Such a box had Affery Flintwinch seen in the first of her dreams, going out of the old house . . . this, Tattycoram put on the ground at her old master's feet; this, Tattycoram fell on her knees by, and put her hands upon. — Book 2, chap. xxxiii, is the full title as given in the Harper and Brothers edition. This is Sixties' illustrator James Mahoney's penultimate composite woodblock illustration for Charles Dickens's Little Dorrit, Household Edition, 1873. Wood-engraving by the Dalziels, 9.4 cm high by 13.5 cm wide, p. 409, framed, under the running head "Pancks and The Patriarch." [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

The cramped area of the prison had such an effect on Mrs. Meagles that she began to weep, and such an effect on Mr. Meagles that he began to gasp for air. He was walking up and down the room, panting, and making himself worse by laboriously fanning himself with her handkerchief, when he turned towards the opening door.

"Eh? Good gracious!" said Mr. Meagles, "this is not Miss Dorrit! Why, Mother, look! Tattycoram!"

No other. And in Tattycoram's arms was an iron box some two feet square. Such a box had Affery Flintwinch seen, in the first of her dreams, going out of the old house in the dead of the night under Double's arm. This, Tattycoram put on the ground at her old master's feet: this, Tattycoram fell on her knees by, and beat her hands upon, crying half in exultation and half in despair, half in laughter and half in tears, "Pardon, dear Master; take me back, dear Mistress; here it is!"

"Tatty!" exclaimed Mr. Meagles.

"What you wanted!" said Tattycoram. "Here it is! I was put in the next room not to see you. I heard you ask her about it, I heard her say she hadn't got it, I was there when he left it, and I took it at bedtime and brought it away. Here it is!"

"Why, my girl," cried Mr. Meagles, more breathless than before, "how did you come over?"

"I came in the boat with you. I was sitting wrapped up at the other end. When you took a coach at the wharf, I took another coach and followed you here. She never would have given it up after what you had said to her about its being wanted; she would sooner have sunk it in the sea, or burnt it. But, here it is!" — Book the Second, "Riches," Chapter 33, "Going," pages 415-416.


In yet another scene of poetic justice, Harriet Meagles ("Tattycoram" to her foster-parents) outwits the unforgiving Miss Wade by purloining the strong-box containing the documents that Blandois stole and returning them to the Meagles, who in turn will entrust them to Arthur Clennam and Any Dorrit, whose inheritance they confirm. Whereas another pompous, self-important, hypocritical Dickensian humbug (the capitalist and slum-landlord Casby) has just received his justly deserved comeuppance in the previous illustration (Mr. Pancks and the patriarch were instantly the centre of a press, all eyes and ears), here the cunning Miss Wade has been thwarted by the good-hearted, redeemed Tattycoram. Poetic justice is once again the guiding principle in the dénouement, as the Meagles welcome home their prodigal daughter and Harriet escapes the clutches of the controlling, jealous spinster in Calais.

The scene is the Keeper's rooms in the Marshalsea, where Little Dorrit has temporarily been staying in order to tend Arthur Clennam back to health. Mr. and Mrs. Meagles are by now familiar to the reader through their appearances in a number of chapters, but are not found until now in any of Mahoney's previous illustrations. However, Harriet ("Tattycoram") as the distressed adolescent appears at the beginning of the book in The observer stood . . . looking at the girl (Book One, Chapter 2), in which Miss Wade receives the runaway. Mahoney had several models from the original serial from which to work for Tattycoram, but only Phiz's Five-and-Twenty (July 1856, Part 8: I: 2) contains useful images of both the girl and Meagles, whose receding hairline and nose in the later illustration seem to have been based on their counterparts in Phiz. Harry Furniss probably based his title-page thumbnail of Mr. Meagles (centre, left) on the Phiz original rather than Mahoney's version of the character in this illustration.

Nemesis or Poetic Justice has been the guiding principle behind literature since the Greek New Comedy, and was the device for socially acceptable closure in many Victorian novels: virtuous characters are rewarded (with money, with elevated social status or increased social acceptance, and with good marriages and flourishing families) while scurrilous characters are appropriately punished (by death, prison, exile abroad, bankruptcy, or loss of friends and social status). Of the many Victorian novelists who rigorously applied the principles of poetic justice to their endings the chief was Charles Dickens. And of the successive scenes in the déouement of Little Dorrrit this reunion of the Meagles and Tattycoram is perhaps the most sentimental. Casby, Miss Wade, Mrs. Clennam, Blandois, Arthur Clennam, and Little Dorrit are all subjected to the governing principle of reward and punishment — the notable exception is Jeremiah Flintwinch, who absconds with his mistress's fortune and spends the rest of his days, drinking in Antwerp, where his twin brother died. At least his disappearance releases his wife, Affery, from bondage to an irascible brute.

Relevant Illustrations, 1857 through 1867

Left: Sol Eytinge, Jr.'s dual character study of the comfortably middle-class couple, Mr. and Mrs. Meagles (1867). Right: Sol Eytinge, Junior's dual character study of Harriet Meagles and her peculiar protector, Miss Wade and Tattycoram (1867). [Click on the images to enlarge them.]

Above: Phiz's original group study involving Mr. Meagles, Miss Wade, Arthur Clennam, and Tattycoram (extreme right), Five-and-Twenty (July 1856, Part 8, I: 2). [Click on the image to enlarge it.]


Dickens, Charles. Little Dorrit. Illustrated by Hablot Knight Browne ("Phiz"). The Authentic Edition. London: Chapman and Hall, 1901 [rpt. of the 1868 volume, based on the 30 May 1857 volume].

Dickens, Charles. Little Dorrit. Frontispieces by Felix Octavius Carr Darley and Sir John Gilbert. The Household Edition. 55 vols. New York: Sheldon & Co., 1863. 4 vols.

Dickens, Charles. Little Dorrit. Illustrated by Sol Eytinge, Jr. The Diamond Edition. Boston: Ticknor & Fields, 1867. 14 vols.

Dickens, Charles. Little Dorrit. Illustrated by James Mahoney. The Household Edition. 22 vols. London: Chapman and Hall, 1873. Vol. 5.

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Lester, Valerie Browne. Ch. 12, "Work, Work, Work." Phiz: The Man Who Drew Dickens. London: Chatto and Windus, 2004. Pp. 128-160.

"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.

Schlicke, Paul, ed. The Oxford Reader's Companion to Dickens. Oxford and New York: Oxford U. P., 1999.

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Last modified 19 June 2016