Nicholas and Smike behind the Scenes (295) — Chapter 23, 3 ¼ by 5 ⅝ inches (8 cm high x 14.5 cm wide), vignetted, eleventh illustration in Charles Dickens's Nicholas Nickleby, Charles Dickens Library Edition (1910), facing IV, 288. Original caption: The savage dropped down on one knee, and the maiden stood on one leg upon his other knee; thus concluding the ballet. "This, sir, is the Infant Phenomenon — Miss Ninetta Crummles." (295) [Click on the images to enlarge them.]

Passage Illustrated: A New Strain of Satire — The Victorian Theatre

In the 1867 Diamond Edition Sol Eytinge. Jr., makes the impressario, his business-minded wife, and their headlining child-actress the subject of another family portrait: Mr. and Mrs. Crummles and The Phenomenon (1867).

As Mrs. Vincent Crummles recrossed back to the table, there bounded on to the stage from some mysterious inlet, a little girl in a dirty white frock with tucks up to the knees, short trousers, sandaled shoes, white spencer, pink gauze bonnet, green veil and curl papers; who turned a pirouette, cut twice in the air, turned another pirouette, then, looking off at the opposite wing, shrieked, bounded forward to within six inches of the footlights, and fell into a beautiful attitude of terror, as a shabby gentleman in an old pair of buff slippers came in at one powerful slide, and chattering his teeth, fiercely brandished a walking-stick.

"They are going through the Indian Savage and the Maiden," said Mrs Crummles.

"Oh!" said the manager, "the little ballet interlude. Very good, go on. A little this way, if you please, Mr. Johnson. That’ll do. Now!"

The manager clapped his hands as a signal to proceed, and the savage, becoming ferocious, made a slide towards the maiden; but the maiden avoided him in six twirls, and came down, at the end of the last one, upon the very points of her toes. This seemed to make some impression upon the savage; for, after a little more ferocity and chasing of the maiden into corners, he began to relent, and stroked his face several times with his right thumb and four fingers, thereby intimating that he was struck with admiration of the maiden’s beauty. Acting upon the impulse of this passion, he (the savage) began to hit himself severe thumps in the chest, and to exhibit other indications of being desperately in love, which being rather a prosy proceeding, was very likely the cause of the maiden’s falling asleep; whether it was or no, asleep she did fall, sound as a church, on a sloping bank, and the savage perceiving it, leant his left ear on his left hand, and nodded sideways, to intimate to all whom it might concern that she was asleep, and no shamming. Being left to himself, the savage had a dance, all alone. Just as he left off, the maiden woke up, rubbed her eyes, got off the bank, and had a dance all alone too — such a dance that the savage looked on in ecstasy all the while, and when it was done, plucked from a neighbouring tree some botanical curiosity, resembling a small pickled cabbage, and offered it to the maiden, who at first wouldn’t have it, but on the savage shedding tears relented. Then the savage jumped for joy; then the maiden jumped for rapture at the sweet smell of the pickled cabbage. Then the savage and the maiden danced violently together, and, finally, the savage dropped down on one knee, and the maiden stood on one leg upon his other knee; thus concluding the ballet, and leaving the spectators in a state of pleasing uncertainty, whether she would ultimately marry the savage, or return to her friends.

"Very well indeed," said Mr. Crummles; "bravo!"

"Bravo!" cried Nicholas, resolved to make the best of everything. "Beautiful!"

"This, sir," said Mr. Vincent Crummles, bringing the maiden forward, "this is the infant phenomenon — Miss Ninetta Crummles." [Chapter XXIII, "Treats of the Company of Mr. Vincent Crummles, and of his Affairs, Domestic and Theatrical," 294-95]

Introducing the Hyperbolic Vincent Crummles, Dickens's Version of Thomas Davenport

Further 'Backstage' Scenes by Phiz, Darley, Eytinge, Reinhart, and Furniss.

Left: The Great Bespeak for Miss Snevellici, in which the reader must adopt the actors' perspective of the ragtag provincial audience. Right: Nicholas Instructs Smike in the Art of Acting, in which Nicholas's caricatured companion struggles to learn his minor part, despite his friend's best efforts (November 1838).

Left: Felix Octavius Carr Darley's 1861 lithographic frontispiece The Rehearsal (1861). Right: Phiz's first theatrical satire: The Country Manager Rehearses a Combat (October 1838), in which Phiz introduces Nicholas, Smike, and the reader to the Victorian theatre behind the scenes.

Left: Fred Barnard 1875 Household Edition​composite woodblock engraving of the melodramatic dance number: The Indian Savage and the Maiden. Right: C. S. Reinhart's version of the same "Indian Savage and Maiden" dance number: And finally the Savage dropped down on one knee, and the maiden stood on one leg on his other knee (1875).

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

Scanned images and text by Philip V. Allingham. [You may use these images without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the photographer 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-eight 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. IV.

__________. "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.

Schweitzer, Maria. "Jean Margaret Davenport." Ambassadors of Empire: Child Performers and Anglo-American Audiences, 1800s-1880s. Accessed 19 April 2021. Posted 7 January 2015. .

Created 19 April 2021

last updated 6 October 2021