The Faint by Phiz (Hablot K. Browne). Illustration for Lever's Davenport Dunn: A Man of Our Time (1859).

Bibliographical Note

This, the sixth serial illustration for Charles Lever's Davenport Dunn: A Man of Our Time, Part 3 (September 1857), Chapter 10, "A 'Small Dinner'," appeared facing page 89 in the 1859, single-volume edition. Steel-plate etching — a dark plate, 3 ½ by 6 ⅞ inches (9 cm high by 17.3 cm wide), framed. The story was serialised by Chapman and Hall in monthly parts, from July 1857 through April 1859. The seventh and eighth illustrations in the volume initially appeared in reverse order a the very beginning of the third monthly instalment, which went on sale on 1 September 1857. This number included Chapters VII through XI, and ran from page 65 through 96.

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Passage Illustrated: The Aftermath of a Discussion of Victorian Divorce

“Good Heavens! are you ill?" cried be, as with a low, faint cry she sank to the ground.

"Is she dying? Good God! is she dead?" cried Lady Lackington, as she lifted the powerless arm, and held the cold hands within her own. [Chapter X, "A 'Small Dinner'," p. 91]

Commentary: A Matter of Divorce — Lady Grace Faints in the Dark

In the eighth chapter's title, "Mr. Dunn," Lever apparently promises the reader more than a mere nocturnal glimpse of the recently arrived financial wizard, who, nevertheless, makes no appearance for the September illustrations. Rather, Davenport Dunn comforts Lady Lucy Twining in the darkness outside Lady Lackington's apartments at the Villa d'Este, Lake Como, after she has fainted upon the learning the name of Dunn's rich but dejected friend. (This man likely was the man she loved before accepting the marriage proposal of the wealthy but callous Twining.) Phiz's decision to make this particular illustration a dark plate, which would have been much more time-consuming to produce than a simple line-engraving, seems to reflect his intention to convey the Lady Grace's disturbed mental state, particularly her mood of depression and despair at the current state of her loveless marriage.

Whereas Lever in the text describes Lady Grace, unhappily married to the wealthy Twining, walking out of the lighted interior and leaning over the balcony in the darkness, Phiz depicts the entire party facing away from the balcony, so that they form a unit. Moreover, Phiz has posed all three facing away from the lake and looking back at the villa, probably so that he can depict the romantic backdrop of Lake Como, the craggy peaks, and the small houses perched on the cliff to the left. Likely the feint which the artist describes has in part been occasioned by the prefatory dialogue about divorce, which has clearly taken place before the characters involved in the passage and the engraving come out on the terrace. Here, then, in The Faint, his first dark plate etching for Davenport Dunn, Phiz establishes the atmospheric setting as the veranda outside Lady Lackington's private suite where she has been hosting a private dinner party for herself, Lady Grace Twining, and the financier Davenport Dunn. The nocturnal setting also conveys a sense of mystery as the darkness engulfing the figures obscures Davenport Dunn's face. Although this sixth serial illustration marks his initial appearance in the Phiz's narrative-pictorial series, the illustrator deliberately keeps Dunn's form and features obscure, so that the reader can understand Dunn only from his sententious remarks to the ladies, and his dispassionate assessment of the new divorce law and the recently established divorce courts (derived from the Probate Ecclesiastical Court of Doctors' Commons). Another obscure aspect of the scene is its ambiguity with respect to the precise passage illustrated, for Lady Grace faints twice: first, during the discussion of divorce, suggesting how desperately she wishes to leave the parsimonious Twining on grounds of psychological cruelty, and again, on the veranda, when Dunn climaxes the narrative of his unhappy friend by mentioning that his name is "Allington." That Dunn's friend is suffering from unrequited love pains Lady Grace, for she is the cause of his pain. Dunn in his foregoing narrative unconsciously comments upon a younger Lady Grace's materialistic nature. Unfortunately for Lady Grace, psychological cruelty was not listed the among the acceptable grounds for the Divorce and Matrimonial Causes Court to grant a civil divorce, as Lever, writing in the summer of 1857, would likely have known:

Under the [1857] act the grounds for divorce were a wife's adultery, and a husband's adultery if it was aggravated by cruelty, incest, bigamy, or bestiality. The grounds for judicial separation were adultery, cruelty, or desertion for two years. [Shanley, 223]

Related Material: Victorian Divorce

Working methods


Harvey, John R. "Conditions of Illustration in Serial Fiction." Victorian Novelists and Their Illustrators. London: Sidgwick and Jackson, 1970. Pp. 182-198.

Lever, Charles. Davenport Dunn: A Man of Our Day. Illustrated by "Phiz" (Hablot Knight Browne). London: Chapman and Hall, 1859.

Shanley, Mary Lyndon. "Divorce." Victorian Britain: An Encyclopedia. Edited by Sally Mitchell. Garland Reference Library of Social Science (Vol. 438). London and New York: Garland, 1988. Pp. 223-224.

Last modified 4 August 2019