The Goblin of Avignon
Sol Eytinge, Jr.
Dickens's The Adventures of Oliver Twist, also, Pictures from Italy, American Notes for General Circulation (Diamond Edition)
After the fictional account of Oliver's descent into and return from the familiar-but-foreign cityscape of London's criminal underworld, the reader of the eleventh Diamond Edition volume encounters the non-fiction account of Dickens's travels France and Italy in 1844-45, when family finances dictated that he and his entourage should live somewhere far less expensive than London. One of the most memorable characters whom the family encountered on their leisurely-paced carriage ride to Genoa was the aged tour guide at the Palace of the Popes in Avignon.
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In October, 1791, when the Revolution was at its height here, sixty persons: men and women ("and priests," says Goblin, "priests"): were murdered, and hurled, the dying and the dead, into this dreadful pit, where a quantity of quick-lime was tumbled down upon their bodies. Those ghastly tokens of the massacre were soon no more; but while one stone of the strong building in which the deed was done, remains upon another, there they will lie in the memories of men, as plain to see as the splashing of their blood upon the wall is now.
Was it a portion of the great scheme of Retribution, that the cruel deed should be committed in this place! That a part of the atrocities and monstrous institutions, which had been, for scores of years, at work, to change men's nature, should in its last service, tempt them with the ready means of gratifying their furious and beastly rage! Should enable them to show themselves, in the height of their frenzy, no worse than a great, solemn, legal establishment, in the height of its power! No worse! Much better. They used the Tower of the Forgotten, in the name of Liberty, — their liberty; an earth-born creature, nursed in the black mud of the Bastile moats and dungeons, and necessarily betraying many evidences of its unwholesome bringing-up, — but the Inquisition used it in the name of Heaven.
Goblin's finger is lifted; and she steals out again, into the Chapel of the Holy Office. She stops at a certain part of the flooring. Her great effect is at hand. She waits for the rest. She darts at the brave Courier, who is explaining something; hits him a sounding rap on the hat with the largest key; and bids him be silent. She assembles us all, round a little trap-door in the floor, as round a grave.
"Voilà!" she darts down at the ring, and flings the door open with a crash, in her goblin energy, though it is no light weight. "Voilá les oubliettes! Voilá les oubliettes! Subterranean! Frightful! Black! Terrible! Deadly! Les oubliettes de l'Inquisition!"
My blood ran cold, as I looked from Goblin, down into the vaults, where these forgotten creatures, with recollections of the world outside: of wives, friends, children, brothers: starved to death, and made the stones ring with their unavailing groans. But, the thrill I felt on seeing the accursed wall below, decayed and broken through, and the sun shining in through its gaping wounds, was like a sense of victory and triumph. I felt exalted with the proud delight of living in these degenerate times, to see it. As if I were the hero of some high achievement! The light in the doleful vaults was typical of the light that has streamed in, on all persecution in God's name, but which is not yet at its noon! It cannot look more lovely to a blind man newly restored to sight, than to a traveller who sees it, calmly and majestically, treading down the darkness of that Infernal Well. [Chapter 2, "Lyons, the Rhone, and the Goblin of Avignon," p. 251]
Ticknor-Fields' intention in placing Pictures from Italy in the eleventh volume was undoubtedly to complement a high-interest text with several lesser pieces, although even in 1867 the controversy on that side of the Atlantic regarding American Notes had probably not entirely died down, with accusations in the Northern press that Dickens was "pro-Confederacy." Whereas in the original 1846 Bradbury and Evans volume edition of the Italian travelogue illustrator Samuel Palmer had emphasized the atmospheric landscapes and cityscapes of the Italian peninsula, Sol Eytinge, Jr., in the Diamond Edition focuses upon two singular characters in the opening section — neither of them Italian: the Dickenses' travel guide, "The Brave Courier," and the wizened harpy who conducts them through the former headquarters of the Inquisition at Papal Palace in Avignon. Without violating the standards of decorum for "family reading," Dickens conveys his horror at the iniquitous deeds executed upon the spot, earlier by the dread agents of the Inquisition (justified to preserve the purity of Catholic faith and to root out heresy) and more recently by the agents of the French Revolution. No need for graphic descriptions of torture and liquidation — the ghoulish tour guide's obvious delight in the place grisly history serves as metonymy for the English travel-writer, who passed through Avignon, France in the second week of July, 1844.
The illustrations of the 1867 volume focus on Dickens as a traveller rather than a social commentator or expatriate living abroad. The choice of the Dickenses' tour conductor as the subject of the second of the three illustrations in total for the Italian travelogue may suggest that Eytinge was exploiting the apprehensions of wealthy Americans planning to undertake European tours, but who were unfamiliar with the French figure of the concierge. Curiously, only one of Eytinge's three illustrations concerns characters whom Dickens encountered in Italy, where he lived for a year. Peter Ackroyd in his mamoth biography notes that
a "she-devil" who showed him gleefully around the torture chambers of the Inquisition was unwittingly to sit for some of his less flattering portrayals of French women. 
Doubtless the biographer is thinking of such viragos as Madame Defarge and her grisly associate, The Vengeance, in A Tale of Two Cities (1859). In his own illustrations for the historical novel, Eytinge seems to have been fascinated by such grotesques as the grocer's wife from Saint Antoine whom the forces of revolution have transformed into a female ogre as she leads a mob bent on slaughter through the streets the Paris suburb to the political prison. Like the Vengeance, the Goblin of Avignon is self-consciously blood-thirsty, but the aged tour guide merely takes a macabre delight shocking tourists with her animated accounts of mass bloodshed and gruesome torture, whereas the revolutionary wife enthusiastically participates fully in such violent and masculine pursuits.
Ackroyd, Peter. Dickens. London: Sinclair-Stevenson, 1990.
Bentley, Nicolas, Michael Slater, and Nina Burgis. The Dickens Index. New York and Oxford: Oxford U. P., 1990.
Davis, Paul. Charles Dickens A to Z: The Essential Reference to His Life and Work. New York: Facts On File, 1998.
Dickens, Charles. Pictures from Italy and American Notes for General Circulation. Works of Charles Dickens. Diamond Edition. 14 vols. Illustrated by Sol Eytinge, Jr. Boston: Ticknor and Fields, 1867. Vol. 11.
Dickens, Charles. The Adventures of Oliver Twist. Works of Charles Dickens. Charles Dickens Library Edition. Illustrated by Harry Furniss. London: Educational Book Company, 1910. Vol. 3.
Last modified 3 November 2014