Monks and the Jew
George Cruikshank, 1792-1878
Part 15, June 1838
Etching on steel
Fifteenth monthly illustration, The Adventures of Oliver Twist; or, The Parish Boy's Progress
After the botched robbery, Oliver finds an adopted family in the Maylies, the owners of the substantial house near Chertsey, Surrey, which Sikes had intended to rob. Fully recovered, Oliver is aware of — or imagines — the presence of the criminal mastermind, Fagin, and an accomplice or co-malefactor, the shadowy figure introduced as "Monks," at his very window.
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Oliver knew, perfectly well, that he was in his own little room; that his books were lying on the table before him; that the sweet air was stirring among the creeping plants outside. And yet he was asleep. Suddenly, the scene changed; the air became close and confined; and he thought, with a glow of terror, that he was in the Jew's house again. There sat the hideous old man, in his accustomed corner, pointing at him, and whispering to another man, with his face averted, who sat beside him.
"Hush, my dear!" he thought he heard the Jew say; "it is he, sure enough. Come away."
"He!" the other man seemed to answer; "could I mistake him, think you? If a crowd of ghosts were to put themselves into his exact shape, and he stood amongst them, there is something that would tell me how to point him out. If you buried him fifty feet deep, and took me across his grave, I fancy I should know, if there wasn't a mark above it, that he lay buried there?
The man seemed to say this, with such dreadful hatred, that Oliver awoke with the fear, and started up.
Good Heaven! what was that, which sent the blood tingling to his heart, and deprived him of his voice, and of power to move! There — there — at the window; close before him; so close, that he could have almost touched him before he started back: with his eyes peering into the room, and meeting his: there stood the Jew! And beside him, white with rage or fear, or both, were the scowling features of the man who had accosted him in the inn-yard.
It was but an instant, a glance, a flash, before his eyes; and they were gone. But they had recognised him, and he them; and their look was as firmly impressed upon his memory, as if it had been deeply carved in stone, and set before him from his birth. He stood transfixed for a moment; then, leaping from the window into the garden, called loudly for help. [Chapter 34, "Contains Some Introductory Particulars Relative to a Young Gentleman Who now Arrives Upon the Scene; and a New Adventure which Happened to Oliver," p. 192]
Commentary: Maintaining Monks's Air of Mystery
The arrival of the shadowy figure of "Monks," the alias of Edward Leeford, Oliver's half-brother, transforms the narrative from a Newgate Novel and a bildungsroman to a mystery. Now the narrative begins to reveal Fagin's true motives in training the boy to become a thief, for Oliver will either vanish from iddle-class eyes into the murky criminal underworld of London, or be incarcerated, or transported — or executed as a felon, and therefore never realise that he is the legitimate heir of Edwin Leeford. This shadowy figure of the evil, plotting half-brother who covets Oliver's portion of the patrimony — a Cain to Oliver's Abel — is the subject of Sol Eytinge, Junior's character study Monks in the 1867 Diamond Edition of the novel. Whereas most Eytinge studies are of a pair of associated characters, here the American illustrator, well aware (as Cruikshank perhaps was not) of Monks's importance to the plot, shows the melodramatic villain by himself, alienated, brooding, and malevolent, the child of privilege who considers nobody's welfare but his own. The cape in which the various illustrators clothe him is the outward and visible sign of his attempt to act in secret, so that he acts with his criminal associates under an assumed identity. His manner and speech, however, betray his true background. His association with Fagin in Cruikshank's illustration shows that he is prepared to violate the barriers of class and propriety in order to advance his fortunes, even at the cost of Oliver's life. Eytinge, like Cruikshank, depicts the venomous older brother as "a tall man wrapped in a cloak" (Ch. 34, p. 142), his height consistently exaggerated by his hat.
