Miss Wardle and Her Nieces
Wood engraving, approximately 10 cm high by 7.5 cm wide (framed), facing p. 56
Illustration for Dickens's The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club in the Ticknor and Fields (Boston, 1867) Diamond Edition.
In this second full-page character study for the last novel in the compact American publication, Eytinge contrasts the pretty "twenty-something" nieces — Isabella and Emily Wardle — and their somewhat sour aunt, the wealthy spinster Miss Rachael Wardle, of Manor Farm, Dingley Dell, some fifteen miles from Rochester, Kent.
Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham.
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We are still supposedly in May 1827, although some time after the inaugural meeting of the Club. Venturing out into the county of Kent, still largely agricultural in nature at the time, Pickwick has taken up Mr. Wardle's invitation to visit Manor Farm. Over a game of whist Wardle introduces the Pickwickians to the ladies, and Mr. Tupman pays assiduous attention to the spinster aunt, Miss Rachael, who brightens up considerably when she believes that she is the subject of romantic interest. As is typical of Eytinge's style in the other Diamond Edition illustrations, there is no particular "moment" realised and no informing background details in the illustration (whereas, invariably, the original Phiz plates give clear indications as to the passage captured visually), although we encounter the spinster in chapter 6, "An Old-Fashioned Card Party":
Meanwhile the round game proceeded right merrily. Isabella Wardle and Mr. Trundle "went partners," and Emily Wardle and Mr. Snodgrass did the same; and even Mr. Tupman and the spinster aunt established a joint-stock company of fish and flattery. Old Mr. Wardle was in the very height of his jollity; and he was so funny in his management of the board, and the old ladies were so sharp after their winnings, that the whole table was in a perpetual roar of merriment and laughter. There was one old lady who always had about half a dozen cards to pay for, at which everybody laughed, regularly every round; and when the old lady looked cross at having to pay, they laughed louder than ever; on which the old lady's face gradually brightened up, till at last she laughed louder than any of them, Then, when the spinster aunt got "matrimony," the young ladies laughed afresh, and the spinster aunt seemed disposed to be pettish; till, feeling Mr. Tupman squeezing her hand under the table, she brightened up too, and looked rather knowing, as if matrimony in reality were not quite so far off as some people thought for; whereupon everybody laughed again, and especially old Mr. Wardle, who enjoyed a joke as much as the youngest. [Ch. 6, p. 56]
Thus, Sol Eytinge, Jr., has chosen to interpret his material in a way very different from that of Dickens's original illustrators — Seymour and Phiz — in that he has elected to foreground the spinster aunt, whose inclination to credit the romantic protestations of confidence man Alfred Jingle leads to plot complications reflected in "The Breakdown" (plate) from the July 1836 serial instalment. However, whereas Miss Rachael Wardle is merely a face in the back of Jingle's rented chaise on the horizon in that earlier steel engraving, in Eytinge's 1867 wood-cut we get something of a psychological portrait. Although the nieces look rather like the other young women in Eytinge's Diamond Edition illustrations, Miss Rachael Wardle is distinguished by her hauteur, her erect carriage and stern features, which her hair-style (never specified in the text) serves to accentuate. The illustrator, perhaps through familiarity with the conventions of Victorian acting, communicates her antagonistic attitude through her "closed" disposition of her arms.
In one of Phiz's first illustrations for the novel, "The Fat Boy Awake Again" (plate) from the June 1836 serial instalment, Miss Wardle appears as a startled, middle-aged woman. Phiz does not particularise her since his focus is The awkward situation created by the unexpected intrusion of the Fat Boy, Joe, into Mr. Tupman's romantic overtures to the spinster. She appears again as one of the many concerned members of Mr. Wardle's household in the drunken homecoming of the cricketers and their fans in "Wardle and his Friends Under the Influence of the Salmon" (plate) (again, in the June 1836 instalment) on the arm of Mr. Tupman (centre, rear), but clearly she was not of much interest to Phiz. Eytinge has used her coiffure in the Phiz illustrations, but has added a sense of the "spinster aunt" as a real person with a definite attitude towards youth and matrimony, both of which to her chagrin have passed her by.
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Last modified 2 February 2012