Floating Away by Phiz (Hablot K. Browne). Sixteenth illustration for Charles Dickens's Little Dorrit, July 1856 (Part 8: Book One, 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

"Will you come in?" said Mr. Meagles, presently.

"In a little while."

Mr. Meagles fell away, and he was left alone. When he had walked on the river's brink in the peaceful moonlight for some half an hour, he put his hand in his breast and tenderly took out the handful of roses. Perhaps he put them to his heart, perhaps he put them to his lips, but certainly he bent down on the shore and gently launched them on the flowing river. Pale and unreal in the moonlight, the river floated them away.

The lights were bright within doors when he entered, and the faces on which they shone, his own face not excepted, were soon quietly cheerful. They talked of many subjects (his partner never had had such a ready store to draw upon for the beguiling of the time), and so to bed, and to sleep. While the flowers, pale and unreal in the moonlight, floated away upon the river; and thus do greater things that once were in our breasts, and near our hearts, flow from us to the eternal seas. — Book the First, "Poverty," Chapter 28, "Nobody's Disappearance."


This painterly second Phiz illustration for Part 8, Floating Away (July 1856), a dark plate, realizes the scene in which Arthur Clennam 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 news in Mahoney's Household Edition 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 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). 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 gesture with the roses suggests the termination for his hopes (vague as these have been) of marrying Minnie Meagles. This illustration is one of just eight mezzotints in the original sequence, and features machine ruling in its background. For a more realistic and less sentimental version of the scene between Minnie (Pet) Meagles and Arthur Clennam, see James Mahoney's wood-engraving for the same chapter in the 1873 Household Edition volume, Minnie was there, alone (Book One, Chapter 28, "Nobody's Disappearance").


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Last modified 11 May 2016