Making Off (facing p. 114) — Phiz's sixth illustration for Dickens's Little Dorrit, the ninth in the Authentic Edition, 1901. Steel engraving for Book One, Chapter 11 (originally Part 3: February 1856). 9.5 cm high x 16.2 cm wide. This atmospheric, "painterly" mezzotint depicts the escape of John Baptist (Giovanni Battiste) Cavalletto from his "patron," the evil confidence man and murderer Rigaud, whom he had met in the prison in Marseilles.

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

"Shaken out of destiny's dice-box again into your company, eh? By Heaven! So much the better for you. You'll profit by it. I shall need a long rest. Let me sleep in the morning."

John Baptist replied that he should sleep as long as he would, and wishing him a happy night, put out the candle. One might have Supposed that the next proceeding of the Italian would have been to undress; but he did exactly the reverse, and dressed himself from head to foot, saving his shoes. When he had so done, he lay down upon his bed with some of its coverings over him, and his coat still tied round his neck, to get through the night.

When he started up, the Godfather Break of Day was peeping at its namesake. He rose, took his shoes in his hand, turned the key in the door with great caution, and crept downstairs. Nothing was astir there but the smell of coffee, wine, tobacco, and syrups; and madame's little counter looked ghastly enough. But he had paid madame his little note at it over night, and wanted to see nobody — wanted nothing but to get on his shoes and his knapsack, open the door, and run away.

He prospered in his object. No movement or voice was heard when he opened the door; no wicked head tied up in a ragged handkerchief looked out of the upper window. When the sun had raised his full disc above the flat line of the horizon, and was striking fire out of the long muddy vista of paved road with its weary avenue of little trees, a black speck moved along the road and splashed among the flaming pools of rain-water, which black speck was John Baptist Cavalletto running away from his patron. — Book the First, "Poverty," Chapter 11, "Let Loose," p. 114-115.


In the original serial instalment, the pair of monthly illustrations appeared before the text itself, rather than against the particular pages realised, so that, to the serial reader, the chapter title "Let Loose" must have seemed at first to be referring to Rigaud, the criminal released for lack of evidence of his having murdered his wife. Smuggled out of the region by authorities concerned about mob violence, Rigaud is bitter about "society's" treatment of him, and privately to his former cell-mate, Giovanni Battiste, vows that he will be avenged. At this point, the monthly illustration Making Off, as the reader must have realised, refers not to Rigaud, entering rural Burgundy from Provence, but the fearful Italian. Only the textual context, then, makes the plate, realizing the final page of Chapter 11, fully intelligible.

While The Birds in the Cage depends on emergence of detail from darkness, the scene of John Baptist's flight from Rigaud, "Making off" (Bk 1, ch. 11), uses an elaborate pattern of light and (dark, from the haze-covered rising sun on the horizon over the town and the faint glinimer of the puddles along the muddy road, to the ominous lines of trees which seem to march toward the vanishing point and into utter darkness. The figure of John Baptist, who flees from the oppressive association with Rigaud now that they are out of prison, recalls Lady Dedlock in The Lonely Figure, or the woman on the bridge in The Night. [Steig, Ch. 6, p. 164]

The name of the river given in this passage at the beginning of the chapter, the Saone, gives the town its full name, "Chalon-sur-SaĆ“ne" in Burgundy. Against the flat horizon in Mahoney's illustration for this chapter, One man slowly moving on towards Chalons was the only visible figure in the landscape, the traveller (identifiable by his nutcracker visage rather than his ragged clothing) can already see "Chalons" (sic) in the distance, as darkness is coming on — a suitably dramatic visual complement to the highly descriptive text. Phiz's approach in the original serial was quite different: in a dark plate intended to realise the last page of the chapter, a solitary figure is running from the right towards the tree-lined avenue, left, with the village in the background. In this atmospheric scene, Phiz's focus is the apprehensions (as suggested by the looming avenue of leafless trees) of the other traveller, John Baptist Cavaletto, whose diminutive figure offers no particulars, but the general impression of haste.

Rigaud and John Baptist in other early editions, 1856 to 1910

Left: The initial frontispiece in the New York "Household Edition" volumes, Darley's engraving of the Marseilles cellmates, Feeding the Birds (1863). Centre: Sol Eytinge, Junior's study of the little smuggler and the wife-killer, Rigaud and Cavalletto. Right: The Harry Furniss characterisation of John Baptist's escaping the hotel room where Rigaud is sleeping, John Baptist runs away from his Patron (1910). [Click on images to enlarge them.]

Above:Mahoney's Household Edition for the head of the chapter, showing the determined Rigaud approaching Chalons, One man slowly moving on towards Chalons was the only visible figure in the landscape (1873). [Click on the image to enlarge it.]


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Last modified 3 May 2016