Little Dorrit, Household Edition, 1873. Wood-engraving by the Dalziels, 9.3 cm high x 13.6 cm wide.— Book II, chap., "Mistress Affery makes a conditional Promise respecting her Dreams." Sixties' illustrator James Mahoney's forty-ninth wood-engraving for Charles Dickens's
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.]
Affery headed the exploring party; Jeremiah closed it. He had no intention of leaving them. Clennam looking back, and seeing him following three stairs behind, in the coolest and most methodical manner exclaimed in a low voice, "Is there no getting rid of him!" Flora reassured his mind by replying promptly, "Why though not exactly proper Arthur and a thing I couldn't think of before a younger man or a stranger still I don't mind him if you so particularly wish it and provided you'll have the goodness not to take me too tight."
Wanting the heart to explain that this was not at all what he meant, Arthur extended his supporting arm round Flora's figure. "Oh my goodness me,' said she. "You are very obedient indeed really and it's extremely honourable and gentlemanly in you I am sure but still at the same time if you would like to be a little tighter than that I shouldn't consider it intruding."
In this preposterous attitude, unspeakably at variance with his anxious mind, Clennam descended to the basement of the house; finding that wherever it became darker than elsewhere, Flora became heavier, and that when the house was lightest she was too. Returning from the dismal kitchen regions, which were as dreary as they could be, Mistress Affery passed with the light into his father's old room, and then into the old dining-room; always passing on before like a phantom that was not to be overtaken, and neither turning nor answering when he whispered, "Affery! I want to speak to you!"
In the dining-room, a sentimental desire came over Flora to look into the dragon closet which had so often swallowed Arthur in the days of his boyhood — not improbably because, as a very dark closet, it was a likely place to be heavy in. Arthur, fast subsiding into despair, had opened it, when a knock was heard at the outer door.
Mistress Affery, with a suppressed cry, threw her apron over her head.
"What? You want another dose!' said Mr Flintwinch. 'You shall have it, my woman, you shall have a good one! Oh! You shall have a sneezer, you shall have a teaser!"
"In the meantime is anybody going to the door?" said Arthur.
"In the meantime, I am going to the door, sir," returned the old man so savagely, as to render it clear that in a choice of difficulties he felt he must go, though he would have preferred not to go. 'Stay here the while, all! Affery, my woman, move an inch, or speak a word in your foolishness, and I'll treble your dose!"
The moment he was gone, Arthur released Mrs Finching: with some difficulty, by reason of that lady misunderstanding his intentions, and making arrangements with a view to tightening instead of slackening.
"Affery, speak to me now!"
"Don't touch me, Arthur!" she cried, shrinking from him. "Don't come near me. He'll see you. Jeremiah will. Don't."
"He can't see me," returned Arthur, suiting the action to the word, "if I blow the candle out."
"He'll hear you," cried Affery.
"He can't hear me," returned Arthur, suiting the action to the words again, 'if I draw you into this black closet, and speak here.
Why do you hide your face?"
"Because I am afraid of seeing something."
"You can't be afraid of seeing anything in this darkness, Affery."
"Yes I am. Much more than if it was light."
"Why are you afraid?"
Because the house is full of mysteries and secrets; because it's full of whisperings and counsellings; because it's full of noises. There never was such a house for noises. I shall die of 'em, if Jeremiah don't strangle me first. As I expect he will." — Book the Second, "Riches," Chapter 23, "Mistress Affery makes a conditional Promise respecting her Dreams," p. 352-353.
The Chapman and Hall woodcut is identical to that in the New York (Harper and Brothers) edition; however, in that alternate edition the caption for this illustration is somewhat longer:— Book 2, chap. xxiii.
The somewhat misogynistic comedy of the April 1857 Phiz steel-engraving Flora's Tour of Inspection deteriorates rapidly as Arthur blows out Affery's candle to allay her fears about her husband's overhearing their discussion. As in the text, the trio are in the dark — Affery doubly so, as terrified, she has thrown her apron over her face (as is her wont when confronting a stressful situation). Affery's apprehensions seem tantamount to paranoia here as she alludes the noises of the old house and the secrets that it harbours; in fact, her fears engendered by the strange sounds are vindicated when the house suddenly collapses, killing Mrs. Clennam's foreign guest, Monsieur Blandois (the alias of Rigaud). One can hardly term this dark plate a study of the three characters — Affery, Arthur Clennam, and Flora Finching — since only Flora in her light dress is really discernible. The illustrator's intention seems to have been to intensify the sense of the mysterious in the accompanying passage on pages 352-353 by forcing the reader into a proleptic reading of the illustration in the centre of of page 345 (at the beginning of the previous chapter, "Who Passes by this Road so Late?").
Pertinent illustrations in the original, Diamond, and Household Editions, 1857-1867
Left: Hablot Knight Browne's April 1857 illustration of the same scene, Flora's Tour of Inspection. Centre: Felix Octavius Carr Darley frontispiece for the fourth "Household" Edition volume (1863), Closing in — Book II, Ch. XXX. Right: Sol Eytinge, Jr.'s study in contrasts, Mr. and Mrs. Flintwinch (1867). [Click on the images to enlarge them.]
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Last modified 25 April 2016