The Posthumous Papers of The Pickwick Club, Chapter XXII, "Mr. Pickwick journeys to Ipswich, and meets with a romantic adventure with a middle-aged lady in yellow curl papers," p. 137.by Thomas Nast, in Charles Dickens's
The illustration appears in the American Edition of Charles Dickens's The Posthumous Papers of The Pickwick Club, Chapter XXII, "Mr. Pickwick journeys to Ipswich and meets with romantic adventure with a middle-aged lady in yellow curl-papers," p. 137. Wood-engraving, 4 ¼ inches high by 5 ¼ inches wide (10.7 cm high by 13.6 cm wide), framed, half-page; referencing text on the facing page; descriptive headline: "Mr. Pickwick's Predicament" (p. 137) New York: Harper & Bros., Franklin Square, 1873.
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Passage Illustrated: Another English Adaptation of a French Farce
"Gracious Heaven!" said the middle-aged lady, "what's that?"
"It's — it's — only a gentleman, ma'am," said Mr. Pickwick, from behind the curtains.
"A gentleman!" said the lady, with a terrific scream.
"It's all over!" thought Mr. Pickwick.
"A strange man!" shrieked the lady. Another instant and the house would be alarmed. Her garments rustled as she rushed towards the door.
"Ma'am," said Mr. Pickwick, thrusting out his head in the extremity of his desperation, "ma'am!"
Now, although Mr. Pickwick was not actuated by any definite object in putting out his head, it was instantaneously productive of a good effect. The lady, as we have already stated, was near the door. She must pass it, to reach the staircase, and she would most undoubtedly have done so by this time, had not the sudden apparition of Mr. Pickwick's nightcap driven her back into the remotest corner of the apartment, where she stood staring wildly at Mr. Pickwick, while Mr. Pickwick in his turn stared wildly at her.
"Wretch," said the lady, covering her eyes with her hands, "what do you want here?" [Chapter XXII, "Mr. Pickwick journeys to Ipswich and meets with romantic adventure with a middle-aged lady in yellow curl-papers," pp. 136-137]
Commentary: Another Favourite Moment Realised
The Middle-aged Lady in the Double-bedded Room (November 1836). [Click on image to enlarge it.]
Although Nast has moved in for the close-up, so to speak, the American cartoonist has not markedly improved upon Phiz's original conception as reflected in the November 1836 steel-engraving entitled The Middle-Aged Lady in the Double-Bedded Room (see image at right). In the earlier illustration, Pickwick in his nightcap peeps out from his bed-curtains to watch in surprise Miss Witherfield, whom Jane Rabb Cohen in Charles Dickens and His Original Illustrators has termed in the original Phiz engraving a "spare woman with a Cruikshankian long face combing her stringy hair before a mirror" (66). Browne in revising the engraving for volume publication in 1838, contends Cohen, changed Pickwick's expression from "horror and dismay" (154) to consternation, and gave the lady before her makeup mirror a more pleasing face and figure. Phiz's revised version of Miss Witherfield seems to have influenced Nast's interpretation of the character, although in realizing the comic misapprehension Nast emphasizes farcical situation over realistic description.
In the 1874 version for the Household Edition (which may, in fact, predate Nast's version), Phiz gives the middle-aged lady in yellow curl-papers a more natural figure and visage for one her age, retreating from the more attractive woman that he had drawn in his 1838 revision; Pickwick in the 1874 plate is nervous rather than indignant or surprised, for clearly he does not know what to expect next, or know what to do. The furnishing of a logical explain and the two characters' acting on it will constitute the fulfilment of the illustration's pregnant moment. In contrast to Phiz's treatments of the subject, Nast's focus in his caricature of the middle-aged lady is neither her face nor her figure, for in Nast's plate she has hidden behind her fingers, obscuring her features. Her hair, contrary to Dickens's text, is entirely covered by immense curl-papers (certainly larger than Dickens seems to have specified to his original illustrator). Nast renders the lady ridiculous in her ostrich-like pose to keep out the very sight of the unwelcome visitor; Nast's Pickwick, moreover, seems catatonic, rather than uncertain or "desperate," as the following passage specifies: "'Ma'am,' said Mr. Pickwick, thrusting out his head, in the extremity of his desperation, 'Ma'am!'" (136).
Already in Nast's version the lady must be crying out, "A strange man!" and must already be contemplating how to get past Pickwick to the door and the staircase beyond: "'Wretch,' said the lady, covering her eyes with her hands, 'what do you want here?'" (136). Pickwick, of course, wants nothing but to be spared further embarrassment, and subsequently attempts to leave with dignity the room he has entered by accident in the middle of the night. However, the farce continues unabated as Miss Witherfield simply thrusts him into the passage, and rapidly bolts the door behind him. Nast, however, treats the subject exactly as if it were a tableau vivant or farcical moment on stage, juxtaposing the dour Pickwick, wrapped in the bed-curtains, with the lady in her night-dress pretending to keep out the vision of the intruder. He even exaggerates the dimensions of the curl-papers to heighten the visual comedy. Thus, in enlarging the figures and minimizing the background, Nast has used simplicity and contrast for heightened effectiveness.
Phiz's depiction of the same scene in the British Household Edition (1874)
Phiz revises his approach to the scene by rendering both figures more naturally in Standing before the dressing-glass was a middle-aged lady in yellow curl-papers, busily engaged in brushing what ladies call their 'back hair' (Chapter XXII).
Other artists who illustrated this work, 1836-1910
- Robert Seymour (1836)
- Hablot Knight Brown (1836-37)
- Felix Octavius Carr Darley (1861)
- Sol Eytinge, Jr. (1867)
- Hablot Knight Browne (1874)
- A selected list of illustrations by Harry Furniss for the Charles Dickens Library Edition (1910)
- Clayton J. Clarke's Extra Illustration for Player's Cigarettes (1910)
- Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens (homepage)
- Nast’s Pickwick illustrations
- The complete list of illustrations by Seymour and Phiz for the original edition
- The complete list of illustrations by Phiz for the Household Edition
- An introduction to the Household Edition (1871-79)
Cohen, Jane Rabb. Charles Dickens and His Original Illustrators. Columbus: Ohio State U. P., 1980.
Dickens, Charles. "Pickwick Papers. Illustrated by Robert Seymour and Hablot Knight Browne. London: Chapman & Hall, 1836-37.
Dickens, Charles. The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club. Illustrated by Sol Eytinge, Jr. Engraved by A. V. S. Anthony. The Diamond Edition. Boston: Ticknor and Fields, 1867.
Dickens, Charles. The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club. The Household Edition. Illustrated by Thomas Nast. New York: Harper and Brothers 1873.
Dickens, Charles. The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club. The Household Edition. Illustrated by Hablot Knight Browne ('Phiz'). The Household Edition. London: Chapman and Hall, 1874.
Last modified 28 November 2019