Mr. Pecksniff Makes Love
14.1 x 9.6 cm vignetted
Fifteenth illustration for The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit in the Charles Dickens Library Edition (1910), vol. 7, facing p. 481.
Dickens's description of the egotistical architect Seth Pecksniff attempting to woo young Martin's love interest, Mary Graham, is uproariously funny because Pecksniff honestly believes that a man of his parts must succeed in romancing a woman half his age, despite the obvious look of chagrin and disgust on Mary Graham's face. [Click on illustration to enlarge it.]
Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham.
[You may use these images without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the photographer and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one.]
"I am glad we met. I am very glad we met. I am able now to ease my bosom of a heavy load, and speak to you in confidence. Mary," said Mr. Pecksniff in his tenderest tones, indeed they were so very tender that he almost squeaked: "My soul! I love you!"
A fantastic thing, that maiden affectation! She made believe to shudder.
"I love you," said Mr Pecksniff, "my gentle life, with a devotion which is quite surprising, even to myself. I did suppose that the sensation was buried in the silent tomb of a lady, only second to you in qualities of the mind and form; but I find I am mistaken."
She tried to disengage her hand, but might as well have tried to free herself from the embrace of an affectionate boa-constrictor; if anything so wily may be brought into comparison with Pecksniff.
"Although I am a widower," said Mr Pecksniff, examining the rings upon her fingers, and tracing the course of one delicate blue vein with his fat thumb, "a widower with two daughters, still I am not encumbered, my love. One of them, as you know, is married. The other, by her own desire, but with a view, I will confess — why not? — to my altering my condition, is about to leave her father's house. I have a character, I hope. People are pleased to speak well of me, I think. My person and manner are not absolutely those of a monster, I trust. Ah! naughty Hand!" said Mr Pecksniff, apostrophizing the reluctant prize, "why did you take me prisoner? Go, go!"
He slapped the hand to punish it; but relenting, folded it in his waistcoat to comfort it again. — Chapter 30, "Proves That Changes May Be Rung in the Best-Regulated Families, and That Mr. Pecksniff was a Special Hand at a Triple-Bob-Major," p. 499.
Although Dickens's original illustrator, Hablot Knight Browne, depicted the hypocritical Pecksniff in a number of situations in which he dons the robe of disinterested virtue such as Mr. Pecksniff Announces Himself as the Shield of Virtue (April 1844, Chapter 43), readers in America had to wait until the Sheldon and Company Household Edition to see a graphic representation of Pecksniff's ill-conceived courtship of Mary Graham. Comparable as an image of sublime fatuousness is the Fred Barnard illustration in the Household Edition Rustling among last year's leaves, whose scent woke memory of the past, the placid Pecksniff strolled (1872).
In selecting their subjects for the four frontispieces for the four volumes in the American "Household Edition" started in the early 1860s, Felix Darley and John Gilbert had merely to consider the original forty monthly illustrations by Dickens's graphic collaborator, Phiz (Hablot Knight Browne). An additional source of excellent comic material in a more realistic manner that Harry Furniss would have found useful for possible models occurs in Fred Barnard's fifty-nine large-scale wood-engravings for the Anglo-American Household Edition of the 1870s. Certainly, the hypocritical, egotistical Seth Pecksniff affords many opportunities for the illustrator; among the most suitable incidents for character and situational comedy is the farcical marriage proposal which the decidedly unromantic (but thoroughly materialistic) Pecksniff makes to an obviously reluctant Mary Graham was an excellent choice for John Gilbert in Sheldon and Company "Household" Edition of the 1860s. The scene is ideal for illustration because of its inherent physical conflict and ironic humour: that Pecksniff could ever love anybody but himself is patent nonsense, and that an intelligent young woman would find him desirable as a husband absurd. Moreover, the arboreal setting gives the realist an opportunity to demonstrate his technical skill at depicting vegetation, the idyllic woodland setting serving to remind the reader of Mary's other lover, the devoted Martin, presently trapped in quite another sort of forest altogether.
