Hard Times, which appeared in American Household Edition, 1870. Page 197.by Charles S. Reinhart. 1870. 13.2 cm wide by 10.2 cm high (horizontally mounted, with text above and below on a page 24 cm high by 16.2 cm wide). This plate illustrates Book Two, Chapter Eleven, "Lower and Lower," in Charles Dickens's
Claw-like hand gripping the tree-trunk as she peers around it to spy on James Hartohouse's assignation with Louisa Bounderby, Mrs. Sparsit seems to repeat the witches of fairytales such as "Hansel and Gretel." Indeed, the accompanying text is narrated in the limited omniscient, from Mrs. Sparsit's perspective, so that we experience her joy and self-congratulation while Dickens ironically terms her "the amiable woman in ambuscade" (197). But in her moment of triumph (as proclaimed by the running head), rain begins to fall, preparing us for a thoroughly rain-soaked witch stripped of her powers over Bounderby.
Since the moment illustrated occurs just under the illustration, the reader encounters the plate, then waits with anticipation to encounter Mrs. Sparsit's "delight" at having caught the pair as lovers. As in the text, she has crept forward through the gloom of the woods, like Robinson Crusoe spying upon the savages, and drawn herself up behind a tree, but whereas the couple are "by the felled tree" with Harthouse's mount is "tied to the meadow side of the fence, within a few paces" (196), Reinhart suggests the horse only by Harthouse's riding habit and the open meadow by the light behind the couple, seated on a convenient bench of the illustrator's own invention. The "savage" here, ironically, would seem to be the witch-like Mrs. Sparsit rather the fashionably acoutered lovers, but Dickens's so designating Harthouse and Louisa may be a comment upon their discarding social convention (Louisa's being married) and giving in to their sexual instincts. Reinhart's blocking the composition as he has done compels us to regard the lovers from Mrs. Sparsit's perspective, as in the text, and to reflect upon what use she intends to make of her knowledge of the affair, as yet in its incipient stages and not consummated.
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.]
Last modified 22 September 2002