Minnie was there, alone. [See page 172.] — Book I, chap. xxviii, "Nobody's Disappearance." Sixties' illustrator James Mahoney's twenty-fourth illustration for Charles Dickens's Little Dorrit, Household Edition, 1873. Wood-engraving by the Dalziels, 10.7 cm high x 13.8 cm wide. The Chapman and Hall woodcut is identical to that in the New York (Harper and Brothers) edition. Note: the printed copy misplaces the illustration. It appears at the end of Chapter 26, but, as the caption's page reference indicates, illustrates an episode in Chapter 28. [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

Clennam had stopped, not for the first time by many times, to look about him and suffer what he saw to sink into his soul, as the shadows, looked at, seemed to sink deeper and deeper into the water. He was slowly resuming his way, when he saw a figure in the path before him which he had, perhaps, already associated with the evening and its impressions.

Minnie was there, alone. She had some roses in her hand, and seemed to have stood still on seeing him, waiting for him. Her face was towards him, and she appeared to have been coming from the opposite direction. There was a flutter in her manner, which Clennam had never seen in it before; and as he came near her, it entered his mind all at once that she was there of a set purpose to speak to him.

She gave him her hand, and said, "You wonder to see me here by myself? But the evening is so lovely, I have strolled further than I meant at first. I thought it likely I might meet you, and that made me more confident. You always come this way, do you not?"

As Clennam said that it was his favourite way, he felt her hand falter on his arm, and saw the roses shake.

"Will you let me give you one, Mr.Clennam? I gathered them as I came out of the garden. Indeed, I almost gathered them for you, thinking it so likely I might meet you. Mr. Doyce arrived more than an hour ago, and told us you were walking down." [Book the First, "Poverty," Chapter XXVIII, "Nobody's Disappearance," pp. 171-172.


The caption in the American Household Edition, published by Harper and Brothers (New York), has a somewhat more extensive quotation: He was slowly resuming his way, when he saw a figure in the path before him which he had, perhaps, already associated with the evening and its impressions. Minnie was there alone — Book 1, chap. xxviii. Because the illustration occurs some eleven pages ahead of the passage realised, one must anticipate its meaning, read it proleptically, then revert to it when one encounters the scene in which Minnie Meagles and Arthur Clennam part by the Thames near Twickenham.

This present illustration of John Clennam and Pet Meagles by the river is James Mahoney's response to the Phiz illustration for Part 7, Floating Away (July 1856), a dark plate in which Arthur tosses away the roses given him by Pet after she has confirmed her engagement to Henry Gowan, a socialite-sculptor of whom Clennam entertains suspicions that the mask of affable indolence hides an exploitative and mean-spirited disposition. Clennam's grounds for regarding Gowan with antipathy (which the reader suspects at this point may be conditioned by jealousy) are later supported by Miss Wade's autobiographical confession "History of a Self-Tormentor" (Book Two, Chapter 21).

The eighth monthly part in the original serial has scenes of Mr. Meagles' advising the volatile Tattycoram to count to five-and-twenty in order to calm down before she responds (Ch. 27), and Clennam's throwing rose petals into the Thames (conclusion of Ch. 28). The moonlit scene is in fact anything but romantic as Clennam, having bidden Pet goodnight after her disturbing confirmation of her impending marriage to Henry Gowan, throws into the Thames at twilight the petals of the roses she has given him before their parting. Whereas the reader must locate the moment in the text to uncover the cause of the solitary walker's despondency in the Phiz dark plate, the reader easily detects Clennam's discomfort at Pet's confirmation of the engagement in Mahoney's illustration, in which an abstracted Pet, holding the roses, stands well apart from Clennam, rather than very close to him, as at the end of the melancholy dialogue.

