An Unexpected After-dinner Speech (facing p. 558) — Phiz's illustration for Dickens's Little Dorrit, Authentic Edition, 1901. Steel engraving for Book Two, Chapter 19 (originally in Part 16: March 1856). 10.2 cm high x 17.5 cm wide, vignetted. This distressing situation for Amy Dorrit occurs at Mr. Merdle's farewell party for the English expatriate community in Rome. So pivotal is this chapter in the second book that Phiz devotes two illustrations to it: here, William Dorrit's suddenly reverting to his persona as the Father of the Marshalsea signals his mental breakdown and foreshadows his death, which is the subject of Phiz's second illustration for Part 16, The Night. Commentary continued below. [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 Father of the Marshalsea, now the wealthy William Dorrit, traveller through the Alps] looked confusedly about him, and, becoming conscious of the number of faces by which he was surrounded, addressed them:

"Ladies and gentlemen, the duty — ha — devolves upon me of — hum — welcoming you to the Marshalsea! Welcome to the Marshalsea! The space is — ha — limited — limited — the parade might be wider; but you will find it apparently grow larger after a time — a time, ladies and gentlemen — and the air is, all things considered, very good. It blows over the — ha — Surrey hills. Blows over the Surrey hills. This is the Snuggery. Hum. Supported by a small subscription of the — ha — Collegiate body. In return for which — hot water — general kitchen — and little domestic advantages. Those who are habituated to the — ha — Marshalsea, are pleased to call me its father. I am accustomed to be complimented by strangers as the — ha — Father of the Marshalsea. Certainly, if years of residence may establish a claim to so — ha — honourable a title, I may accept the hum — conferred distinction. My child, ladies and gentlemen. My daughter. Born here!"

She was not ashamed of it, or ashamed of him. She was pale and frightened; but she had no other care than to soothe him and get him away, for his own dear sake. She was between him and the wondering faces, turned round upon his breast with her own face raised to his. He held her clasped in his left arm, and between whiles her low voice was heard tenderly imploring him to go away with her. — Book The Second, "Riches," Chapter 19, "The Storming of the Castle in the Air," p. 557-558.


This text accomplishes here what the illustration by itself cannot: the utter dismay of Amy Dorrit as she struggles to apprehend what is happening to her father. The majority of the assembly do not recognise what is happening, for William Dorrit speech about the Marshalsea is inexplicable to Mr. Merdle's well-wishers.

Relevant Illustrations of the Dorrits from Other Editions, 1863-1910

Left: Sol Eytinge, Junior's study in contrasts, the self-important Father of the Marshalsea and his sensitive daughter, Little Dorrit and Her Father. Centre: F. O. C. Darley's frontispiece for the second volume of the Sheldon & Co. "Household" Edition, Joyful Tidings — Book I, Ch. XXXV. Right: Harry Furniss's interpretation of William Dorrit's mental collapse at the grand dinner, Mr. Dorrit Forgets Himself. [Click on the images to enlarge them.]

James Mahoney's 1873‚Äč composite woodblock-engraving of Frederick Dorrit, lying dead upon his brother William's death-bed in Book 2, Chapter 19, The two brothers were before their Father. [Click on the image to enlarge it.]


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Last modified 12 May 2016