The Drunkard's Children. Folio page: 28.5 cm high by 41.6 cm wide (11.2 inches by 16.4 inches), framed. The etchings were reproduced by glyphography, "enabling the publisher [David Bogue, London] to sell the entire series for one shilling" (Vogler, p. 159). "This suite appeared in similar size and editions to that of The Bottle, but it was never reissued in smaller format" (Vogler, p. 161), except that throughout this sequel the majority of the scenes are not individually signed. [Click on the image to enlarge it.]— George Cruikshank. 1848. Final illustration in
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John Harvey's Analysis
The subject is the suicidal jump of the Drunkard's daughter into the Thames. The stone bridge fills our sight, and down its blind wall the girl is falling, a sharp white shape against the general grey; her dress streams up above her, and her coat-tails tug back, in the speed of her fall. Cramped up in the top right corner two figures show their alarm, but are tiny, dimmed, and she is far from their sympathetic horror as she could be. In the lower part of the picture, the wall opens backwards into the enormous cavernous underside of the bridge; this, I think, plays on our sense of death as a hollow dark cavern into which one falls. But the drawing of the arch is ambiguous. The lines across it run parallel, rather than converge, and it is so little darker in one place than another, that it effectively lies there on the paper as a flat shape. Its great curve is a key feature of the plate, drawing the eye, and imagination pushes it back as the underside of the bridge, but the drawing is ambiguous and so unstable, and if one looks at it for any length of time, it takes a life of its own, and now recedes, and now advances as a kind of black rainbow or shadowy wheel sweeping down, accelerating the girl's fall. Beneath the bridge is a cold moon obscured by smoky cloud, and along the bottom of the plate is a line of ship's masts, sharply sticking up like spikes. the powerful, simple, intense design uses an unexpected diversity of means, and the Temperance rhetoric transcends itself: one has only to consider what Cruikshank makes of Waterloo Bridge. For the Temperance melodrama, it is just the convenient property straddling the Thames from which the girl can dramatically drop. But it is drawn with an unexpected attentiveness, especially as to the massive regularity of its stones, and the regularity of the plain decorative pattern under the parapet. It calls attention to itself as something man-made and as something heartlessly colossal, hard and cold, with an implication about the world out of which the girl is falling. ["George Cruikshank: A Master of the Poetic Use of Line," p. 151]
Michael Steig's Analysis
The final plate . . . , which shows the suicide of the girl, takes the standard Cruikshankian stereotype of young womanhood and transforms it: the body of the girl, falling from the bridge, is not realistic, it is balletic, and takes on an almost abstract quality when considered together with the endless bridgeworks. This glyphograph embodies at once a vision of the helplessness of a human being before the impersonal forces of society — a vision expanded by Dickens and Phiz in Bleak House — as well as a deeper fantasy of the confused relations in the unconscious of sex and death. Degraded in her life, the girl takes on a kind of perfection of bodily form in death. And the whole painful subject is held in precarious balance by the fineness of the technique (despite the relative crudeness of glyphography as a method of graphic reproduction), the movement of the composition towards the abstract. ["George Cruikshank and the Grotesque: A Psychodynamic Approach," p. 210]
Thomas Hood's "The Bridge of Sighs" (May 1844)
In January 1844, Thomas Hood, a frequent contributor to Punch and other literary magazines, began publication of Hood's Monthly Magazine and Comic Miscellany. Despite strong sales, Hood ran into trouble with his publisher; however, his friends rallied around him to keep the publication afloat. In May, "The Bridge of Sighs," published in the new magazine, won Hood critical and popular acclaim for its empathy and insight into the jumper's state of mind. The poem may have influenced Dickens's writing his dream-vision Christmas Book, The Chimes: A Goblin Story of Some Bells That Rang An Old Year Out and a New Year In in the autumn of 1844.
Where the lamps quiver So far in the river, With many a light From window and casement, From garret to basement, She stood, with amazement, Houseless by night.
The bleak wind of March Made her tremble and shiver; But not the dark arch, Or the black flowing river: Mad from life's history, Glad to death's mystery, Swift to be hurl'd — Anywhere, anywhere Out of the world!
