On the opposite side of the fire, there sat with folded arms a wrinkled hideous figure from the sixth chapter of the novel in the Household Edition, illustrated by Fred Barnard with fifty-nine composite woodblock engravings (1875). 10.5 x 13.7 cm (4 ⅛ by 5 ⅜ inches), p. 37, framed. Running head: "A Spectre Calls upon the Baron of Grogzwig" (37). [Click on the images to enlarge them.]

Passage Illustrated: The Baron beholds "The Genius of Suicide"

C. S. Reinhart's American Household Edition illustration of the sane incident: The Internal Economy of Dotheboys Hall (1875).

"He thought about a great many things — about his present troubles and past days of bachelorship, and about the Lincoln greens, long since dispersed up and down the country, no one knew whither: with the exception of two who had been unfortunately beheaded, and four who had killed themselves with drinking. His mind was running upon bears and boars, when, in the process of draining his glass to the bottom, he raised his eyes, and saw, for the first time and with unbounded astonishment, that he was not alone.

"No, he was not; for, on the opposite side of the fire, there sat with folded arms a wrinkled hideous figure, with deeply sunk and bloodshot eyes, and an immensely long cadaverous face, shadowed by jagged and matted locks of coarse black hair. He wore a kind of tunic of a dull bluish colour, which, the baron observed, on regarding it attentively, was clasped or ornamented down the front with coffin handles. His legs, too, were encased in coffin plates as though in armour; and over his left shoulder he wore a short dusky cloak, which seemed made of a remnant of some pall. He took no notice of the baron, but was intently eyeing the fire.

"Halloa!"" said the baron, stamping his foot to attract attention.

'Halloa!" replied the stranger, moving his eyes towards the baron, but not his face or himself "What now?" [Chapter VI, "The Baron of Grogzwig" in "In which the Occurrence of the Accident mentioned in the last Chapter, affords an Opportunity to a couple of Gentlemen to tell Stories against each other," 37-38]

Commentary: An Illustration of an Interpolated Tale

Whereas Dickens's first novel, The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club, made use of the picaresque interpolated tale on nine occasions across its serialisation (from May 1836 in the second number through September 1837 in its seventeenth number) Dickens resorted to such peripheral short fiction only in the second monthly number of Nicholas Nickleby (May 1838) to fill up the gap between Nicholas's departure from The Saracen's Head through to his arrival at Dotheboys Hall, near Greta Bridge in Yorkshire. "The Five Sisters of York" contrasts the more genial traveller's tale in its whimsical "Genius of Despair and Suicide," which certainly has greater potential for illustration. The second story, then, exhibits Dickens's well-known "streaky bacon" plot construction, which alternates scenes of melodrama and of farce, and creates reader interest by providing pathos and humour, and by touching on themes dealt with in the main plot. Cast out of the civilised world of family and urban society and forced to earn his living working for a petty tyrant, Nicholas could well give into despair, as the Baron Von Koëldwethout with his sharp hunting-knife is tempted to do in order to escape domestic tyranny and social isolation. Of course, we may also view the complementary short stories as last-minute insertions to help fill out the instalment: "I have yet 5 slips to finish and on;'t know what to put in them for I have reached the point I meant to leave off with" ["Dickens to Forster," ?15 April 1838, quoted in Thomas, 25]. After the intensity of "The Five Sisters," the witty treatment of depression and its satire of the Gothic tale comes as a welcome diversion. Unfortunately, Dickens seems to have felt no further need to "make length," for the third Dickens novel contains no further interpolated tales. Thomas praises on a few of Dickens's interpolated tales, namely "The Story of the Goblins who Stole a Sexton" from Pickwick, and "The Baron of Grogzwig":

With the exception of "The Baron of Grogzwig," a comic treatment of the subject of suicidal depression that blends humor and traditionally Gothic material to depict a supernaturally induced conversion (echoing that of Gabriel Grub in "The Story of the Goblins who Stole a Sexton"), the sketches and tales that Dickens produced beyond the pages of Pickwick Papers in 1837, as well as in the following  year, seem tired. [25]

Perhaps at Dickens's suggestion, Phiz choose to illustrate the sombre story with the five beautiful maidens in mediaeval costumes; in contrast, the Household Edition illustrators, C. S. Reinhart and Fred Barnard, responded with humorous depictions of the lean and anxious "Genius of Despair and Suicide" with youthful, distorted, comic features and outlandish costume, in contrast to the middle-aged, skeptical Baron. The British illustrator seems to have relished making the hen-pecked mortal a farcical figure, too, giving the German baron an elaborate mediaeval costume, mutton-chop whiskers, and an enormous pipe. Unfortunately the other humorous nineteenth-century visual interpreter of Dickens's fiction, Harry Furniss, ignored both interpolated tales from Nickleby in his 1910 program of 29 lithographs.

Related material, including front matter and sketches, by other illustrators

Scanned image, colour correction, sizing, caption, and commentary 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.]


Barnard, J. "Fred" (illustrator). Charles Dickens's Nicholas Nickleby, with fifty-nine illustrations. The Works of Charles Dickens: The Household Edition. 22 vols. London: Chapman and Hall, 1875. Volume 15. Rpt. 1890.

Bentley, Nicolas, Michael Slater, and Nina Burgis. The Dickens Index. Oxford and New York: Oxford U. P., 1988.

Davis, Paul. Charles Dickens A to Z: The Essential Reference to His Life and Work. New York: Facts On File, 1998.

Dickens, Charles. The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby. With fifty-two illustrations by C. S. Reinhart. The Household Edition. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1872. I.

__________. Nicholas Nickleby. With 39 illustrations by Hablot K. Browne ("Phiz"). London: Chapman & Hall, 1839.

__________. Nicholas Nickleby. Illustrated by Harry Furniss. The Charles Dickens Library Edition. 18 vols. London: Educational Book, 1910. Vol. 4.

__________. "Nicholas Nickleby." Scenes and Characters from the Works of Charles Dickens, being eight hundred and sixty-six drawings by Fred Barnard et al.. Household Edition. London: Chapman and Hall, 1908.

Thomas, Deborah A. "Chapter 2: Imaginative Overindulgence." Dickens and the Short Story. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1982. 7-31.

Created 7 April 2021