The Ferry (facing p. 174) — Phiz's tenth serial illustration for Dickens's Little Dorrit, Authentic Edition, 1901. Steel engraving for Book One, Chapter 17 (originally Part 5: April 1856). 9.5 cm high x 17 cm wide. This beautiful, "painterly" mezzotint introduces the reader to the indolent artist, Henry Gowan, who later marries Pet Meagles despite his snobbish objections to her middle-class parents. [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

Before breakfast in the morning, Arthur walked out to look about him. As the morning was fine and he had an hour on his hands, he crossed the river by the ferry, and strolled along a footpath through some meadows. When he came back to the towing-path, he found the ferry-boat on the opposite side, and a gentleman hailing it and waiting to be taken over.

This gentleman looked barely thirty. He was well dressed, of a sprightly and gay appearance, a well-knit figure, and a rich dark complexion. As Arthur came over the stile and down to the water's edge, the lounger glanced at him for a moment, and then resumed his occupation of idly tossing stones into the water with his foot. There was something in his way of spurning them out of their places with his heel, and getting them into the required position, that Clennam thought had an air of cruelty in it. Most of us have more or less frequently derived a similar impression from a man's manner of doing some very little thing: plucking a flower, clearing away an obstacle, or even destroying an insentient object.

The gentleman's thoughts were preoccupied, as his face showed, and he took no notice of a fine Newfoundland dog, who watched him attentively, and watched every stone too, in its turn, eager to spring into the river on receiving his master's sign. The ferry-boat came over, however, without his receiving any sign, and when it grounded his master took him by the collar and walked him into it. — Book the First, "Poverty," Chapter 17, "Nobody's Rival," p. 172-173.


In the original serial illustrations, in the fifth monthly number (April 1856), Phiz depicts a scene that is significant — the first meeting of Henry Gowan and Arthur Clennam in Chapter 17 (preparing the reader for the scene in Chapter 28 in which Clennam renounces all romantic thoughts of Pet Meagles by ritualistically tossing away the roses that Pet has given him). However, although the full-page illustration sets the rustic scene and establishes a tranquil mood, it does not effectively characterize Henry Gowan and suggest why Clennam takes an instant dislike to him.

Readers may be surprised . . . to find two pleasant landscapes included in Little Dorrit, 'Floating Away' and 'The Ferry'. The view of the ferry at Twickenham, just beyond Richmond Bridge, was one Phiz knew well, and he may even have prepared the sketch while visiting the kindly Moxons at The Lodge. These pictures are all the more surprising because they are found in what Paul Schlicke calls 'The most sombre and oppressive of Dickens's novels . . . organized around a pervasive central symbol of imprisonment.' [p. 339] It seems as though Phiz took the opportunity to let a little fresh air flow through the gloom. — Lester, Chapter 12, "Work, Work, Work," p. 157.

Even after the construction of the Richmond Bridge (1774-777), replacing the old ferry, the Twickenham Ferry (initiated in 1659) continued to make crossings of the Thames at the lower end of Eel Pie Island. This was the only river crossing in the parish above Richmond Bridge until the twentieth century. Many artists depicted this idyllic stretch of the Thames, including William Marlow, who, alongside Richard Wilson (1714-82), ranks as one of the foremost topographical landscapists of the 18th century. The current ferry was started by Walter Hammerton in 1908 and provides a crossing from Marble Hill Park to Ham House. The original ferry, as depicted by Phiz here, was a small boat capable of holding only a few passengers at a time.

The painterly engraving, a mezzotint, is visually pleasing as a romantic landscape; it fails, however, to advance the reader's understanding of either character, let alone prepare the reader for their adversarial relationship. Although the picturesque upper-Thames setting rather than the diminutive figures of the middle class travellers, Gowan and Clennam, is Phiz's primary interest, Hablot Knight Browne at least depicts Gowan's dog accurately, whereas, despite the intense focus on the indolent Gowan in Mahoney's illustration, the otherwise well realised dog is not a Newfoundland. Although both pictures are realisations of the same textual passage, in the April 1856 version Clennam is standing still, observing the man on the river bank, rather than stepping over a stile — and Gowan is not looking down, his lands in his pockets, but looking off towards the left, presumably to the ferry. And Phiz does not convey a sense of either Gowan's features or listless character here asMahoney does through a representative pose; rather, Phiz waits until the scene in Gowan's studio in Italy, Instinct Stronger than Training (Book 2, ch. 6), to describe the artist's temperament and person. In contrast, then, the fine dual character study of Henry Gowan in his studio, absorbed by his painting of Blandois and ignoring his bride of two months, Mr. and Mrs. Henry Gowan, is particularly informative, introducing the artist in an appropriate context.

Henry Gowan in the equivalent Household Edition illustration (1873)

Above: Mahoney's Household Edition illustration of the scene on the upper Thames in which Clennam comes upon a stranger waiting to cross the river, As Arthur Came over the stile and down to the water's edge, the lounger glanced at him for a moment, and then resumed his occupation of idly tossing stones into the water with his foot. (Book I, Ch. 17). [Click on the image to enlarge it.]


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Last modified 11 May 2016