The door was just going to be closed in consequence, when an inquisitive boarder, who had been peeping between the hinges, set up a fearful screaming. by Phiz (Hablot K. Browne). Household Edition (1874) of Dickens's Pickwick Papers, p. 113. Engraved by one of the Dalziels. [Click on image to enlarge it.]

In chapter 16 (in the sixth monthly part) Dickens and Phiz had explored the farcical possibilities of Pickwick's being caught in the garden of a young ladies' boarding school at night in "The Unexpected Breaking Up of the Seminary for Young Ladies" (September 1836). In the 1873 Household Edition's eighteenth illustration, Phiz revisits the scene of Pickwick's embarrassed do-gooding gone awry, eliminating the casement window and foliage surrounding the doorway, moving in on the figures, and rendering them — particularly the cook with the disfigured face — more natural and less cartoon-like. Perhaps correcting the negative image of the original steel engraving, in the 1873 version Phiz also reverses the juxtaposition of Pickwick (formerly on the left, now on the right) and the doorway (formerly opening to stage right, now opening to stage left), and displays him flattened against the garden wall, rather than obscured by the darkness. The cook still takes the lead, candle in her left hand, but the lead teacher is immediately beside her and carries no candle, as the dozen girls, looking curious rather than frightened, crowd in behind the two adult figures.

Although the 1873 woodcut lacks the details of the earlier engraving, Phiz has added the devices of a garden roller (right) and a potted plant (left) to comment upon Pickwick's physical and emotional discomfiture. Although the door in the later illustration looks as sturdy as its 1836 counterpart, with bolts top and bottom and a stout locking mechanism, Phiz has eliminated the bell (above the cook's head) and added a security-chain to the lock. While the majority of the young ladies, following the lead of their elders, are mistakenly looking forward or to the left for the source of the noise, Pickwick hugs the wall, his heels pushed up against the bricks. Phiz lets the comic situation speak for itself, so to speak, and does not rely on humorous characterisations of the two teachers and the distorted features of the cook to heighten the physical comedy of the elderly, middle-class gentleman's being detected within the Junonian precincts of Miss Tompkins's school by "three teachers, five female servants, and thirty boarders, all half-dressed, and in a forest of curl-papers" (111). In fact, only two of the fifteen young ladies in the 1873 woodcut have curl-papers, and none is scantily clad, the two adults being fully dressed in day-clothes and the young ladies in discrete nightgowns. Somehow, even in the second version, Phiz has been unable to accommodate the "thirty" boarders, having managed to work in only eight in the 1836 plate.

Nast in the American Household Edition passes up this comic opportunity, showing instead Pickwick (or, at least, one of his feet) tumbling over the wall of the boarding school with Sam's assistance in "That immortal gentleman completely over the wall". Thus, Nast prepares us for the embarrassing scene, but elects not to try to compete with Phiz's 1836 depiction of it.

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Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham. Formatting by George P. Landow. [You may use this image without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the person who scanned the image and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one.]


Dickens, Charles. Pickwick Papers. The Household Edition. London: Chapman and Hall, 1874; New York: Harpers, 1874.

Last modified 26 March 2012