife-killer, Rigaud and Cavalletto. Right: The Harry Furniss characterisation of John Baptist's escaping the hotel room where Rigaud is sleeping, John Baptist runs away from his Patron (1910). [Click on images to enlarge them.]

Above: Phiz​'s February 1856 dark plate of the escape of John Baptist from Chalons, Making Off [Click on the image to enlarge it.]


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Last modified 19 April 2016