The gate was so familiar, and so like a companion, that they put down Maggy's basket in a corner to serve for a seat. (See page 89), — Book I, chap. 14, is the title as given in the Chapman and Hall printing. Sixties' illustrator James Mahoney's twelfth illustration for Charles Dickens's Little Dorrit, Household Edition, 1873. Wood-engraving by the Dalziels, 10.5 cm high by 13.6 cm wide, p. 81, framed, under the running head "Mr. F.'s Aunt." [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

It was a chill dark night, with a damp wind blowing, when they came out into the leading street again, and heard the clocks strike half-past one. "In only five hours and a half," said Little Dorrit, "we shall be able to go home." To speak of home, and to go and look at it, it being so near, was a natural sequence. They went to the closed gate, and peeped through into the court-yard. "I hope he is sound asleep," said Little Dorrit, kissing one of the bars, "and does not miss me."

The gate was so familiar, and so like a companion, that they put down Maggy's basket in a corner to serve for a seat, and keeping close together, rested there for some time. While the street was empty and silent, Little Dorrit was not afraid; but when she heard a footstep at a distance, or saw a moving shadow among the street lamps, she was startled, and whispered, "Maggy, I see some one. Come away!" Maggy would then wake up more or less fretfully, and they would wander about a little, and come back again. — Book the First, "Poverty," Chapter 14, "Little Dorrit's Party," p. 89.


Other illustrators have focussed on this pathetic event, showing Little Dorrit's plight, but have failed to communicate Amy's terror of the night side of familiar things in the streets of London and the Borough. Mahoney's illustration, however, conveys a sense of Amy's feeling of being excluded, and her compassion for Maggy as she keeps a protective hand on her back. Locked out of the Marshalsea after visiting Fanny at the theatre and then Arthur Clennam in his rooms near Covent Garden, Little Dorrit has to spend the night outside those grim walls for the first time in her life. At least, she has the formidable-looking Maggy (also locked out of her rooms) as her companion and protector in the wee hours. The stone pillars to either side of the door with the small grate imply the stoutness of the prison walls that have kept out these sordid realities for Amy's entire life.

The original serial illustration, Little Dorrit's Party focusses on the Church of St. George, opposite the main gate of the Marshalsea. Instead, Mahoney shows the young women barred from entering the Marshalsea, but offers no specific landmarks to contextualize their poses. However, the caption in the New York edition of the volume certainly identified the specific moment realised: They went to the closed gate, and peeped through into the courtyard. "I hope he is sound asleep," said Little Dorrit, kissing one of the bars, "and does not miss me." The gate was so familiar, and so like a companion, that they put down Maggy's basket in a corner to serve for a seat, and keeping close together, rested there for some time — Book 1, chap. xiv.

The title of the fourteenth chapter in Book the First, like that of the complementary illustration by Phiz in the serial (Little Dorrit's Party), is situationally ironic as Amy's spending the first night of her life outside the Marshalsea, sleeping in the streets and wandering a deserted London Bridge with Maggy, is anything but "a party." Although Mahoney has illumined the illustration, throwing Amy and Maggy into moderate chiaroscuro created by the left-hand pillar, in the other significant illustration of the episode, that by Phiz, only the fringe of cloud above the small figures cowering in the left-hand bottom corner is tinged with reflected moonlight — the rest of the serial illustration is in deep shadow and therefore constitutes a dark plate. Consequently, placed beside the serial original, Mahoney's does not merely lack the architectural specifics of the church and the imposing front of the debtors' prison, it emphasizes the close relationship of the sleepers. Amy, too, here sleeps, whereas in the Phiz dark plate she is alert and watching over the sleeping Maggy, identified by her oversized bonnet. The pair in the 1873 illustration are as destitute and homeless as any of the figures in Doré's London engravings of the urban poor. However, although one might classify the Mahoney illustration as both "social realism" and "melodramatic," it is certainly not a a dark plate in the sense that Phiz's original serial illustration is. Indeed, a more apt comparison would be between this 1873 Mahoney illustration and Luke Fildes' 1869 illustration from The Graphic Houseless and Hungry.

Pertinent illustrations in other early editions, 1856 to 1910

Left: The original serial illustration of Little Dorrit's nocturnal ordeal, Little Dorrit's Party (Part 4, March 1856). Centre: Sol Eytinge, Junior's dual study of the childlike adult, Maggy, and the apparent child, Amy, locked out of the Marshalsea, Little Dorrit and Maggy (1867). Right: The Harry Furniss realisation of the sexton's giving the stranded pair a room in the nearby St. George's Church, Little Dorrit and Maggy find shelter in a vestry (1910). [Click on images to enlarge them.]

Above: Mahoney's British Household Edition frontispiece, scene from earlier in the same chapter, depicting Amy Dorrit's arrival at Arthur Clennam's room, "Little Dorrit." (1873). [Click on the image to enlarge it.]


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"Little Dorrit — Fifty-eight Illustrations by James Mahoney." Scenes and Characters from the Works of Charles Dickens, Being Eight Hundred and Sixty-six Drawings by Fred Barnard, Gordon Thomson, Hablot Knight Browne (Phiz), J. McL. Ralston, J. Mahoney, H. French, Charles Green, E. G. Dalziel, A. B. Frost, F. A. Fraser, and Sir Luke Fildes. London: Chapman and Hall, 1907.

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Last modified 3 June 2016