The Phiz steel-engraving captures the last moment in the twenty-eighth chapter Arthur Clennam launched the handful of roses on the flowing river. Pale and unreal in the moonlight, the river floated them away (I: 28, p. 174). Here and in The Ferry we see the influence of an area of the Thames that Phiz knew well, above the Richmond Bridge. Valerie Lester Browne describes the pair of river scenes as contrasting the novel's pervasive darkness and prison imagery: "Phiz took the opportunity to let a little fresh air to flow through the gloom" (157). Frederic G. Kitton has pronounced Phiz's moonlit dark plate "romantic" — "an evening scene, the moon rising behind the trees" (30), even though Clennam's despairing gesture with the roses suggests the termination for his hopes (vague as these have been) of marrying Minnie Meagles. This Phiz illustration is one of just eight mezzotints in the sequence, and features machine ruling in its background.

How much of this background Mahoney was aware of is difficult to determine, although Phiz was part of the team of Household Edition illustrators and Fred Barnard, the lead illustrator, had heard many of the anecdotes connected with the original serial illustrations directly from Hablot Knight Browne. Certainly, however, Mahoney would have been aware of the evocative Floating Away. Why, then, did he react with a revision that minimized the river backdrop and emphasized the figures of Minnie and Arthur, fashionably dressed, young bourgeoisie whose relationship has taken an irrevocable turn as Minnie has acknowledged that she has accepted Gowan's proposal? The figures are realistically realized, and a vigorous wind, perhaps suggestive of change, blows through the picture from right to left, agitating the grass on the riverbank and billowing out Minnie's summer dress and loosely worn hair. Her figure is just as Dickens describes it after the moment suggested by the caption, after the two have met:

"It is very grave here," said Clennam, "but very pleasant at this hour. Passing along this deep shade, and out at that arch of light at the other end, we come upon the ferry and the cottage by the best approach, I think."

In her simple garden-hat and her light summer dress, with her rich brown hair naturally clustering about her, and her wonderful eyes raised to his for a moment with a look in which regard for him and trustfulness in him were strikingly blended with a kind of timid sorrow for him, she was so beautiful that it was well for his peace — or ill for his peace, he did not quite know which — that he had made that vigorous resolution he had so often thought about. [172]

What seems to have interested Mahoney was not the natural backdrop, so elegantly realized in Phiz's painterly composition, but the dialogue leading up to the moment of the rift between Arthur Clennam and Pet Meagles. The Mahoney illustration is therefore rather more complicated than it first appears, as Minnie is as she was at the beginning of the interview, Arthur as he is in the middle of the interview, and the backdrop as it is at the end of the interview. Minnie isholding her bouquet of roses (as when she deliberately intercepts him on the walk back to the cottage that he and Doyce are renting), but he appears to clasping something to his chest — namely the roses that she has given him. Furthermore, the single tree on the riverbank suggests that they are not at the beginning of their walk through the canopy of trees, as the caption would suggest, but rather at the end of that walk. Consequently, the reader has to interpret the wood-engraving as representing both the opening and closing of the interview. Pet gives Arthur the roses before they enter the grove and discuss her engagement; the roses, then, exist in two places, just as the scene realises both the beginning and end of their walk through "the avenue of trees" which still frame Arthur Clennam in the Phiz illustration. The Mahoney plate by the absence of the surrounding trees implies the conclusion of the interview ("He put the roses in his breast and they walked on for a little while, slowly and silently, under the umbrageous trees" (I: 28, p. 172).

Their walk ends when the avenue of "umbrageous trees" terminates at the Meagles' garden gate, concluding not merely their discussion but their relationship as she henceforth will be Mrs. Henry Gowan. The Mahoney illustration, then, suggests both beginnings and endings, whereas Phiz's ends with a tragic note of resignation after Minnie has left Arthur by the brink of the river in the growing gloom.

Relevant illustrations in various editions, 1856-1867

Left: Phiz's illustration of Mr. Meagles' explaining his strategy for dealing with Tattycoram, Five-and-Twenty (Book I, Chapter 27). Right: Sol Eytinge, Junior's study of the upper middle-class couple with the difficult adopted daughter (whom they treat as a servant), Mr. and Mrs. Meagles (1867). [Click on the images to enlarge them.]

Above: Phiz's original serial dark plate of Clennam's renouncing all thought of marrying Pet Meagles, Floating Away (Book 1, Chapter 28). [Click on the image to enlarge it.]


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Created 12 May 2016

Last modified 21 February 2022