Little Dorrit, Household Edition, 1873. Wood-engraving by the Dalziels, 9.5 cm high by 13.6 cm wide, framed. [Click on the image to enlarge it.](See page 321), — Book II, chap. 17, Sixties' illustrator James Mahoney's forty-first illustration in the Chapman and Hall Household Edition volume of Charles Dickens's
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.]
Mrs. Clennam had her books open on her little table. "Oh!" said she abruptly, as she eyed her visitor with a steady look. "You are from Italy, sir, are you. Well?"
Mr. Dorrit was at a loss for any more distinct rejoinder at the moment than "Ha — well?"
"Where is this missing man? Have you come to give us information where he is? I hope you have?"
"So far from it, I — hum — have come to seek information."
"Unfortunately for us, there is none to be got here. Flintwinch, show the gentleman the handbill. Give him several to take away. Hold the light for him to read it."
Mr Flintwinch did as he was directed, and Mr. Dorrit read it through, as if he had not previously seen it; glad enough of the opportunity of collecting his presence of mind, which the air of the house and of the people in it had a little disturbed. While his eyes were on the paper, he felt that the eyes of Mr. Flintwinch and of Mrs. Clennam were on him. He found, when he looked up, that this sensation was not a fanciful one.
"Now you know as much," said Mrs. Clennam, "as we know, sir. Is Mr. Blandois a friend of yours?"
"No — a — hum — an acquaintance," answered Mr. Dorrit.
"You have no commission from him, perhaps?"
"I? Ha. Certainly not." — Book the Second, "Riches," Chapter 17, "Missing" p. 320-321.
Mahoney's illustration is accompanied by a much longer caption in the American Household Edition (New York: Harper and Brothers) — Phiz and James Mahoney, and the first great Dickens illustrator of the twentieth, Harry Furniss have all focussed on the same aspect of the plot of the seventeenth chapter of the second book, Mr. Dorrit's reception at Mrs. Clennam's during his brief stay in London.— Book 2, Chap. xvii. The chief illustrators of the book in the nineteenth century,
Having seen his daughter Fanny married to the simple-minded but well-meaning Edmund Sparkler in Venice while Mrs. Merdle is in Rome, a well-dressed, self-confident Mr. Dorrit, who now can describe himself as "A gentleman from Italy" and "a gentleman of property" (321), returns with Fanny and his new son-in-law to London to manage business affairs. In his interview with Flora earlier in the chapter at his hotel, Mr. Dorrit becomes somewhat apprehensive about his previous persona as "Father of the Marshalsea" being exposed to his new social connections.
While Edmund and Mrs. Sparkler settle into Mrs. Merdle's rooms in the London mansion while she is still in Italy, Mr. Dorrit decides to pursue information as to Rigaud's whereabouts. However, Mrs. Clennam, one of Rigaud's business associates, seems reluctant to impart any such information to Mr. Dorrit, who is naturally suspicious of the hard-headed businesswoman and her stoney confederate, the devious Jeremiah Flintwinch. In Mahoney's realisation of Mr. Dorrit's visit, the Sixties artist has assimilated the original steel-engraving's figures and redistributed them, and chosen an earlier moment in the interview. As yet, Mistress Affery (right rear) has not taken alarm at another peculiar noise in the walls of the old house. A less cartoon-like Flintwinch than Phiz's has just handed William Dorrit the hand-bill, which Dorrit now peruses by the light of a candle held aloft by Jeremiah. Mrs. Clennam is regarding him, meanwhile, with suspicion as she has been interrupted in her accounting. Of the three principals in the picture, Mr. Dorrit (the focal character, right of centre) is the only one whose face we cannot clearly discern, so that he remains little more than a distinctive voice from the accompanying text (which is, in fact, some seven pages later than the plate in the London edition), despite his fashionable attire, balding head, and monocle on a ribbon. Ironically, Mr. Dorrit feels that he has to buy time in order to judge the motives of this canny pair, and thus pretends to be reading the hand-bill for the first time, even though Flora Finching has already given him a copy of the hand-bill, which serves as his motivation to leave his hotel visit Mrs. Clennam in the first place. The picture, then, is a more realistic and less caricatural version of Phiz's Missing and Dreaming (originally in Part 15: February 1857), which has a much more comic Flintwinch and the highly apprehensive Affery that the reader has come to know.< Nothing, of course, comes of Dorrit's search for Blandois-Rigaud, and is therefore something of a red herring.
Pertinent illustrations in other early editions, 1863 to 1910
Left: Felix Octavius Carr Darley's frontispiece featuring Flintwinch, Mrs. Clennam, and Rigaud, Closing in (1863). Right: Harry Furniss's version of the same illustration, foregrounding Mrs. Clennam and Mr. Dorrit rather than placing them to one side, Mistress Affery's Alarm (1910). [Click on images to enlarge them.]
Above: Phiz's original serial illustration of the same scene, with Mr. Dorrit reading one of Mrs. Clennam's handbills as Affery takes alarm, Missing and Dreaming (February 1857). [Click on the image to enlarge it.]
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Last modified 17 May 2016