The Old Curiosity Club discussion

11 views
Sketches by Boz > Horatio Sparkins

Comments Showing 1-33 of 33 (33 new)    post a comment »
dateDown arrow    newest »

message 1: by Peter (last edited May 22, 2018 01:45PM) (new)

Peter | 3444 comments Mod
Horatio Sparkins

For those of you that would enjoy discussing our next Sketches here are the first two that will bridge our reading between The Pickwick Papers and Oliver Twist. When I consider the sheer number of the Sketches, and then think that these were written before The Pickwick Papers, I am almost stunned by the volume of literature that Dickens produced at such an early age.

Our first Sketch is titled “Horatio Sparkins” which is a rather grand sounding name, is it not? Indeed, he has already attracted the notice of a Mrs Malderton who considers him “the most gentleman-like young man I ever saw.” Mrs Malderton’s interest is not so much for herself, but rather for her daughters who are still unattached. Her daughter Teresa is 28, “rather fat, ... and still disengaged, although to do her justice, the misfortune arose from no lank of perseverance on her part.” Teresa has been bypassed by many men. It is interesting to speculate whether Teresa or her mother is more interested in finding a husband. As for Mr Malderton, it seems his main, or perhaps sole interest, is maintaining his state of influence and affluence in business. We are told that as the Malderton’s wealth and influence increased so did their opinion of themselves.


Thoughts

Our story begins with talk of assemblies, dinners, modes of dress, and success in business. If only Teresa can find an acceptable husband all will be well. Can you already sense some complications that may occur?

Horatio Sparkins is somewhat mysterious, and like most people who have details of their lives unaccounted for others soon speculate to fill in the blanks. Sparkins is rumoured to be many things, and connected to many enterprises. Teresa at one point even thinks Sparkins has the attitude of Lord Byron. Sparkins, for his part, sweet talks Teresa, impresses her parents and family, and talks silliness which seems to impress the entire Malderton family. At one point Tom Malderton remarks of Sparkins that ”He talks very loud and nicely ... but I don’t understand what he means.” Is this statement more than an example of passing humour on Dickens’s part? We know by now why the Malderton’s have an interest in Sparkins and yet Dickens has not yet told us who he really is.

Mr Malderton’s class consciousness clearly shows itself when we learn that he is horrified that his wife’s brother Mr Barton is a grocer. To Malderton this is a disgrace to the family. Malderton has invited a Mr Flamwell to join the family dinner party with Sparkins. Flamwell, Dickens tells the reader, is a person who “pretend[s] to know everybody, but in reality knows nobody.” And so the dinner party unfolds and all appears to be promising between Teresa and Sparkins.

Thoughts

Before the reveal at the end of this sketch what hints that all would not turn out well did you notice?


As our tale comes to its conclusion we find out that Sparkins is not a mysterious Byronic deity but a clerk in a “cheap shop.” Horatio loses any chance to court Teresa, and we read that Teresa is still unmarried. The Malderton family are even more class conscious and Flamwell continues to bamboozle others with his feigned knowledge of society.

Thoughts

In this sketch almost everyone seems to be blinded by pretence, hypocrisy or ignorance of others. Perhaps only the grocer Mr Barton is comfortable in his position and role in society. What do you think was the most effective part of this sketch?


message 2: by Peter (new)

Peter | 3444 comments Mod
The Black Veil

With a title like “The Black Veil” we should expect some form of mystery and Dickens does not disappoint us. This sketch has a feel and touch of a sensational novel. The sketch offers us a mysterious woman, a midnight visit to a doctor, an eerie house and a convoluted story of life and death which leads to a gentle and reflective story ending. Within the paragraphs of this story we find strong writing, interesting detail and a very effective tone. And to realize that all of this comes from an author in his early twenties. It’s all rather humbling.

The first paragraphs create an interesting setting and establishes the protagonist. What would a mysterious Victorian story be without stormy weather? On both accounts “The Black Veil” does not disappoint. Almost all sensational novels have a romance, and again “The Black Veil” does not disappoint. Of course, our doctor protagonist needs to be honourable, somewhat dashing and have a pinch of naivety. Check. Dickens knows how to construct a good tale, doesn’t he?

