Mary and The Fat Boy
Phiz (Hablot K. Browne)
Dickens's Pickwick Papers
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Although Shakespeare in Twelfth Night described music as "the food of love," in this illustration of Wardle's chubby, omnivorous page (denominated the "Fat Boy") and the charming maid Mary, the food of love is apparently . . . food. That the Fat Boy should suddenly make an amorous advance upon the fetching maid may be another result of his suffering from Kleine-Levin syndrome (Guiliano and Collins 508), an interpretation supported by Dickens's alluding to Joe in chapter 8 as "the infant Lambert," for Daniel Lambert at his death 1809 weighed 739 lbs. Previously seen in one of Phiz's earliest plates for the novel, "The Fat Boy Awake Again" (ch. 8), the chubby servant is now the focus of an illustration as the power of sexual attraction overwhelms his gormandising. Thus, Phiz extends the reader's sympathy to a character formerly a mere stereotype, and makes him worthy of the reader's interest as the writer pulls together the multiple and various threads of the extremely loose picaresque plot.
'He understands us, I see," said Arabella. 'He had better have something to eat, immediately," remarked Emily.
The fat boy almost laughed again when he heard this suggestion. Mary, after a little more whispering, tripped forth from the group, and said:
"I am going to dine with you to-day, sir, if you have no objection."
"This way," said the fat boy eagerly. "There is such a jolly meat-pie!"
With these words, the fat boy led the way downstairs; his pretty companion captivating all the waiters and angering all the chambermaids as she followed him to the eating-room.
There was the meat-pie of which the youth had spoken so feelingly, and there were, moreover, a steak, and a dish of potatoes, and a pot of porter.
"Sit down," said the fat boy. "Oh, my eye, how prime! I am so hungry."
Having apostrophised his eye, in a species of rapture, five or six times, the youth took the head of the little table, and Mary seated herself at the bottom.
"Will you have some of this?" said the fat boy, plunging into the pie up to the very ferules of the knife and fork.
"A little, if you please," replied Mary.
The fat boy assisted Mary to a little, and himself to a great deal, and was just going to begin eating when he suddenly laid down his knife and fork, leaned forward in his chair, and letting his hands, with the knife and fork in them, fall on his knees, said, very slowly —
"I say! How nice you look!"
This was said in an admiring manner, and was, so far, gratifying; but still there was enough of the cannibal in the young gentleman's eyes to render the compliment a double one.
"Dear me, Joseph," said Mary, affecting to blush, "what do you mean?" [chapter 54]
The Fat Boy's libido seems to have been stimulated by the feast as he oggles the comely maid. In Phiz's illustration, the narcoleptic page is suddenly alert to wasp-waisted maid's charms, proof, perhaps, that opposites attract. Captivated by her demeanour as well as her slender form, Joe actually neglects the gigantic pie in the midst of the table, and is even oblivious to the enormous portion he has just cut himself. He does not even the notice the corpulent cook's carrying in a loaded platter (up centre), a detail not given in the text. Phiz's comment or implied visual comment on human nature is encapsulated in the corpulent lady who is providing yet more comestibles for the omnivorous servant: what she is, perhaps, in time ("col temp") Mary herself will become if she participates in satisfying Joe's appetites.
Moreover, Phiz has overturned Mary's chair so that its back points both towards the feast and the entranced Fat Boy. As she moves towards him, she raises her right hand in admonishment. Joe lowers his eating utensils in order to consume visually Mary's shapely beauty, a delicate contrast to his own corpulence.
Cohen, Jane Rabb. Charles Dickens and His Original Illustrators. Columbus: Ohio State U. P., 1980.
Davis, Paul. Charles Dickens A to Z: The Essential Reference to His Life and Work. New York: Facts On File and Checkmark Books, 1998.
Dickens, Charles. Pickwick Papers (1836-37). Il. Hablot Knight Browne. The Charles Dickens Edition. Boston: Ticknor & Fields, 1867.
Dickens, Charles. Pickwick Papers (1836-37). Il. Hablot Knight Browne. The Household Edition. London: Chapman and Hall, 1873.
Guiliano, Edward, and Philip Collins, eds. The Annotated Dickens. Vol. 1. New York: Clarkson N. Potter, 1986.
Hammerton, J. A. The Dickens Picture-Book. London: Educational Book Co., 1910.
Steig, Michael. Dickens and Phiz. Bloomington & London: Indiana U.P., 1978.
Last modified 15 January 2012