"Bill Sikes and Bull's-eye"
Fred Barnard; coloured by Wm. Aikman
11.1 x 9 cm framed
Frontispiece for The Adventures of Oliver Twist in the Centenary Edition (1912)
This study of Sikes and his dog, although not realised in the original Chapman and Hall Household Edition of 1871, complements illustrations by George Cruikshank (1837-39), Sol Eytinge, Jr. (1867), James Mahoney (1871), Felix Octavius Carr Darley (1888), Kyd (Clayton J. Clarke, 1890 and 1910), and Harry Furniss (1910). But only Barnard's 1888 character study captures precisely the relationship between the vicious owner and his mistreated dog as given in Dickens's text. [Click on illustration to enlarge it.]
Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham.
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Two Passages Illustrated
"Why, what the blazes is in the wind now!" growled a deep voice. "Who pitched that 'ere at me? It's well it's the beer, and not the pot, as hit me, or I'd have settled somebody. I might have know'd, as nobody but an infernal, rich, plundering, thundering old Jew could afford to throw away any drink but water — and not that, unless he done the River Company every quarter. Wot's it all about, Fagin? D—me, if my neck-handkercher an't lined with beer! Come in, you sneaking warmint; wot are you stopping outside for, as if you was ashamed of your master! Come in!"
The man who growled out these words, was a stoutly-built fellow of about five-and-thirty, in a black velveteen coat, very soiled drab breeches, lace-up half boots, and grey cotton stockings which inclosed a bulky pair of legs, with large swelling calves; — the kind of legs, which in such costume, always look in an unfinished and incomplete state without a set of fetters to garnish them. He had a brown hat on his head, and a dirty belcher handkerchief round his neck: with the long frayed ends of which he smeared the beer from his face as he spoke. He disclosed, when he had done so, a broad heavy countenance with a beard of three days' growth, and two scowling eyes; one of which displayed various parti-coloured symptoms of having been recently damaged by a blow.
"Come in, d'ye hear?" growled this engaging ruffian.
A white shaggy dog, with his face scratched and torn in twenty different places, skulked into the room.
"Why didn’t you come in afore?" said the man. "You're getting too proud to own me afore company, are you? Lie down!"
This command was accompanied with a kick, which sent the animal to the other end of the room. He appeared well used to it, however; for he coiled himself up in a corner very quietly, without uttering a sound, and winking his very ill-looking eyes twenty times in a minute, appeared to occupy himself in taking a survey of the apartment.
[Chapter 13, "Some new Acquaintances are introduced to the intelligent Reader; connected with whom, various pleasant matters are related, appertaining to this History," Centenary Edition, p. 66-67]
In the obscure parlour of a low public-house, in the filthiest part of Little Saffron Hill; a dark and gloomy den, where a flaring gas-light burnt all day in the winter-time; and where no ray of sun ever shone in the summer: there sat, brooding over a little pewter measure and a small glass, strongly impregnated with the smell of liquor, a man in a velveteen coat, drab shorts, half-boots and stockings, whom even by that dim light no experienced agent of the police would have hesitated to recognise as Mr. William Sikes. At his feet, sat a white-coated, red-eyed dog; who occupied himself, alternately, in winking at his master with both eyes at the same time; and in licking a large, fresh cut on one side of his mouth, which appeared to be the result of some recent conflict.
[Chapter 15, "Showing how very fond of Oliver Twist, the Merry Old Jew and Miss Nancy were," Centenary Edition, p. 79]
So much for the romance of the road, — but then, Bill Sikes is hardly an updated version of the dashing highwayman Captain Macheath from John Gay's The Beggar's Opera (1728). Although the original illustrations by George Cruikshank in Bentley's Miscellany (1837-39) have undoubtedly shaped theatrical and cinematic adaptations of Dickens's Newgate novel, this single illustration, unlike the others in colour and in a realistic rather caricatural mode, has probably had the greatest impact in how directors and costume designers have envisaged the brutal robber and murderer. Actors who have portrayed Sikes on film include Robert Newton in the 1948 David Lean film, Oliver Reed in the 1968 musical Oliver! (replacing Danny Sewell from the original stage production), and Tim Curry (1982), Robert Loggia (voice, 1988), Michael McAnallen (1995), David O'Hara (1997), Andy Serkis (1999), Jamie Foreman (2005), Tom Hardy (2007), Burn Gorman (2009), Steven Hartley (2009), Shannon Wise (2010), Jake Thomas (2011), and Anthony Brown (2012). In many of these cinematic adaptations of the 1838 novel, Barnard's morose character and his nervous companion seem to have stepped from the page, fully realized, especially in the performances of Robert Newton and Oliver Reed.