The doctor of our story is young, in love, but yet without any patients when a lady “muffed in a black shawl” and her face “shrouded by a black veil” enters, and indicates that she wishes to consult him. She is mysterious and claims she is there for another and admits she may be mad and talks about “the hopelessness of human assistance availing him, the bare thought of laying him in his grave without it makes my blood run cold.” Well, what is this all about? Who is “him?”

Thoughts

Dickens has certainly switched gears from our earlier story. Sketches By Boz is a treasure trove of styles, character sketches, social commentary and humourous pieces. The title “Sketches” is perfect. Are you a fan of the sensational style of literature? What is your first impression of “The Black Veil?”

Who is your favourite sensational writer?


The mysterious lady confuses the doctor to a degree and he tries to sort out her story. Here is the puzzle as the doctor describes it:

“This person is dying to-night, and I cannot see him when my assistance might possibly avail; you apprehend it will be useless to-morrow, and yet you would have me see him then! If he he be indeed, as dear to you, as your words and manner would imply, why not try to save his life without delay and the progress of his disease render it impractical?”

The mystery continues to deepen. The doctor arranges to meet with the woman the next day, but the doctor wonders about the woman’s mental state. He cannot get the image of the Black Veil from his mind. The address the doctor visits the next morning is a desolate one. He is placed in a “little cold room” to await further developments. This is the doctor’s first professional visit. He is then met by the veiled lady who takes him upstairs and to a room that contains a dead man. The woman begs him not to say the wrapped figure is dead. She insists that he may well be still alive. The doctor finally discovers that the the body of the man is the woman’s son who was hanged that morning. The son had been a wayward lad, the mother was long-suffering, and the son’s dissipated life had lead to his mother’s shame and incurable insanity.

We learn that the young doctor rose to be an important surgeon in his later career, but he never forgot to extend his time and concern to the welfare of the veiled woman. Her prayers for him appear to have been answered, and, as for the doctor, the veiled woman was always a most gratifying memory.


Thoughts

Is the resolution of this story an effective one in your estimation? Why or why not?

To what extent was Dickens able to create and present to the reader the elements of the sensational?


message 3: by Bionic Jean (last edited May 23, 2018 01:01PM) (new)

Bionic Jean (bionicjean) I read and enjoyed Horatio Sparkins. In fact I read the Preface to the Sketches by Boz first, and was surprised how apologetic Dickens was! It was quite a defensive piece, as if he expected flack from his readers.

Yet I found this story to be very enjoyable, and skilfully written. As you say Peter, it is surprising that he wrote this before The Pickwick Papers, at such a young age.

Did anyone else feel that the dinner parties reminded them of the Veneerings in Our Mutual Friend? The theme of getting daughters married off seems to be quite a common one in Victorian literature (and a little earlier ... Jane Austen's novels are full of them!) But nobody does it quite like Dickens :)

The lower middle class drapers remind me of some of H.G. Wells's novels, such as Kipps or The History of Mr. Polly, and I seem to remember that the main characters in each of those was also rather vague and disenchanted with their lot in life.

I particularly enjoyed the controlled way Dickens made us sure that Mr. Sparkins was going to surprise everybody by not being as respectable as he appeared, and of course it was even better that he held a job that there would be no shame on having, save that the Malderton family were so supremely conscious of their good breeding and class, that everything else - every good human characteristic - would be sacrificed to it. This is a theme which I think Dickens kept close to his heart, as in his writings we often find him poking fun at these pompous snobbish folk.


message 4: by Chris (new)

Chris Rogers | 9 comments Hi both-I’ve read Horatio Sparkins too now and agree with Jean’s comment that it was surprising to see how well written and considered this piece was given how early it was in his writing.

The aspect that struck me most after reading it was the inability of the Maldertons to see that Sparkins was merely striving for the same thing as the others around the dinner table (aside from, as you note Peter, Mr Barton)-namely social betterment. Although you don’t get to see their reaction, Dickens ending summary left me feeling they’d immediately discarded of Sparkins, despite the discovery actually creating a common bond between them.

It was also interesting to see what becomes a common Dickens theme in its infancy-having recent read Hard Times the social betterment aspect felt like echoes from some of his later full length works.