In the third frontispiece for the 1863 American edition of the novel, one has less sense of the comic possibilities in the almost photographic image of Pecksniff improbably "making love" and proposing to Mary than one receives in Furniss's handling of precisely the same subject. However, although he is successful at conveying both Mary's fashion sense, beauty, and reluctance in Mr. Pecksniff's Courtship (1863), Gilbert does not rise to the comic possibilities that Dickens has offered him in Seth Pecksniff's sheer obtuseness, whereas Phiz, Barnard, and Furniss convey his hypocrisy and realise his comic possibilities. Although Gilbert's middle-aged professional man is self-assured, he is not funny, so that the reader delights more in the sheen of Mary's silk shawl than in Pecksniff's unconscious imitation of Satan as he accosted and attempted to seduce Eve to evil in Paradise.
Since The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit was a nineteen-month serialisation, a sprawling, transAtlantic narrative with a large cast of humorous characters, it was not especially well suited to Gilbert's sober and realistic style. However, with its caricatures directed at the exposure of folly and hypocrisy on two continents and in two societies, it was the ideal vehicle for the comic genius and Expressionistic style of Dickens's last great Victorian illustrator, Harry Furniss. His studies of Seth Pecksniff in particular reveal the hyperbolic character's fatuous, unctuous, and self-aggrandizing nature, whether he is posturing before the crowd at the laying of the foundation stone in chapter thirty-five, asserting his leadership of the Chuzzlewits in the fourth chapter, dismissing Tom Pinch in chapter thirty-one, or introducing his daughters to the recently arrived Young Martin in chapter five — in total, Furniss depicts the pious fraud seven times in twenty-nine illustrations in the Charles Dickens Library Edition. His most impressionistic and least detailed representation is Mr. Pecksniff Makes Love in chapter thirty. The sheer energy of Furniss's pen communicates a power beyond what mere detail alone can communicate, so that Mary's discomfort amounting distaste effectively complements the leering, jowled visage of Pecksniff, who gazes upon her diminutive figure like a boa-constrictor upon its prey. To reinforce Dickens's description of Pecksniff as such a snake, her agitated skirt and shawl and the tree branches above her, in their sinuous movements suggest her entrapment by just such a creature.
Relevant Serial Edition (1843), Diamond Edition (1867), Household Edition (1873), and Charles Dickens Library Edition (1910) Illustrations
Left: Hablot Knight Browne's Mr. Pecksniff Discharges a Duty Which He Owes Society (February 1843). Centre: Sol Eytinge, Jr.'s Old Martin and Mary (1867). Right: John Gilbert's polished Mr. Pecksniff's Courtship (1863). [Click on the images to enlarge them.]
Above: Fred Barnard's Rustling among last year's leaves, whose scent woke memory of the past, the placid Pecksniff strolled (1872). [Click on images to enlarge them.]
Bentley, Nicolas, Michael Slater, and Nina Burgis. The Dickens Index. New York and Oxford: Oxford U. P., 1990.
Dickens, Charles. The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit. Illustrated by Hablot Knight Browne. London: Chapman and Hall, 1844.
Dickens, Charles. Martin Chuzzlewit. Works of Charles Dickens. Household Edition. 55 vols. Illustrated by F. O. C. Darley and John Gilbert. New York: Sheldon and Co., 1863. Vols. 1 to 4.
Dickens, Charles. The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit. Illustrated by Sol Eytinge, Junior. The Diamond Edition. Boston: Ticknor and Fields, 1867.
Dickens, Charles. The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit. Illustrated by Fred Barnard. The Household Edition. 22 vols. London: Chapman and Hall, 1872. Vol. 2.
Dickens, Charles. Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit. Illustrated by Harry Furniss. The Charles Dickens Library Edition. 18 vols. London: Educational Book, 1910. Vol. 7.
Last modified 23 November 2015