Although the other illustrations allude to specific moments in the text, such as Bill Sikes re-apprehending Oliver in Clerkenwell, in conjunction with his common-law wife, Nancy, none of these accurately acknowledges Sikes' brutality towards his canine companion. However, Harry Furniss's portrait implies Sikes' habitual beating of the animal through the prominent stick that he brandishes in Bill Sikes (1910), an illustration without a textual caption and therefore without a specific situation in Dickens's novel. Furniss would have the viewer understand that this is Sikes, first to last.
Whereas Dickens's official illustrator for Oliver Twist in the 1837-9 serial, George Cruikshank, depicts the housebreaker Bill Sikes as the sordid, lower-class villain out of contemporary melodrama, the figure whom Felix Octavius Carr Darley describes in his series of Character Sketches from Dickens (1888) is once again much more of an individual (despite his characteristic long face and white top hat) than a type. In the Chapter 22 illustration which depicts Oliver's being surprised and shot at as soon as he has entered to house that Sikes is attempting to rob, The Burglary, Cruikshank depicts the housebreaker in a framed portrait, as an apparently helpless Sikes watches the unfolding scene with interest. Effectively rendered, Cruikshank's ruffian is unshaven, unkempt, and full-faced— and by implication a non-abstract, sequential thinker. He is not especially animated or interesting when, supposedly haunted by the murder of Nancy, he escapes northward to Hatfield, dogged by Bull's-eye, whom he attempts to lure into a pond in order to drown the only witness to the deed in Sikes attempting to destroy his dog (January 1839). Apparently both Dickens and John Forster, Dickens's business agent, objected to Cruikshank's ineffective handling of the dog, who might be an emaciated pitbull but to them looked rather like "a tail-less baboon" (John Forster, "To Richard Bentley," 8 November 1838, rpt. in The Letters of Charles Dickens, I: 451). Barnard's dual portrait they would have found far more satisfactory in that regard as this Bull's-eye is a true-to-life bull terrier.
Selecting an equally dramatic moment in the story, American illustrator Felix Octavius Carr Darley has depicted a more alert-looking and less imbecilic Sikes in action, rather than as a static figure, whereas in the Diamond Edition of 1867, Sol Eytinge, Jr., in Bill Sikes and Nancy captures the disreputable couple's desperation and despondency after the failed robbery at Chertsey. Taking a little more pity on the down-and-out couple, in the Household Edition, realist James Mahoney focuses on Nancy's tenderness for the exhausted Sikes, whom she tends as if he were her child in Then, stooping over the bed, she kissed the robber's lips (Chapter 39) — a highly ironic scene, given Sikes's subsequent treatment of the woman whom he believes has betrayed him and Fagin's gang. In the 1890 collection of Dickens's characters, The Characters of Charles Dickens pourtrayed in a series of original watercolours by "Kyd", J. Clayton Clarke romantizes the ill-shaven thug with the swaggering gait, tight-fitting clothes, and penetrating gaze. Perhaps the quintessential realisation of Fagin's burly associateis that by Fred Barnard in his Character Sketches from Dickens (1888). In every detail Barnard has fully realised Dickens's Sikes, from the brown top-hat (rather than the off-white hat given Sikes by Cruikshank) to the cotton stockings and fustian coat; although Barnard's Sikes is looking off right (presumably, to respond to Fagin, with whom he works but whom he resents as a "fence") rather than at him directly, Bull's-eye, dreading Sikes's stick, cringes in terror.
Illustrations from the Serial (1837), Later Editions, Darley's "Character Sketches from Dickens" (1888), and Kyd's "Characters from Dickens" (1890)
Left: George Cruikshank's Oliver claimed by his affectionate friends. Right: Felix Octavius Carr Darley's 1888 portrait of the notorious housebreaker, abducting Oliver, Sikes, Nancy, and Oliver Twist. [Click on images to enlarge them.]
Left: J. Clayton Clarke's 1890 portrait "Bill Sikes. Right: Sol Eytinge, Junior's Bill Sikes and Nancy (1867). [Click on images to enlarge them.]
Above: James Mahoney's 1871 initial portrait of Bill Sikes, James Mahoney's "You are still on the scent, are you, Nancy?" [Click on the image to enlarge it.]
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Last modified 19 March 2015