In the Household Edition illustrator James Mahoney focusses much earlier part in the narrative-pictorial sequence. In Chapter 34, in which Dickens re-introduces the "gentleman" with the vicious streak, the illustrator does not realize the highly dramatic moment in which the stranger in the marketplace curses Olive when the boy goes to the market-town to mail a letter to the Maylies' physician, Mr. Losberne, about Rose's deteriorating health. At The George Inn, where Oliver has just posted the letter, he encounters the peculiar stranger, who swears at him, then inexplicably falls to the ground in the throes of an epileptic seizure, "writhing and foaming" (Household Edition, ch. 34, p. 121). Although the illustration is not of Monks at all, but of Giles's post-chaise in the following chapter, its placement adjacent to the textual description of the peculiar encounter draws the reader's attention to the textual description of the stranger and signals his reappearance as important to the plot. In fact, Mahoney has depicted Monks and Fagin earlier, in 'Fagin!' whispered a voice close to his ear, even an astute reader might not connect the mysterious figure in the cloak and top-hat in Chapter 26 ("In which a Mysterious Character Appears upon the Scene; and Many Things, Inseparable from This History, are Done and Performed") from the dismal alley near the intersection of Snow Hill and Holborn with the angry stranger in the marketplace. In the original serialisation, Monks appears briefly in the Twelfth Part (March 1838), and not again until Part Fifteen (June 1838), so that the serial reader of 1838 may well have lost track of Monks by this point. In the 1846 wrapper, Monks may be the cloaked figure falling down the stairs with Fagin's gang, although the vignette in the upper-right corner would appear to be symbolic rather than a realisation of an actual incident. Cruikshank depicts one further time, in the famous scene in which Monks compacts with the Bumbles to destroy the evidence of Oliver's legitimacy when he flushes the ring, locket, and papers down a shaft leading to the river in Part Seventeen (August 1838), The Evidence Destroyed.
Whereas Cruikshank permits the reader to see the face of Oliver's persecutor clearly in the scene in Chapter 34, Mahoney maintains him as an unknown simply by not showing him again, not realizing the crucial scene in which Monks and the Bumbles destroy the evidence of Oliver's legitimacy in Chapter 38. Instead, inexplicably, Mahoney chooses to realize the far less dramatic moment, when in Chapter 37 Monks approaches Bumble, "Were you looking for me," he said, "when you peered in at the window?". Again, as with the scene at the garden window in Chapter 34, perhaps Mahoney was reluctant to attempt a scene so ably handled by Dickens's original illustrator.
In consequence, Mahoney's depictions of Monks fail to suggest his haggard visage and sinister intentions towards Oliver. He is simply not sufficiently inscrutable and enigmatic. Fortunately for readers of the 1910 Charles Dickens Library Edition, Harry Furniss possessed no such scruples, as he foregrounds the sleeping Oliver in Monks and Fagin watching Oliver asleep, a plate positioned ahead of the actual visitation by Fagin and his confederate, who is but indistinctly seen because Furniss has situated Monks in the left-hand margin, thereby cutting off his face and minimizing his figure. The complex pattern of Oliver's chair, reinforcing the diamond panes of the window, imply that the boy is unwittingly caught in a web fashioned by the pair of spiders lurking at his window. To maintain the air of mystery surrounding Monks Furniss does not give the reader a sense of the man's face, characterizing him solely by his shiny black cape and hat, and by his emphatic downward gesture in The Evidence Destroyed, which contrasts the inscrutable visage of the gentleman with the terrified faces of the Bumbles. Afterward, the illustrators appear not to have been interested in the fate of Edward Leeford, who is forced to leave England and, in accordance with Victorian poetic justice, dies in an American prison.
Cruikshank depicts Monks just twice in his sequence of twenty-four monthly illustrations, and not at all in the eleven vignettes in the monthly wrapper for 1846, as if he realized that the character is more effective if largely a textual rather than a visual entity. Cruikshank does not make Monks a convincingly diabolical force as his expression is curious rather than malignant, his face clean-shaven and hardly swarthy — even his hat is not remarkable, whereas Fagin's intense gaze at the sleeper draws the viewer's attention away from Monks. Although Oliver's posture is consistent with his having fallen asleep during the course of his studies, in proportion and countenance he does not seem very childlike. The only telling detail, in fact, is the vase of flowers on the window-sill, suggestive of Oliver's searching for flowers with Harry Maylie in order to brighten Rose's sickroom.
Illustrations from the serial edition (1837-39), Diamond Edition (1867), Household Edition (1871), and Charles Dickens Library Edition (1910)
Left: James Mahoney's Household Edition illustration (1871) "'Fagin!' whispered a voice close to his ear". Right: James Mahoney's "Were you looking for me," he said, "when you peered in at the window?" [Click on images to enlarge them.]
Left: Sol Eytinge, Junior's "Monks". Middle: Harry Furniss's "Monks and Fagin watching Oliver asleep" (1910). Right: Harry Furniss's "The Evidence destroyed" (1910). [Click on images to enlarge them.]
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Last modified 14 September 2014