"What Matilda?" inquired Hicks, starting up. Drawn by A. B. Frost. Wood engraving. For Part IV, "Tales": Chapter I, "The Boarding-House," in Dickens's Sketches by Boz Illustrative of Every-day Life and Every-Day People, page 193. Wood-engraving; 4 ⅛ by 5 3⁄16 inches (10.4 cm high by 13.3 cm wide), framed. The bachelors simultaneously start up from their padded chairs in Mrs. Tibbs's boarding-house as each mistakenly believes (momentarily) that each is about to marry the same woman. The farcical moment concludes with each disabused as the older bachelor will marry Mrs. Mapleson, the younger bachelor her daughter. They fall back into their chairs in relief.

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Bibliographical Information

The sketches which became "The Boarding-house" originally appeared as two separate articles in the Monthly Magazine (May and August numbers, 1834). Collected, these became the first of the short stories the "Tales" section in Dickens's Sketches by Boz Illustrative of Every-day Life and Every-Day People (1836 and 1839), illustrated in two separate copper-plate engravings by George Cruikshank. In the Household Edition (1876), Fred Barnard provided two regular illustrations, one for each part. The story was also illustrated by Sol Eytinge, Jr. in 1867, and by Harry Furniss in 1910 in the Diamond Edition and Charles Dickens Library Edition respectively.

Passage Illustrated: A Confusion of Matildas and a Mutual Recognition

"People must know that, some time or other — within a year, I imagine," said Mr. Calton, with an air of great self-complacency. ‘We may have a family."

"We! — That won’t affect you, surely?"

"The devil it won’t!"

"No! how can it?" said the bewildered Hicks. Calton was too much inwrapped in the contemplation of his happiness to see the equivoque between Hicks and himself; and threw himself back in his chair. "Oh, Matilda!" sighed the antique beau, in a lack-a-daisical voice, and applying his right hand a little to the left of the fourth button of his waistcoat, counting from the bottom. "Oh, Matilda!"

"What Matilda?" inquired Hicks, starting up.

"Matilda Maplesone," responded the other, doing the same.

"I marry her to-morrow morning," said Hicks.

"It’s false," rejoined his companion: "I marry her!"

"You marry her?"

"I marry her!"

"You marry Matilda Maplesone?"

"Matilda Maplesone."

"Miss Maplesone marry you?"

"Miss Maplesone! No; Mrs. Maplesone."

"Good Heaven!’ said Hicks, falling into his chair: ‘You marry the mother, and I the daughter!" [Part IV, "Tales," Chapter I, "The Boarding House," Part I, page 198]

Commentary: a Farcical Misapprehension

The dialogue between the younger and older bachelors sets up a rather complicated marriage plot that results in Mrs. Tibbs's losing all of her boarders, and having to replace them in the sequel, a division that reflects the story's serial and periodical publication circumstances. As Paul Davis explains, the first chapter in "Tales" initially appeared as “Two sketches, originally published in the Monthly Magazine (May, August 1834), describing romantic intrigues in Mrs. Tibbs's boarding house in Great Coram Street [Bloomsbury]. In the first, the three male boarders (Mr. Simpson, Mr. Septimus Hicks, and Mr. Calton) each arrange secret marriages to Mrs. Maplestone and her two daughters. In the second, the presence of Mrs. Bloss, a hypochrondriac widow, prompts romantic intrigues among the male boarders” (p. 39).

George Cruikshank's The Boarding House from Sketches (1836).

In this first dialogue, the older boarder, Mr. Calton (right), and the younger boarder, Mr. Hicks (left), are discussing their marital plans in Calton's room. Prior to their mutual recognition of their errors, they momentarily misapprehend each other's intentions. In fact, the older bachelor has proposed to Mrs. Maplestone while the younger has proposed to Miss Matilda Maplestone (the confusion being caused by mother and daughter sharing the same Christian name), and that therefore they should act as allies rather than rivals. Fred Barnard in the British Household Edition of Sketches by Boz, which Chapman and Hall issued the year previous to Harper's, illustrates the same conversation. However, in "I received a note —" he said very tremulously, in a voice like a Punch with a cold. —"Yes," returned the other, "You did." —"Exactly."—"Yes." Barnard's better dressed but equally confused bachelors seem less like caricatures than Frost's, whom he presents as mirror images.

Barnard achieves a realisation of the scene that is both more realistic and more staid than Frost's. The American illustrator has elected to capture the moment of misapprehension as if the scene were on stage in a period farce. The postures of the two bachelors effectively communicate their momentary shock, but the illustrator merely sketches in the supporting background details of the painting on the wall, the book-lined shelves, and the floral arrangement, all suggestive of bourgeois comfort and decorum, and contrasting the zaniness of the situation.

Relevant Illustrations from Various Editions, 1839 through 1910

Left: George Cruikshank's expository illustration for the first instalment of the short story, The Boarding House, the discussion of the young women boarders by the male boarders, The Boarding House. (1839). Centre: Sol Eytinge, Jr.s's comic study of the drunken Mr. Tibbs's being confronted by his shrewish wife in The Boarding-House (1867). Right: Harry Furniss's comic study of a most animated Mr. Tibbs, trying to kiss one of the young, attractive housemaids, in The Boarding House: Mr. Tibbs (1910).

Above: Fred Barnard's initial illustration for the story, in which the bachelors compare notes about their marriage plans, "I received a note —" he said very tremulously, in a voice like a Punch with a cold. — "Yes," returned the other, "You did." — "Exactly." — "Yes." (1876).


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Last modified 2 July 2019