I’m interested in what others made of Flamwell-in particular although I came away with a less favourable opinion of him than Sparkins, thinking back there are similarities between the two (that perhaps say something about the Maldertons), but there were also differences that probably led to the balance of my favour between the two. What did others think Dickens used Flamwell to bring to the story? (First time contributor, so apologies if I’m not supposed to introduce new questions!)


message 5: by Peter (new)

Peter | 3444 comments Mod
Jean wrote: "I read and enjoyed Horatio Sparkins. In fact I read the Preface to the Sketches by Boz first, and was surprised how apologetic Dickens was! It was quite a defensive pi..."

Jean

The Veenerings. Of course! Thanks for mentioning Dickens’s sensitivity. He was always very attuned to his audience, and to think that he felt defensive is interesting. I wonder what kind of push back he was responding to?


message 6: by Peter (new)

Peter | 3444 comments Mod
Chris wrote: "Hi both-I’ve read Horatio Sparkins too now and agree with Jean’s comment that it was surprising to see how well written and considered this piece was given how early it was in his writing.

The asp..."


Hi Chris

First time commentor. While there is not a prize as such, we are glad you are aboard. Please feel free to ask questions, ponder ideas, discuss all points of view and generally enjoy our Pickwickian club.

We do try to avoid spoilers going forward, but delight in general comments and connections as Jean did with her reference to the Veenerings.

Yes indeed, social commentary, one’s place on the social ladder and what a person is willing to do to maintain their position or improve it, form a major foundation to Dickens’s novels. I’m thinking hard, but cannot recall any character who happily seeks a lower position in the social hierarchy. Perhaps Wemmick from Great Expectations in some ways, but he (to my mind anyway) chose to create and guard his private world, one of which really wasn’t a lower level of society, but it was certainly a surprise to Jaggers.


message 7: by Bionic Jean (last edited May 23, 2018 02:46PM) (new)

Bionic Jean (bionicjean) Is there "any character who happily seeks a lower position in the social hierarchy"?

Great poser, Peter :)

Um Betty Higden maybe? The idea of preferring poverty and losing her home, to accepting charity, is perhaps something else though.

I'm sure there must be examples of self-abasing characters in Dickens though, as there are so many "female martyrs".

Good to have you aboard, Chris :)


message 8: by Chris (new)

Chris Rogers | 9 comments Thanks both-and apologies, I managed to slip in a spoiler without thinking about it! Will be more mindful going forward.

That is an interesting point-I’m still working my way through Dickens’ work but agree there’s not many I can recall that aren’t striving to climb the ladder in some way.

Indeed Wemmick is an interesting call, as he’s almost cast as a social outsider or an oddball because of his contentment with his lot. The only other that comes to mind is Mr Sleary (circus owner) in Hard Times-although there’s perhaps still too much of an eagerness to please Gradgrind on occasion.


message 9: by Bionic Jean (new)

Bionic Jean (bionicjean) Oh, should I edit my post too Peter? I suppose I assumed that since these are "all in one" reads, nobody would read the thread until they had read the short story, but am happy to edit it.


message 10: by Bionic Jean (new)

Bionic Jean (bionicjean) I love this bit:

"Mr. Smith, thus enjoined to use all possible despatch, leaped over the counter with great agility, and placed himself before the newly-arrived customers. Mrs. Malderton uttered a faint scream; Miss Teresa, who had been stooping down to talk to her sister, raised her head, and beheld — Horatio Sparkins!"

It's so visual!


message 11: by Peter (new)

Peter | 3444 comments Mod
Jean wrote: "Is there "any character who happily seeks a lower position in the social hierarchy"?

Great poser, Peter :)

Um Betty Higden maybe? The idea of preferring poverty and losing her home, to accepting ..."


Jean

Ah, Betty Higden. Of course. Thanks Jean.

And Jean, no need to edit or change anything. It’s all good.


message 12: by Peter (new)

Peter | 3444 comments Mod
Chris wrote: "Thanks both-and apologies, I managed to slip in a spoiler without thinking about it! Will be more mindful going forward.

That is an interesting point-I’m still working my way through Dickens’ work..."


Chris

Sleary is a great call. This is what I love about our group. Both you and Jean scrape rust off my brain. I really enjoy our interaction and hope you will too.


message 13: by Bionic Jean (new)

Bionic Jean (bionicjean) I'm still wracking my brains for a hero who "happily seeks a lower position in the social hierarchy" Maybe this would go against the grain too much for Dickens to write a sympathetic character so much against his own inclinations?

