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Wrapper design — Phiz's monthly cover illustration for the nineteen serial instalments of Dickens's Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit (1843-44). Wood engraving, 17.7 cm high x 10.7 cm wide, framed. Left: Cover for monthly part No. IX (September 1843). Right: Colour reproduction of the wrapper design from the Dickens House Museum, facing title-page in Clarendon edition of Martin Chuzzlewit (1982).

Scanned image, colour correction, sizing, caption, and commentary 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 in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one.] Click on the image to enlarge it.

Text embedded in the Design

No. IV
Price 1s.
The Life and Adventures
His Relatives, Friends, and Enemies.
All His Wills and His Ways.
With an Historical Record of what he did
and what he didn't
Shewing moreover
Who inherited the family plate, who came in for the silver spoons,
and who came in for the wooden ladles.
The whole forming a complete key to the
House of Chuzzlewit.
Edited by Boz.
with illustrations by "Phiz."
April 1843.

  • "Taking The Wrappers Off" — A Brief Overview of the Covers for the Monthly Serials Published by Charles Dickens, April 1836 to September 1870
  • Commentary: The Allegorical Wrapper

    Good fortune attends the child born to the left-hand frame, whereas misery and want dog the child whose birth is presided over by the creature bearing the massive wooden spoon (upper right). Michael Steig (1978) describes the symmetrical design in considerable depth, explaining the textual meaning of Phiz's iconography:

    The wrapper itself is allegorical, and in some ways typical of Browne's covers for Dickens and other novelists. Like that of Nicholas Nickleby it presents a dichotomy between good and bad fortune, on left and right sides of the design; but it goes further toward establishing the notion of a progress by carrying through a cycle from birth to death. Thus, born in wretchedness, one dies in obscurity (right side); born in luxury, one dies honored (left side). Browne seems to have taken some of his imagery from the novel's full title, which includes a promise to reveal "Who Inherited the Family Plate, Who Came in for the Silver Spoons, and Who for the Wooden Ladles," since silver spoons decorate the footboard of the cradle of fortunate life, while a giant wooden ladle is thrust through the top of the impoverished cradle. Taken by itself without the complementary frontispiece, the wrapper expresses a view contrary to the underlying philosophy of the novel. The figure [probably Pecksniff] of a man in the shape of a top who is whipped and taunted by the Fates, as well as the implication that accidents of birth determine one's lot, suggest that fortune is entirely beyond one's control; the novel's thematic purpose, however, stresses the possibility of moral choice from whence one's ultimate condition emanates.

    Some of the same details are used in the frontispiece to correct the cynicism of the wrapper and to bring the allegory into line with the explicit moral vision of the novel. The wrapper shows the generalized symbols of cup-and-ball toys: good fortune represented by a smiling ball (which will land in its cup), a bird of paradise, and roses; bad fortune by thorns, an owl sitting on a gibbet, and a suffering ball about to be impaled upon the handle [62/63] of its inverted cup. In the frontispiece, some of these symbols are altered: the hand which held the fortunate cup is revealed as belonging to a beautiful female who supports Tom Pinch's head upon a rose-garlanded cup, while the other hand belongs to a disgusting harpy who impales Pecksniff's head upon a thorn entwined shaft. The comic Fates of the wrapper also show up again as hooded females besetting Jonas. On the whole, the parallels between frontispiece and wrapper create continuity: promises are made in general terms at the beginning, fulfilled in the text and plates throughout, and given a final summation and resolution in the frontispiece. [pp. 63-64]

    Jane Rabb Cohen in Charles Dickens and His Original Illustrators offers a rather more succinct evaluation of the monthly wrapper, whose design serial readers would have studied on at least nineteen separate occasions as they purchased the monthly parts. She notes that, in returning to the monthly format of part-publication, Phiz once again employs "eye-catching grotesques" (84) throughout the narrative-pictorial series, but in a highly organised rather than a random manner to support the novel's themes. He has used these grotesques as the chief vehicle for the wrapper's visual symbolism of the contrasting fortunes of one born to privilege and another to poverty:

    Instead of the usual narrative vignettes or melange of eye-caching grotesques, he visually constructs, as Dickens does verbally, a scheme of Fortune based on simple but universal symbolic contrasts, as [John] Butt and [Kathleen] Tillotson have observed: roses are set against thorns, dreams against nightmares, "silver spoons" against "wooden ladles" of the subtitle, and vain peacocks against wise owls. Browne keeps the wrapper in mind throughout Martin Chuzzlewit. For example, as Steig has noted, in his complex frontispiece — which comes first in the bound edition but is executed last in serial publication — the roses and thorns appear again, indicating symbolically the respective fates of Pinch and Pecksniff. [pp. 84-85]

    Alan Dilnot has remarked that the monthly wrapper is rather general and unfocussed, in contrast to the highly specific frontispiece, in which Tom Pinch (as in the final page of the novel) conjures up imges of the story's various characters as he plays the organ. The frontispiece, however, is both prospective and retrospective, whereas the wrapper should prepare the reader for the fortunes of two contrasting Chuzzlewits:

    Scanning from the top we may infer that somebody will be born and somebody else may fall ill; there will be sunny days and blossoms for some people, and dark days and thorns for others; there will be egotistical vanity (bottom left-hand corner) and tight-fisted cupidity (bottom right-hand corner), as well as condign punishment for a corpulent unidentifiable someone in-between. The actual title is positively misleading: "The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit, His Relatives, Friends, and Enemies. Comprising all his wills and his ways; with an historical record of what he did, and what he didn't; showing moreover, who inherited the family plate, who came in for the silver spoons, and who for the wooden ladles. The whole forming a key to the house of Chuzzlewit." The last clause certainly is in keeping with the genealogical satire of chapter one, and old Martin Chuzzlewit is making and destroying a will when we first encounter him, while the Chuzzlewit clan is gathering in the hope of picking up something from his property. [Dilnot 17]

    Related Materials: Later Illustrations


    Cohen, Jane Rabb. Charles Dickens and His Original Illustrators. Columbus: Ohio State U. P., 1980.

    Dickens, Charles. The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit. Illustrated by Phiz (Hablot Knight Browne). London: Chapman and Hall, 1844.

    _____. The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit. Edited by Andrew Lang. Illustrated by Phiz (Hablot Knight Browne). The Gadshill Edition: 34 volumes. London: Chapman and Hall; New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1897. 2 vols.

    _____. The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit. Edited by Margaret Cardwell. Illustrated by Phiz (Hablot Knight Browne). The Clarendon Edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982.

    Dilnot, Alan. "Artistic Expression." The Dickens Magazine: Martin Chuzzlewit. 5.3 (Feb., 2009): 17-19.

    Lester, Valerie Browne. Phiz: The Man Who Drew Dickens. London: Chatto and Windus, 2004.

    Monod, Sylvère. "External and Additional Material." Martin Chuzzlewit. London: George Allen & Unwin, 1985. Pp. 173-185.

    Steig, Michael. "From Caricature to Progress: Master Humphrey's Clock and Martin Chuzzlewit." Ch. 3, Dickens and Phiz. Bloomington & London: Indiana U. P., 1978. Pp. 51-85. [See e-text in Victorian Web.]

    _____. "Martin Chuzzlewit's Progress by Dickens and Phiz." Dickens Studies Annual, 2 (1972): 119-149.

    Vann, J. Don. "Martin Chuzzlewit, twenty parts in nineteen monthly installments, January 1843 — July 1844." New York: Modern Language Association, 1985. Pp. 66-67.

    Last modified 22 April 2019