The Small Servant's Dinner by Hablot Knight Browne (Phiz). Wood engraving, 3 1/8 x 4 ¼ inches (7.9 x 10.8 cm). — Part Twenty, Chapter 36, The Old Curiosity Shop: 19 September 1840. Master Humphrey's Clock, no. 24, 300.

Passage Illustrated: An Imposed Dinner

Harry Furniss's version of the scene in which Sally Brass begrudgingly gives the Marchioness a small dinner, with Dick overhearing the exchange in the foreground in Dick Swiveller hears the Marchioness say "No" (1910), another Cinderella scene with Sally as an ugly stepsister and cruel stepmother combined.

"Are you there?" said Miss Sally.

"Yes, ma’am," was the answer in a weak voice.

"Go further away from the leg of mutton, or you’ll be picking it, I know," said Miss Sally.

The girl withdrew into a corner, while Miss Brass took a key from her pocket, and opening the safe, brought from it a dreary waste of cold potatoes, looking as eatable as Stonehenge. This she placed before the small servant, ordering her to sit down before it, and then, taking up a great carving-knife, made a mighty show of sharpening it upon the carving-fork.

"Do you see this?" said Miss Brass, slicing off about two square inches of cold mutton, after all this preparation, and holding it out on the point of the fork.

The small servant looked hard enough at it with her hungry eyes to see every shred of it, small as it was, and answered, "yes."

"Then don’t you ever go and say," retorted Miss Sally, "that you hadn’t meat here. There, eat it up."

This was soon done."Now, do you want any more?" said Miss Sally.

The hungry creature answered with a faint "No." They were evidently going through an established form.

"You’ve been helped once to meat," said Miss Brass, summing up the facts; "you have had as much as you can eat, you’re asked if you want any more, and you answer, 'no!' Then don’t you ever go and say you were allowanced, mind that."

With those words, Miss Sally put the meat away and locked the safe, and then drawing near to the small servant, overlooked her while she finished the potatoes. [Close of Chapter XXXVI, 358-60].


Although Dick encounters the small servant shortly after Quilp installs him at Bevis Marks as Sampson Brass's law-clerk in Chapter XXXIII, only in Chapter LVII, when he introduces her to the delights of beer and cribbage, does Dick hit upon the apellation that renders her so memorable a secondary character:

"Now," said Mr. Swiveller, putting two sixpences into a saucer, and trimming the wretched candle, when the cards had been cut and dealt, "those are the stakes. If you win, you get ‘em all. If I win, I get ‘em. To make it seem more real and pleasant, I shall call you the Marchioness, do you hear?"

The small servant nodded.

"Then, Marchioness," said Mr Swiveller, "fire away!" [120].

Since he can hardly keep on calling her "the small servant," Dick Swiveller decides to address the undernourished, brow-beaten, but streetwise servant of the Brasses by the nickname of "The Marchioness." In deciding to become not merely a fellow-drudge in the service of the troll-like brother and sister but her friend and confidant, Dick gives her a somewhat peculiar title. A noblewoman who is either a marquess in her own right or the widow of a marques is a marchioness. At a glance this seems to be an odd nickname for a girl who does not even know her own birthday or the identities of her parents, and who is fed on table-scraps and treated callously. Dick nicknames the small, slipshod girl in a dirty, coarse apron, oversized hat, and bib as if she were an aristocrat dressed in the height of fashion. Consequently, every iteration of her nickname underscores her pre-transformation, Cinderella nature, and renders her oppressed state a temporary aberration. Ultimately, Dick will prove her fairy-godfather, paying for her schooling, renaming her Sophronia Sphynx, and ultimately marrying her.

Related Discussion

Relevant illustrations from later editions

Green realizes the scene by underscoring the unequal power relationship of the mere child, seated and submissive, and scowling, domineering, intimidating employer who trusts an implement in the child's face: "Do you see this?" (1876), with Dick entirely absent from the frame.

Left: Harry Furniss's version of the scene in which Sally Brass begrudgingly gives the Marchioness a small dinner, with Dick overhearing the exchange in the foreground in Dick Swiveller hears the Marchioness say "No" (1910), another Cinderella scene with Sally as an ugly stepsister. Centre: Clayton J. Clarke's amusing caricature of the dirty-faced, preternaturally old workhouse child in the Player's Cigarette card series: The Marchioness (Card No. 28). Right: Harrold Copping's realisation of the scene in which Dick and Marchioness first meet, from Character Sketches from Dickens (1924).

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, 1840.

Created 5 May 2020

Last modified 16 October 2020