(Stirring it a little here ;) )


message 14: by Suki (new)

Suki St Charles (goodreadscomsuki_stcharles) | 29 comments Horatio Sparkins was very funny, with everybody social climbing all over each other. I was reminded of Hyacinth Bucket ("it's pronounced Boo-kay!") from the BBC show Keeping Up Appearances. Unfortunately, my edition of Sketches by Boz had a built-in spoiler-- it had the illustration of Horatio Sparkins meeting the ladies in the shop several pages too soon, so I had a pretty good idea of what was going to happen. From now on I'll ignore the illustrations until I've finished reading the story.

The Black Veil had incredible atmosphere-- at first, it had the feel of a Victorian ghost story. I felt so sorry for the lady in black-- it really warmed my heart to read about the doctor looking in on her and helping her out for the rest of her life.


message 15: by Bionic Jean (new)

Bionic Jean (bionicjean) Oh that's a shame Suki! I know the illustration you mean, and have been thinking Kim will probably post it :) It's lovely but as you say would act as a spoiler.


message 16: by Tristram (new)

Tristram Shandy | 4853 comments Mod
Jean wrote: "Oh, should I edit my post too Peter? I suppose I assumed that since these are "all in one" reads, nobody would read the thread until they had read the short story, but am happy to edit it."

I don't think it's necessary to edit your comment, Jean, because everyone reading this thread might, or should (?), have read the short stories in question, mightn't (or shouldn't?) they?

I like your reference to the Veneerings, because I really thought of them as well. And when it came to Flamwell, the man who knows everyone and everything, I was reminded of Mr. Podsnap and his mental armour of Podsnappery. The younger son who was constantly put down by everyone else of the family made me think of Mr. Sparkler in Little Dorrit, who also had difficulty following whatever happened around him, and who was treated with disdain by his mother and later by his wife.

As has been said in this thread, Dickens was surely interested in lampooning social pretension and snobbery.


message 17: by Tristram (new)

Tristram Shandy | 4853 comments Mod
Jean wrote: "I love this bit:

"Mr. Smith, thus enjoined to use all possible despatch, leaped over the counter with great agility, and placed himself before the newly-arrived customers. Mrs. Malderton uttered a..."


This little detail of Mr. Sparkins jumping across the counter endeared the character to me because I took it as a sign of his liking his job a lot and going about it with heart-felt zeal and ambition, which is always (or most often - saving professions like hitman or pickpocket) a sign of a person's quality. Indeed, Mr. Sparkins does not really seem to feel ashamed of his profession, and why should he? We all depend on salesmen, cleaners, garbagemen etc, and so I don't see why anybody should look down on them. Of course, there is the Victorian gentleman ideal in the background of this story and of the Malderton's pretensions, but I'd say that I'd rather look down on a person who does not lift a finger and depends on inherited wealth, or the stock exchange, or the benevolence of others for his living than upon somebody who does an honest day's work.


message 18: by Bionic Jean (last edited May 25, 2018 12:11PM) (new)

Bionic Jean (bionicjean) Yes I too thought of Sparkler, Fanny Dorrit's beau, and have been striving to find a connection - perhaps both are rather lacklustre rather than sparkling (so a facetious name)? And somewhat put upon, as you say.

I agree totally about the issue of inherited wealth v. an honest day's work, but wonder whether Dickens felt conflicted in this area. He often pokes fun at such people, or makes them grotesque, but in his private life seemed keen to impress.

Nice observation about Podsnappery!

And thanks, both, for confirming my assumption about short stories. It would be difficult to provide a brief précis without revealing the ending anyway!


message 19: by Kim (new)

Kim | 6381 comments Mod


"Horatio Sparkins"

George Cruikshank

1839

Text llustrated:

At twelve o'clock on the following morning, the "fly" was at the door of Oak Lodge, to convey Mrs. Malderton and her daughters on their expedition for the day. They were to dine and dress for the play at a friend's house. First, driving thither with their band-boxes, they departed on their first errand to make some purchases at Messrs. Jones, Spruggins, and Smith's, of Tottenham Court Road; after which, they were to go to Redmayne's in Bond Street; thence, to innumerable places that no one ever heard of. The young ladies beguiled the tediousness of the ride by eulogising Mr. Horatio Sparkins, scolding their mamma for taking them so far to save a shilling, and wondering whether they should ever reach their destination. At length, the vehicle stopped before a dirty-looking ticketed linen-draper's shop, with goods of all kinds, and labels of all sorts and sizes, in the window. There were dropsical figures of seven with a little three-farthings in the corner; "perfectly invisible to the naked eye;" three hundred and fifty thousand ladies' boas, from one shilling and a penny halfpenny; real French kid shoes, at two and ninepence per pair; green parasols, at an equally cheap rate; and "every description of goods," as the proprietors said — and they must know best — "fifty per cent. under cost price."

