Phiz's Engravings for Bleak House (1852-53)

Comparing the plates that appeared in the first edition of Bleak House to a good modern edition, such as the volume in the New Oxford Illustrated Dickens, gives us an idea of how the Victorian reader might have experienced the plates by Phiz. In the first place, whereas the illustrations in the New Oxford edition appear on a page 7 3/16 x 4 ¾ inches, those that Bradbury & Evans published in 1853 appeared on a page 8 7/16 x 5 inches. The paper on which the illustrations were printed provides a more important difference than their slightly larger page: in the modern edition the plates appear on the same paper as does the text of the novel, and this arrangement permits printing text on the reverse of each illustration. In contrast, the original bound volume edition printed the plates on much heavier stock; in the modern edition the text bleeds through slightly, but in the 1853 version it does not, thus making the plates look somewhat better but also more important.

On the whole, the New Oxford Illustrated Dickens plates for Bleak House are quite good, but those in the original often seem darker and slightly more dramatic, something particularly apparent when one compares the modern frontispiece and title-page with the 1853 version: even though my copy of the Bradbury & Evans edition shows considerable foxing on the frontispiece/title-page spread, the illustration of Chesney Wold has much more intensity. In addition, Oxford chose to insert an image of the Rev. Chadband printed in brown ink that has been abstracted from Mr. Chadband 'Improving' a Tough Subject, a plate that appears halfway through the novel. Chadband, one of Dickens's mocking portraits of Evangelical clergymen, has only an incidental role in the novel, and although his image makes a nice decoration on the title-page, the two-page spread no longer has the thematic contrast of the original, which contrasts Jo, the crossing-sweeping boy who is always told to "move on" with Chesney Wold — an arrangement that juxtaposes two of the main settngs of the novel, both of which have significance for Esther's mother, Lady Dedlock. — George P. Landow

[The following table follows The "List of Plates" in The Bradbury & Evans 1853 one-volume first edition of the novel, which originally appeared in monthly parts. In The 1853 version all titles of plates appear in full caps, and the pages listed are those facing the illustration.]

Frontispiece (Chesney Wold) and title-page (facing pages)Frontispiece
Frontispiece: Chesney Wold
Engraved Title-page
Frontispiece (working drawing)
The Little Old Lady 23
Miss Jellyby 31
The Lord Chancellor Copies from Memory 41
Coavinses 52
The Visit to the Brickmaker's 75
In Re Guppy. Extraordinary Proceedings 88
Mr. Guppy's Desolation 121
The Family Portraits at Mr. Bayham Badger's 123
The Dancing School 134
Consecrated Ground 160
Caddy's Flowers 170
The Little Church in the Park 177
Mr. Guppy's Entertainment 195
The Smallweed Family 208
A model of parental deportment 232
Mr. Chadband 'Improving' a Tough Subject 254
Visitors to the Shooting Gallery 261
The Young Man of the Name of Guppy 283
Nurse and Patient 309
The Appointed Time 320
The old man of the name of Tulkinghorn 331
Mr. Smallweed Breaks the Pipe of Peace 338
Lady Dedlock in the Wood 357
The Ghost's Walk 361
Attorney and Client: Fortitude and Impatience — Sketches: one and two388
Sunset in The long drawing-room at Chesney Wold — Sketches: one and two397
Sir Leicester Dedlock 424
Tom All Alone's 442
A new meaning in The Roman (Ceiling Detail and Detail from Sketch) 470
Friendly Behaviour of Mr. Bucket 477
Light 493
Shadow 512
Mrs. Bagnet returns from her expedition 530
The Lonely Figure 544
The Night 547
The Morning 576
Magnanimous Conduct of Mr. Guppy 612
The Mausoleum at Chesney Wold 619
The Monthly Wrapper, No. 1 (March 1852) unpaged

Related Material, including Other Illustrated Editions


Cohen, Jane Rabb. Charles Dickens and His Original Illustrators. Columbus: Ohio State U. P., 1980.

Dickens, Charles. Bleak House. London: Bradbury & Evans. Bouverie Street, 1853.

_______. Bleak House. The New Oxford Illustrated Dickens. London: Oxford University Press, 1948.

Steig, Michael. Chapter 6. "Bleak House and Little Dorrit: Iconography of Darkness." Dickens and Phiz. Bloomington & London: Indiana U. P., 1978. 131-172.

Vann, J. Don. "Bleak House, twenty parts in nineteen monthly instalments, October 1846—April 1848." Victorian Novels in Serial. New York: The Modern Language Association, 1985. 69-70./

Created 16 December 2007

Last modified 31 January 2021