"What did he then behold but his own metallurgical Louisa, peeping with all her might through a hole in a deal board" by Charles S. Reinhart. 1844-1896. 10.2 cm high by 13.3 cm wide (half-page, horizontally mounted). This uncaptioned wood engraving on p. 123 illustrates a passage on p. 127, in Book The First," "Sowing," Chapter Three, of Charles Dickens's Hard Times, as it appeared in American Household Edition, 1876. Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham [This image may be used for any scholarly or educational purpose without prior permission.]

Passage Realised

Thomas Gradgrind took no heed of these trivialities of course, but passed on as a practical man ought to pass on, either brushing the noisy insects from his thoughts, or consigning them to the House of Correction. But, the turning of the road took him by the back of the booth, and at the back of the booth a number of children were congregated in a number of stealthy attitudes, striving to peep in at the hidden glories of the place.

This brought him to a stop. "Now, to think of these vagabonds," said he, "attracting the young rabble from a model school."

A space of stunted grass and dry rubbish being between him and the young rabble, he took his eyeglass out of his waistcoat to look for any child he knew by name, and might order off. Phenomenon almost incredible though distinctly seen, what did he then behold but his own metallurgical Louisa, peeping with all her might through a hole in a deal board, and his own mathematical Thomas abasing himself on the ground to catch but a hoof of the graceful equestrian Tyrolean flower-act!

Dumb with amazement, Mr. Gradgrind crossed to the spot where his family was thus disgraced, laid his hand upon each erring child, and said:

"Louisa!! Thomas!!"

Both rose, red and disconcerted. But, Louisa looked at her father with more boldness than Thomas did. Indeed, Thomas did not look at him, but gave himself up to be taken home like a machine. [Book One, Chapter Three, "A Loop-hole," p. 127]

Commentary

Although the publisher, Harper and Brothers, has placed the second illustration immediately above the opening of the book, the moment illustrated comes in the third chapter, "A Loop-hole," when Thomas Gradgrind on his way home from his model school catches his two eldest children, Tom and Louisa, peeping "through a hole in a deal board" to watch the Tyrolean flower-act of the horse-riders. He has taken his eyeglass out of his waistcoat pocket to examine a number of children at the back of the booth, but Reinhart indicates just the two; as in the plate, in the text Louisa is standing and Tom is on the ground. In the background, Reinhart shows several circus wagons on the stubbly grass of "the neutral ground upon the outskirts of the town," and, on the horizon, the smoke-stacks of Coketown's satanic mills. Since, however, Gradgrind crosses the intervening ground to confront the malefactors in the text, one presumes he has already put his eyeglass back in his waistcoat pocket by the time we reach the moment Reinhart has chosen to depict. Furthermore, Louisa in Reinhart's picture seems a little younger than the pretty fifteen- or sixteen-year-old of the text — a not particularly fetching, in contrast to the Louisa whom Harry French has given the British reading public in the Chapman and Hall Household Edition.

While Tom and Louisa have both the natural curiosity and flexibility of youth, their father in his correct frockcoat, leather gloves, and top-hat (possibly a beaver) seems a wooden, black column — shades of Charlotte Brontë's description of the Reverend Mr. Brocklehurst as "a black pillar" in the Gateshead and Lowood sections of Jane Eyre (1847).

We are about to encounter a scene of submission and indoctrination in Coketown's schoolhouse in Chapter 2, "Murdering the Innocents." However, here the brother and sister, Tom and Louisa Gradgrind, the novel's central figures, are defying the Utilitarian precepts of their mentally inflexible parent. And yet, the philanthropist funding the other educational venture (if one accepts Dickens's notion that the circus, too, is intellectually as well as emotionally "improving"), the retired industrialist Thomas Gradgrind, is not the vicious disciplinarian that the Reverend Mr. Brocklehurst is at Lowood School. Thomas Gradgrind is well-meaning, but misguided — and Therefore faintly ridiculous.

However, as ensuing scenes make clear, Gradgrind like the black pillar master of Lowood suffers from a lack of human sympathy at the outset of the story, undervaluing emotion and "fancy." In Reinhart's proleptic plate for the third chapter, Gradgrind's eyeglass suggests that he cannot see what is immediately before him (his children peeping through a hole in the circus tent), and his cane may be poised to offer chastisement. Reinhart's Sixties' style style is in marked contrast to the careful detailism (i. e., convincing the viewer of the verisimilitude of the illustration by painstaking details in the setting and costumes, in particular) of the previous generation of illustrators such as Phiz and Cruikshank, as his poster of the horse-riding acrobat (upper left) indicates.

line drawing of a prancing horse serves as an interesting headnote for the early chapters since in the second chapter Sissy Jupe fails to "define" a horse according to Gradgrind's formula, as exemplified by Bitzer's rote-memory definition. Reinhart accentuates the figures with fine cross-hatching, and gives an impression of such elements of setting as the tent, the grass, the waggons of Slearly's company indicative of the itinerant life-style, and the polluting smoke from the Coketown mills in the distance that spreads out across the cloudy skies above. In this modern perspective of the city, what dominates the distant skyline is not the belfries, steeples, and towers of places of worship, but the smoke-stacks and chimneys of Mammon, sponsoring deity of commerce and industry.

References

Dickens, Charles. The Uncommercial Traveller, Hard Times, and The Mystery of Edwin Drood. Il. Charles Stanley Reinhart and Luke Fildes. The Household Edition. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1876.

Dickens, Charles. Hard Times. Il. Harry French. The Household Edition. London: Chapman and Hall, 1877.

Houfe, Simon. The Dictionary of Nineteenth-Century British Book Illustrators and Caricaturists. Woodbridge, Suffolk: Antique Collectors' Club, 1978.

Pennell, Joseph. The Adventures of An Illustrator Mostly in Following His Authors in America and Europe. Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1925.

Scenes and Characters from the Works of Charles Dickens; being eight hundred and sixty-six drawings, by Fred Barnard, Hablot Knight Browne (Phiz); J. Mahoney; Charles Green; A. B. Frost; Gordon Thomson; J. McL. Ralston; H. French; E. G. Dalziel; F. A. Fraser, and Sir Luke Fildes; printed from the original woodblocks engraved for "The Household Edition." New York: Chapman and Hall, 1908. Copy in the Robarts Library, University of Toronto.


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Last modified 17 March 2013