Jo the Crossing Sweeper by "Phiz" for the Bradbury and Evans edition of Dickens's Bleak House (September 1853).(Frontispiece) and title-page and vignette
Pertinent Comments by Michael Steig regarding these Contrasting Plates
Right: Furniss's 1910 revision of the original frontispiece: Chesney Wold, Vol. 11 of the Charles Dickens Library Edition.
The frontispiece and title page, although published originally with the two plates just discussed, were planned with their ultimate position at the opening of the bound edition in mind. The frontispiece shows the manor of Chesney Wold in the distance, evidently at such time as "the waters are out in Lincolnshire" (ch. 2, p. 6), for the foreground shows — with fine dark plate technique — murky, marshy ground, while the trees are blown about in the wind and the sky is full of dark clouds. The manor itself almost bears the aspect of a haunted house; there is no specific indication that this haziness is meant to convey an explicit idea like the fading of the nobility, but the effect of the etching — for me, anyway — is one of ambiguous unpleasantness: loneliness, sterility, the lack of human connection are all suggested. The charcoal working drawing is itself quite different in tone from either steel, having been done with free, broad lines, but it is equally effective in its spooky way.
As a complement to the manor, the small title page vignette shows the opposite end of society — urban humanity in its lowest aspect. The subject is taken from chapter 16 (pp. 156-58), the first description of Jo the crossing-sweeper, and the comparison between the conditions of boy and dog in which the narrator argues that the "brute" is in most respects "far above the human" (p. 158). In the background, to add a touch of urban squalor, Phiz has drawn tiny figures of two ragged women quarrelling, with a shabby man watching idly. In the context of the novel, the contrast between these two etchings emphasizes the indifference of the powerful classes toward the powerless, but also conveys the feeling that the former, especially the nobility, are to be associated with death, the lower classes with life. The original appearance of these plates with those of the Dedlock mausoleum (in the double part) surely strengthens the point. [156-57]
- Preparatory drawing for the frontispiece — Chesney Wold (1853)
- Frontispiece and title-page by "Phiz" in the Oxford Illustrated edition of Dickens's Bleak House (1968)
Scanned image 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.]
Dickens, Charles. Bleak House. London: Bradbury & Evans. Bouverie Street, 1853.
Dickens, Charles. Bleak House. Project Gutenberg etext prepared by Donald Lainson, Toronto, Canada (email@example.com), with revision and corrections by Thomas Berger and Joseph E. Loewenstein, M. D. Seen 9 November 2007.
_____. Bleak House. Illustrated by Harry Furniss. The Charles Dickens Library Edition. London: Educational Book Company, 1910. Vol. 11.
Steig, Michael. Chapter 6. "Bleak House and Little Dorrit: Iconography of Darkness." Dickens and Phiz. Bloomington & London: Indiana U. P., 1978. Pp. 131-172.
Created 22 November 2019
Last modified 31 January 2020