Nell hides from Quilp by Hablot Knight Browne (Phiz). Wood engraving, 3 1/8 x 4 ½ inches (8.4 x 10.6 cm). — Part Sixteen, Chapter 27, The Old Curiosity Shop. Date of original serial publication: 22 August 1840. Master Humphrey's Clock, Part 19, 246. [Click on images to enlarge them.]

Context of the Illustration: Nell overhears Quilp in the country town

The moon was shining down upon the old gateway of the town, leaving the low archway very black and dark; and with a mingled sensation of curiosity and fear, she slowly approached the gate, and stood still to look up at it, wondering to see how dark, and grim, and old, and cold, it looked.

There was an empty niche from which some old statue had fallen or been carried away hundreds of years ago, and she was thinking what strange people it must have looked down upon when it stood there, and how many hard struggles might have taken place, and how many murders might have been done, upon that silent spot, when there suddenly emerged from the black shade of the arch, a man. The instant he appeared, she recognised him — Who could have failed to recognise, in that instant, the ugly misshapen Quilp!

The street beyond was so narrow, and the shadow of the houses on one side of the way so deep, that he seemed to have risen out of the earth. But there he was. The child withdrew into a dark corner, and saw him pass close to her. He had a stick in his hand, and, when he had got clear of the shadow of the gateway, he leant upon it, looked back — directly, as it seemed, towards where she stood — and beckoned.

To her? oh no, thank God, not to her; for as she stood, in an extremity of fear, hesitating whether to scream for help, or come from her hiding-place and fly, before he should draw nearer, there issued slowly forth from the arch another figure — that of a boy — who carried on his back a trunk.

"Faster, sirrah!" cried Quilp, looking up at the old gateway, and showing in the moonlight like some monstrous image that had come down from its niche and was casting a backward glance at its old house, "faster!" [Chapter XXVII]


The style of Phiz's complementary illustration at the close of the chapter anticipates his later dark plates for the novels of Charles Lever and Harrison Ainsworth, as well as of Dickens's own Bleak House. Since Dickens emphasizes the architectural elements in the backdrop and lateness of the hour for the atmospheric  scene, it is surprising that the writer did not assign this composition to  George Cattermole instead. Since Quilp menaces the boy with his stick, Phiz seems to be assimilating most of the closing of the chapter, focussing on the hidden Nell, left: "The boy made all the speed he could, and Quilp led onward, constantly turning back to threaten him, and urge him to greater haste. Nell did not dare to move until they were out of sight and hearing . . ." (274). Dickens mentions "an empty niche," whereas Phiz provides two, one on either side of the gateway; Phiz's notable additions include the complementary heraldic beasts waving flags, and the heraldic shields to either side of the gothic archway. Quilp's act of waving his stick aloft, as if threatening the boy from the wharf, associates the misshapen figure with the fierce creatures above him. Although Nell is barely discernible in the shadows, the illustrator heightens the suspense by causing Quilp to look precisely in her direction. The picture serves to remind readers that Quilp is quite determined to discover where Nell and her grandfather have secreted themselves, as Stevens notes: "There is then an interlude while we follow Nell's fortunes, but Dickens reminds us of Quilp's remorseless pursuit of her in the glimpse she has of him in an old gateway in 21/27" (118). The picture implies that Quilp is never far from Nell's thoughts, and that the arc of the story will somehow involve the London characters' catching up with her, and that her sojourn with Mrs. Jarley will not lead to anything more than a temporary escape.

Relevant Illustrations from the 1861 and 1888 editions by Darley

Related Resources Including Other Illustrated Editions

Scanned image and text 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.]


Dickens, Charles. The Old Curiosity Shop in Master Humphrey's Clock. Illustrated by Phiz, George Cattermole, Samuel Williams, and Daniel Maclise. 3 vols. London: Chapman and Hall, 1841; rpt., Bradbury and Evans, 1849.

Created 10 May 2020

Last modified 12 November 2020