In she plunged boldly — No matter how coldly The rough river ran — Over the brink of it, Picture it — think of it, Dissolute Man! Lave in it, drink of it, Then, if you can! [lines 56-79]
Whether Cruikshank has set the suicide of the Drunkard's daughter against the backdrop of Waterloo Bridge (which opened in 1817) or New London Bridge (which opened in 1831) is not particularly pertinent, as the Thames generally was the prime vehicle for would-be suicides. Clearly Cruikshank wished to use as an aspect of the backdrop the masts of ocean-going vessels to establish the geographical and commercial context of the illustration. The suicides of prostitutes were common place at the time. In David Copperfield, for example, Martha Endel seems to be considering drowning herself at Millbank Pond, and Meg in Trotty's nightmarish vision in Dickens's The Chimes (1844) likewise considers doing away with herself and her infant in the river. Several modern bridges over the Thames match the configuration of the wide-spanned bridge with a parapet in the Cruikshank illustration. Although actual female suicides may have inspired Cruikshank's climatic plate in The Drunkard's Children, that he employs a bridge with parapets and wide arches beyond which the viewer sees the masts of sailing ships does imply some connection between a then-famous poem published four years earlier and this final, terrifying scene. In 1844 Thomas Hood published "The Bridge of Sighs," in which he focuses on the suicide of a prostitute or unwed servant-girl on Waterloo Bridge. (This ironic poem, which insists upon the girl's humanity rather than her degradation, was the subject of Pre-Raphaelite illustrations by William James Grant and G. F. Watts, as well as by John Everett Millais.) Another bridge which one might identify as one of the possible candidates is that at Westminster, a setting which William Wordsworth utilised in the sonnet "Lines Composed Upon Westminster Bridge" (1802). This structure was almost a century old when Cruikshank composed the final illustration of The Drunkard's Children since it had opened on 18 November 1750. The City of London had then commenced work just upriver from St. Paul's Cathedral on Blackfriars Bridge, which had opened in 1769. Other bridges from that time that may have served as models for the Cruikshank backdrop include Kew Bridge (1759), and Richmond Bridge (1777); however, as all of these are upriver of London, none of these is likely as being the bridge that Cruikshank depicted because the masts of ocean-going ships at the West India Docks downriver would not be present.
Pertinent Contemporary Illustrations of River Suicides
Left: Richard Doyle's description of Meggy Veck's envisioned suicide in the 1844 Christmas Book, The Chimes: Margaret and Her Child (December 1844). Right: Phiz's dark plate showing Martha Endell's standing on the shore, considering drowning herself, The River (David Copperfield, August 1850). [Click on the images to enlarge them.]
Related Materials on Thames Drownings and Fallen Women
- Suicidal Women: Fact Or Fiction?
- What Makes a Fallen Woman Fallen?
- Cases and Classes: Sensational Suicides and Their Interpreters
- Fallen Women in Victorian Art
- How did Dickens deal with prostitution in his novels? Little Em'ly in David Copperfield
- "Oh, the river!" she cried passionately. "Oh, the river!" (Fred Barnard)
- Meg at the River's Brink (Charles Green)
- "Looking over too, I saw, lying on the towing-path, with her face turned up toward us, a woman." (C. S. Reinhart)
- The River (Phiz)
- Margaret and her Child (Richard Doyle)
- The body was washed ashore, some miles down river, a swollen disfigured mass (Barnard)
Cohen, Jane Rabb. Part One, "Dickens and His Early Illustrators: 1. George Cruikshank. Charles Dickens and His Original Illustrators. Columbus: Ohio University Press, 1980. Pp. 15-38.
Harvey, John. "George Cruikshank: A Master of the Poetic Use of Line." George Cruikshank: A Revaluation. Ed. Robert Patten. Princeton: Princeton U. P., 1974, rpt. 1992.Pp. 129-156.
Hood, Thomas. "The Bridge of Sighs." (1844). The Favourite Poems of Thomas Hood. Illustrated by Gustave Doré. London: E. Moxon, 1872.
Kitton, Frederic G. "George Cruikshank." Dickens and His Illustrators. London: Chapman & Hall, 1899. Pp. 1-28.
Meisel, Martin. Chapter 7, "From Hogarth to Cruikshank." Realizations: Narrative, Pictorial, and Theatrical Arts in Nineteenth-Century England. Princeton: Princeton U. P., 1989. Pp. 97-141.
Mellby, Julie L. "More than 100,000 copies sold in the first few days." Graphic Arts: Exhibitions, acquisitions, and other highlights from the Graphic Arts Collection, Princeton University Library. Web. 13 April 2011. https://blogs.princeton.edu/graphicarts/2011/04/the_bottle.html
Steig, Michael. "George Cruikshank and the Grotesque: A Psychodynamic Approach." George Cruikshank: A Revaluation. Ed. Robert Patten. Princeton: Princeton U. P., 1974, rpt. 1992. Pp. 189-212.
Vogler, Richard A. Graphic Works of George Cruikshank. Dover Pictorial Archive Series. New York: Dover, 1979.
Last modified 27 August 2017