Mrs. Sparsit Advanced Closer To Them

"Mrs. Sparsit Advanced Closer To Them" by Harry French. Wood engraving. 1870s. 13.9 cm wide x 9.3 cm high. Illustration for Dickens's Hard Times for These Times in the British Household Edition. Not a direct quotation, p. 96. 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 in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one..]

In Plate 14, we return to the wood and the clearing filled with felled trees where Harthouse and Louisa customarily meet, but this time the informing consciousness is that of the jealous, spiteful Mrs. Sparsit. Watching Harthouse and Louisa as if she were Satan watching that happy couple in Milton's Paradise Lost (or, more pertinently given the modern fairytale quality of Hard Times, a witch or wolf stalking a pair of children lost in the forest), the bank harpy is the focus of Dickens's limited omniscient point of view in this scene. To realise this point of view visually, French has stationed her downstage centre and minimized the importance of the young couple by stationing them upstage left. Louisa is now in full mourning (as Victorian custom called for during the year after a parent's death) rather than the white or light colours she has worn up to this point in the narrative-pictorial sequence. Whereas the text supports Mrs. Sparsit's view that Harthouse and Louisa are "savages" because they are about to the transgress the commandment against adultery (if they have not already done so) and that she is the defender of civilised values ("like Robinson Crusoe in his abuscade"), the plate depicts them as apparently innocent--they are, after all, merely talking. In the text, Harthouse's violation of normal social constraints is suggested by his having avoided calling at the house first, instead making a direct approach on horseback through the fields. French does not indicate that Harthouse has made such an approach, for there is no horse "within a few paces" (II: 11) of the couple, and Harthouse is not wearing either riding habit or top-boots.

Last modified 17 April 2002