Phiz (Halbot K. Browne)
Dickens's David Copperfield, ch. 3
Source: Centenary Edition, facing frontispiece
Image scan 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.]
Illustration for Charles Dickens's David Copperfield, fourth plate for November 1850 double-number (i. e., nineteenth monthly part). Steel etching. Source: Centenary Edition (1911), volume one, facing frontispiece. All forty Phiz plates were etched in duplicate, as was the case with Dombey and Son, the duplicates differing only slightly from the originals. Phiz contributed forty etchings and the "lie of every man" wrapper design. Image scan 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. ]
The title-page prepares us for the sexless, "pure" relationship between David and Little Em'ly as children, when they lived together in the Peggottys' boathouse and played innocently together on the Yarmouth sands nearby. Already, however, Em'ly seems seized by a delicate melancholy, as if she is already confronting the fact that she will never realize her dream of leaping from the working to the leisure class and becoming a lady. Certainly the original serial reader might have placed that construction on this illustration since it accompanied the last double-number of the novel in 1850 rather than the first of May 1849. The scene realized actually occurs in instalment one, chapter three, "I Observe," a perspective which may explain why Phiz has elected to isolate Little Em'ly rather than showing her playing with David some time after their initial meeting in the third chapter:
Little Em'ly had stopped and looked up at the sky in her enumeration of these articles [imported, elegant items of clothing that, were she a "lady," she would give her doting uncle, Daniel Peggotty], as if they were a glorious vision." (Centenary Edition, vol. 1, p. 42)
In the background once again is the inverted boathouse whose exterior appears "Mrs. Gummidge casts a damp on our departure" (instalment four). J. A. Hammerton in his 1904 preface to section XVII notes that
Dickens never mentions that the boat is inverted, and the text might even lead to the supposition that it stood upright on its keel, being left "high and dry" as though washed ashore. (339)
Shortly after the book appeared in volume form, painter R. H. Nibbs exhibited a picture entitled "Peggotty's Hut" at the Royal Academy, and Staniland showed a similarly inverted boat in his painting "Barkis is willin'." The illustration points out the threats to this idyllic way of life in the, off-shore stiff wind suggested by the smoke from the boathouse's chimney and the vigorous breakers (left of centre), both of which reify the conversation between the children about the perils of the sea and "her drowned relations" (42). The alienation of the child reinforces her status of dependant and orphan, and the fishing gear (exemplified in the illustration by the lobster trap beside Em'ly) asserts her working-class upbringing. However, Dickens's Wordsworthian belief in the essential nobility of those brought up in close association with Nature is reflected in the artist's making the contemplative orphan child the subject of his character study. David Copperfield may be the titular character, as the title-page announces, but the foregrounded image of Little Em'ly strongly implies that this will very much be her story, too. She is both a product of her natural and social environment, and something more: an imaginative, yearning, and doomed being whose early chances for happiness are blighted by her own social discontent and aspirations as much as by the sexual exploitation of the scion of the privileged classes, James Steerforth.
Cohen, Jane Rabb. Dickens and His Original Illustrators. Columbus, Ohio: Ohio U. P., 1980.
Dickens, Charles. David Copperfield, il. Hablot Knight Browne ("Phiz"). The Centenary Edition. London and New York: Chapman & Hall, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1911.
Hammerton, J. A. The Dickens Picture-Book. London: Educational Book Co. .
Steig, Michael. Dickens and Phiz. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana U. P., 1973.
Last modified 4 November 2009