A Quiet Game at Cribbage by Hablot Knight Browne (Phiz). Wood engraving, 3 ⅛ x 4 ¼ inches (7.9 cm high x 10.9 cm wide). — Part Thirty-five, Chapter 64, The Old Curiosity Shop: 2 January 1841. Master Humphrey's Clock, no. 39, 158. Source: Steig, plate 34; reproduced by permission of the author. Phiz contributed sixty-one composite woodblock engravings and three frontispiece designs to the project. [Return to text of Steig. Click on the images to enlarge them.]

Passage Illustrated: A More Feminine Card-player

He awoke. With a sensation of most blissful rest, better than sleep itself, he began gradually to remember something of these sufferings, and to think what a long night it had been, and whether he had not been delirious twice or thrice. Happening, in the midst of these cogitations, to raise his hand, he was astonished to find how heavy it seemed, and yet how thin and light it really was. Still, he felt indifferent and happy; and having no curiosity to pursue the subject, remained in the same waking slumber until his attention was attracted by a cough. This made him doubt whether he had locked his door last night, and feel a little surprised at having a companion in the room. Still, he lacked energy to follow up this train of thought; and unconsciously fell, in a luxury of repose, to staring at some green stripes on the bed-furniture, and associating them strangely with patches of fresh turf, while the yellow ground between made gravel-walks, and so helped out a long perspective of trim gardens.

He was rambling in imagination on these terraces, and had quite lost himself among them indeed, when he heard the cough once more. The walks shrunk into stripes again at the sound, and raising himself a little in the bed, and holding the curtain open with one hand, he looked out.

The same room certainly, and still by candlelight; but with what unbounded astonishment did he see all those bottles, and basins, and articles of linen airing by the fire, and such-like furniture of a sick chamber — all very clean and neat, but all quite different from anything he had left there, when he went to bed! The atmosphere, too, filled with a cool smell of herbs and vinegar; the floor newly sprinkled; the — the what? The Marchioness? [Chapter LXIV, 157-58]

Commentary by Michael Steig: From Workhouse Child to Attractive Adolescent

In an article about the Marchioness that discuses the way Dickens and Phiz develop her across the forty parts of The Old Curiosity Shop, Steig presents a convincing argument that the illustrator transforms her from a witch-like, genderless troll, "a terrible looking creature" (Kitton, 80) or grotesque, into a young woman. Kitton notes what he terms Phiz's "inconsistent" characterization of the Marchioness:

Browne subsequently shows the Marchioness as a wizened creature, looking like a little old woman (the card-playing scene, ch. 57), as a fay-like being (in Dick's sickroom, ch. 64), and as a not implausibly improvable young girl (arriving with edibles for Dick, ch. 66). A few years later, as one in a set of four extra illustrations for the novel, Browne portrayed the Marchioness, supposedly as she was at the sickroom stage of the book, as an attractive girl in late adolescence — less an instance, I think, of Phiz's inconsistency than of his response to the mixed intentions of the novelist in his making the Marchioness the offspring of the demonic Quilp and Sally, a workhouse orphan who has suffered great privations, and yet at the same time a suitable wife for Dick. (See also the reproduction of an initial sketch for this engraving in E. Browne, facing p. 254.) [54-55]

Right: Harry Furniss's study of the Marchioness inserted into Chapter 47, well before she quits the Brasses to nurse Dick. Furniss depicts her as a pensive waif in The Marchioness (1910), a Cinderella with a disreputable broom, a pail, and a water-jug.

Michael Steig regards the Marchioness as something of a foil to Nell. Capable of independent action, the Marchioness comes to Dick's rescue after leaving the employ of the Brasses, nurses Dick through his fever, and eventually serves as the plot mechanism for carrying the news that saves Kit Nubbles from transportation for a theft he did not commit. To emphasize this point, Steig cites G. K. Chesterton's assertion that the Marchioness, despite her odd exterior, possesses "entirely heroic characteristics" (cited in Steig [1966], 142). Gradually, contends Steig, Phiz makes her look more and more human, even though he continues to show her in oversized clothing suggestive of "a stereotyped figure of a witch" (144).

In the next relevant illustration, the one in which Dick awakes to find her moved into his rooms (A Quiet Game of Cribbage, Ch. 64, fig. II), the Marchioness is dressed in the same outfit — tall milkmaid's bonnet, oversized slippers, and butcher's apron over her dress — but her neck and shoulders are bare, her face is much less haglike, and there is perhaps even a hint of a bosom. [Steig, 1966, 144]

Steig points out that by Chapter LXVI she looks far more natural, and readers can now see her face, no longer unobscured by her gigantic milkmaid's bonnet: "Browne is trying to depict a face that is basically feminine, and definitely more than childish, but whose attractiveness has been marred by privation" (144). Browne probably learned from Dickens that the novelist intended her to be Dick Swiveller's wife; that would explain why the illustrator develops the workhouse child into a cheerful adolescent. Seven years after this instalment, Phiz issued a separate character study of her for the First Cheap Edition in which the Marchioness is neither haglike nor childlike, "but in fact takes over all the functions of a wife except the sexual one" (144-45).

Relevant illustrations from Later Editions (1872-1924)

Left: Thomas Worth provides a similar scene of Dicken's convalescence: Getting tea ready (American Household Edition, 1872). Right: Charles Green's less whimsical Household Edition illustration focuses on Dick's response to seeing the Marchioness at his bedside in The Marchioness jumped up quickly, and clapped her hands (1876), and the cribbage board is not evident.

Left: Clayton J. Clarke's amusing caricatures of the dirty-faced, preternaturally old workhouse child in the Player's Cigarette card series: The Marchioness (Card No. 28), and a more Eliza Doolittle-like version with adolescent features in The Marchioness (for Chapter 2), both dating from 1910. Right: Harrold Copping's realisation of the same scene in Character Sketches from Dickens (1924).

Related Resources

Scanned images and texts 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.

Kitton, Frederic G. Dickens and His Illustrators. London: George Redway, 1899.

Lester, Valerie Browne. Phiz: The Man Who Drew Dickens. London: Chatto and Windus, 2004.

Steig, Michael. "Phiz's Marchioness." Dickens Studies. 2, 3: (September 1966): 141-46.

_______. Chapter 3. "From Caricature to Progress: Master Humphrey's Clock to Martin Chuzzlewit." Dickens and Phiz. Bloomington & London: Indiana U. P., 1978. 53-85.

Vann, J. Don. "The Old Curiosity Shop in Master Humphrey's Clock, 25 April 1840-6 February 1841." Victorian Novels in Serial. New York: MLA, 1985. 64-5.

Created 5 July 2002

Last modified 13 November 2020