She tenderly hushed the baby in her arms. (see page 70.) — Book I, chap. 12, "Bleeding Heart Yard." Sixties' illustrator James Mahoney's tenth illustration for Charles Dickens's Little Dorrit, Household Edition, 1873. The wood-engraving by the Dalziels occurs on p. 65 in the Chapman & Hall volume, with the running head The Report of the Tall Swiss, but the plate refers to page 70 in the following chapter. 10.7 cm high x 13.7 cm wide, framed. [Click on the image to enlarge it.]

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

And stooping down to pinch the cheek of another young child who was sitting on the floor, staring at him, asked Mrs. Plornish how old that fine boy was?

Four year just turned, sir," said Mrs. Plornish. "He is a fine little fellow, ain't he, sir? But this one is rather sickly." She tenderly hushed the baby in her arms, as she said it. 'You wouldn't mind my asking if it happened to be a job as you was come about, sir, would you?" asked Mrs. Plornish wistfully.

She asked it so anxiously, that if he had been in possession of any kind of tenement, he would have had it plastered a foot deep rather than answer No. But he was obliged to answer No; and he saw a shade of disappointment on her face, as she checked a sigh, and looked at the low fire. Then he saw, also, that Mrs. Plornish was a young woman, made somewhat slatternly in herself and her belongings by poverty; and so dragged at by poverty and the children together, that their united forces had already dragged her face into wrinkles. — Book the First, "Poverty," Chapter 12, "Bleeding Heart Yard," p. 70.


The following caption is considerably longer in the Harper and Bros. (New York) edition, and makes the error of situating the illustration in Chapter 11: And stooping down to pinch the cheek of another young child who was sitting on the floor, staring at him, asked Mrs. Plornish how old that fine boy was? "Four year, just turned, sir," said Mrs. Plornish. "He's a fine little fellow, a'int he, sir, but this one is rather sickly." She tenderly hushed the baby in her arms as she said it — Book 1, chap. xi. The Mahoney illustration departs from Phiz's original illustrations in that Phiz did not provide an illustration for the chapter in which Arthur visits the rooms of the plasterer, Plornish, in Bleeding Heart Yard, a scene that acquaints the reader with the class below Dickens's — the working poor. Rather, Phiz had illustrated Chapter 9 with Little Mother, showing Clennam's developing interest in Amy Dorrit, and Chapter 11 with Making Off, following the Rigaud-Cavaletto plot, both in the third monthly part (February 1856).

The meeting of the Plornishes and Arthur Clennam is the result of his trying to determine precisely how Little Dorrit came to work for his mother. Apparently they assisted her in disseminating hand-written advertisements which resulted in Mrs. Clennam's hiring Amy as a seamstress. Moreover, here in Bleeding Heart Yard, a ghetto in the midst of a mixed housing and industrial neighbourhood, Clennam confronts the plight of the working, urban poor. As an independent businessman, Plornish should be regarded a member of the middle class, like Joe Gargery in Great Expectations (1861), but, since he is only infrequently employed, he easily falls into debt, and thus for a brief time had become an inmate of the Marshalsea, which is precisely where he and his wife would have met Little Dorrit and her gentlemanly father, whom the Plornishes regard as belonging to a class decidedly above their own. Consequently, at least as far as the Plornishes know, Fanny and Amy have kept their employments secret from Mr. Dorrit.

While he awaits the arrival of her husband, genuinely interested in the Plornish children apparently, the thoroughly bourgeois Arthur Clennam (as signified by his tailcoat, cane, and top-hat) tries to engage the young mother in conversation about her children. Although he focuses on the stout four-year-old boy before him in a linen smock, Mrs. Plornish is absorbed by the sickly condition of her infant, whom she is hoping that Clennam will assist by giving her husband a contract. The illustrator conveys the look of apprehension mixed with disappointment on her face, but does not convey her wistfulness. Washing hangs on the line behind them, and a slight fire illuminates the fireplace (right). In the Phiz sequence, we do not meet an illustration featuring the Plornishes until the thirteenth chapter of Book Two. They constitute a sharp contrast to Arthur Clennam's small, dysfunctional family, the maternal, feminine Mrs. Plornish being quite the opposite of Arthur's severe, hard-hearted mother.

The Plornishes from Other Early Editions, 1856-1910

Left: An early American visual interpretation of the extended Plornish family, Mr. and Mrs. Plornish and John Edward Nandy. Right: Harry Furniss's illustration of the scene in which Mr. Baptist takes refuge in the Plornishes' parlour after having seen Rigaud on the street, Mr. Baptist takes refuge in Happy Cottage (1910). [Click on the images to enlarge them.]

Above: Phiz's original January 1857 engraving of the gathering of the Plornishes, Old Nandy (Mrs. Plornish's father), Pancks, and Cavaletto in Happy Cottage, as Mrs. Plornish calls her little shop in Bleeding Heart Yard, Mr. Baptist is Supposed to have seen Something. (Part 14: Book Two, Chapter 13). [Click on the image to enlarge it.]


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Last modified 2 June 2016