"And you know what wittles is?" by F. A. Fraser (1876), in Charles Dickens's Great Expectations, Chapman & Hall. British Household Edition, for Chapter I. 10.8 x 13.7 cm (4 ¼ by 5 ⅜ inches), framed. Running head: "I Promise to Get the Convict What He Wants" (3). [Click on the image to enlarge it.]

Passage Illustrated: Pip's Terrible Encounter in the Village Churchyard

Abel Magwitch by Clayton J. Clarke ('Kyd') in the Garnett Edition (1900).

"Show us where you live," said the man. "Pint out the place!"

I pointed to where our village lay, on the flat in-shore among the alder-trees and pollards, a mile or more from the church.

The man, after looking at me for a moment, turned me upside down, and emptied my pockets. There was nothing in them but a piece of bread. When the church came to itself, — for he was so sudden and strong that he made it go head over heels before me, and I saw the steeple under my feet, — when the church came to itself, I say, I was seated on a high tombstone, trembling while he ate the bread ravenously.

"Ha!" he muttered then, considering. "Who d’ye live with, — supposin’ you’re kindly let to live, which I han’t made up my mind about?"

"My sister, sir, — Mrs. Joe Gargery, — wife of Joe Gargery, the blacksmith, sir."

"Blacksmith, eh?" said he. And looked down at his leg.

After darkly looking at his leg and me several times, he came closer to my tombstone, took me by both arms, and tilted me back as far as he could hold me; so that his eyes looked most powerfully down into mine, and mine looked most helplessly up into his.

"Now lookee here," he said, "the question being whether you’re to be let to live. You know what a file is?"

"Yes, sir."

"And you know what wittles is?"

"Yes, sir."

After each question he tilted me over a little more, so as to give me a greater sense of helplessness and danger. [Chapter I, 2]

Commentary: The Scene Sets the Keynote

One of the novel’s most memorable scenes occurs within the opening chapter, as Pip, playing near his patents’s grave in the village churchyard, suddenly encounters Abel Magwitch. The convicted felon, who has just escaped from the nearby prison hulks (a temporary holding location prior to his transportation to Australia), ravenously menaces the skinny boy with vague threats of eating him. But then Magwitch, realizing the raggedly dressed boy is an orphan, takes pity on him, even as he seeks to exploit the boy’s relationship with the local blacksmith. Terrified, Pip agrees to bring the savage stranger both food (in Magwitch’s East End dialect, “wittles”) and the file necessary to severe his fetters.

The scene has numerous parallels in the many illustrated editions issued after the novel’s 1861 serialization in the unillustrated weekly magazine All the Year Round. In fact, the first such realization of this memorable scene was published in the United States in Harper's Weekly prior to the story’s initial appearance in Dickens’s own literary journal. McLenan, one of the house artists for Harper’s weekly, however, presents the figures as rigid and static, whereas Fraser in the British Household Edition shows the child and the adult interacting. Magwitch stoops slightly to bring his face close to the boy’s, as if studying him. The 1876 wood-engraving presents the pair as both opposites (free child, escaped convict; small, fearful child versus bear-like, slightly curious adult) and related by their poverty, their isolation, their both being social Outsiders.

However, since McLennan’s illustration appeared only in the United States fifteen years earlier, the British Household Edition illustrator had probably never seen or been influenced by it. The program which would have influenced Fraser was that by Marcus Stone in the 1862 Illustrated Library Edition. Unfortunately, Stone provided Fraser with no model as he focussed on Pip’s social climbing and the romantic scenes, between Pip and Miss Havisham (frontispiece) and between Pip and Estella. Later series, however, appear to have been influenced by Fraser’s choice of subject here, as “Pip and the Convict” is one of the novel’s most frequently illustrated moments in all later editions, a nod towards late Victorian social realism.

Other editions' illustrations for this same chapter (1860-1910)

Left: Pip and the Convict (1867), frontispiece for the Diamond Edition by Sol Eytinge, Jr. Centre: In the first American serialisation, periodical illustrator John McLenan introduces the action with Pip, seated and almost transfixed: "You young dog!" said the man, licking his lips at me, "What fat cheeks you ha' got!" (24 November 1860). Right: Harry Furniss's 1910 lithographic depiction of the encounter is far more violent and sensational: Pip's Struggle with the Escaped Convict, in the Charles Dickens Library Edition, Vol. 14.

Left: F. W. Pailthorpe's "Terrible Stranger in the Churchyard." Right: H. M. Brock's "I made bold to say 'I am glad you enjoy it'".

Other Artists’ Illustrations for Dickens's Great Expectations


Allingham, Philip V. "The Illustrations for Great Expectations in Harper's Weekly (1860-61) and in the Illustrated Library Edition (1862) — 'Reading by the Light of Illustration'." Dickens Studies Annual, Vol. 40 (2009): 113-169.

Bentley, Nicolas, Michael Slater, and Nina Burgis. The Dickens Index. Oxford and New York: Oxford U. P., 1988.

Davis, Paul. Charles Dickens A to Z: The Essential Reference to His Life and Work. New York: Facts On File, 1998.

Dickens, Charles. The Letters of Charles Dickens. Ed. Madeline House, Graham Storey, and Kathleen Tillotson. Oxford: Clarendon, 1965. Vol. 9 (1859-1861).

______. Great Expectations. All the Year Round. Vols. IV and V. 1 December 1860 through 3 August 1861.

______. Great Expectations. Illustrated by John McLenan. [The First American Edition]. Harper's Weekly: A Journal of Civilization, Vols. IV: 740 through V: 495 (24 November 1860-3 August 1861).

______. ("Boz."). Great Expectations. With thirty-four illustrations from original designs by John McLenan. Philadelphia: T. B. Peterson (by agreement with Harper & Bros., New York), 1861.

______. Great Expectations. Illustrated by Marcus Stone. The Illustrated Library Edition. London: Chapman and Hall, 1862. Rpt. in The Nonesuch Dickens, Great Expectations and Hard Times. London: Nonesuch, 1937; Overlook and Worth Presses, 2005.

______. A Tale of Two Cities and Great Expectations. Illustrated by Sol Eytinge, Jr. The Diamond Edition.16 vols. Boston: Ticknor and Fields, 1867.

______. Great Expectations. Volume 6 of the Household Edition. Illustrated by F. A. Fraser. London: Chapman and Hall, 1876.

______. Great Expectations. The Gadshill Edition. Illustrated by Charles Green. London: Chapman and Hall, 1898.

______. Great Expectations. The Grande Luxe Edition, ed. Richard Garnett. Illustrated by Clayton J. Clarke ('Kyd'). London: Merrill and Baker, 1900.

______. Great Expectations. "With 28 Original Plates by Harry Furniss." Volume 14 of the Charles Dickens Library Edition. London: Educational Book Co., 1910.

Rosenberg, Edgar (ed.). "Launching Great Expectations." Charles Dickens's Great Expectations. New York: W. W. Norton, 1999. Pp. 389-423.

Stein, Robert A. "Dickens and Illustration." The Cambridge Companion to Charles Dickens. Ed. John O. Jordan. Cambridge: Cambridge U. P., 2001. 167-188.

Watt, Alan S. "Why Wasn't Great Expectations Illustrated?" The Dickens Magazine Series 1, Issue 2. Haslemere, England: Euromed Communications, 2001: 8-9.

Waugh, Arthur. "Charles Dickens and His Illustrators." Retrospectus and Prospectus: The Nonesuch Dickens. London: Bloomsbury, 1937, rpt. 2003. Pp. 6-52.

Created 28 December 2004

Last modified 2 August 2021