"Lor! ma, what a place you have brought us to!" said Miss Teresa; "what​ would​ Mr. Sparkins say if he could see us!"

"Ah! what, indeed!" said Miss Marianne, horrified at the idea.

"Pray be seated, ladies. What is the first article?" inquired the obsequious master of the ceremonies of the establishment, who, in his large white neckcloth and formal tie, looked like a bad "portrait of a gentleman" in the Somerset House exhibition.

"I want to see some silks,"​answered Mrs. Malderton.

"Directly, ma'am. — Mr. Smith! Where is​ Mr. Smith?"

"Here, sir,"​ cried a voice at the back of the shop.

"Pray make haste, Mr. Smith," said the M. C. "You never are to be found when you're wanted, sir."

Mr. Smith, thus enjoined to use all possible despatch, leaped over the counter with great agility, and placed himself before the newly-arrived customers. Mrs. Malderton uttered a faint scream; Miss Teresa, who had been stooping down to talk to her sister, raised her head, and beheld — Horatio Sparkins!


Commentary:

"Horatio Sparkins," fifth of the stories in the 'Tales' section of the collected edition of Sketches buy Boz. Originally published in The Monthly Magazine, Feb. 1834. Describes how Sparkins, posing in society as a fashionable young gentleman, imposes on the snobbish Malderton family, who are horrified to discover by accident that he is, in fact, merely as draper's assistant. — The Dickens Index.

As with "The Tuggses at Ramsgate", Fred Barnard would later depict an earlier stage of the "confidence game" with the sophisticated Horatio the node of all orbits in the assembly-room scene, whereas the original Cruikshank illustration, Horatio Sparkins prepares the alert reader at the very outset for the "discovery scene" in which the noveau-riche Malderton ladies, visiting the cut-rate, somewhat dingy draper's shop where Horatio works as "Mr. Smith," are shocked to discover his true, "un-Byronic," plebeian identity. As Paul Schlicke remarks,

Formally, the sketches and tales are organized in fundamentally different ways. The sketches generally lack plot and proceed wherever Boz's enquiring eye happens to alight. Their tone is genial, compassionate, and urbane. The tales, in contrast, are generally sardonic, moving boldly towards narrative climax, which often exposes vain or foolish characters to ridicule. . . . — The Oxford Reader's Companion to Dickens.

Since in the short story cloth and clothing take on an emblematic meaning of superficial and spurious (as opposed to genuine) identity, both illustrators have chosen thematically significant scenes. Barnard takes us to opening scene, the assembly, a pseudo-aristocratic world of glittering appearances and superficial sentiments in which "Horatio Sparkins," the draper's assistant, is able to pull the wool over the fashion-conscious eyes of the Maldertons precisely because they trust so much to appearances and "very fine words" . Dickens's initial description of the family at the ball emphasizes fashion and appearance over character and achievement:

The night succeeding the conversation we have just recorded, was "assembly night." The double-fly was ordered to be at the door of Oak Lodge at nine o'clock precisely. The Miss Maldertons were dressed in sky-blue satin trimmed with artificial flowers; and Mrs. M. (who was a little fat woman), in ditto ditto, looked like her eldest daughter multiplied by two. Mr. Frederick Malderton, the eldest son, in full-dress costume, was the very beau idéal of a smart waiter; and Mr. Thomas Malderton, the youngest, with his white dress-stock, blue coat, bright buttons, and red watch-ribbon, strongly resembled the portrait of that interesting, but rash young gentleman, George Barnwell [the callow apprentice who murders his master in George Lillo's domestic tragedy The London Merchant; Or, The History of George Barnwell .

The gestures of the three female Maldertons at the draper's counter suggest their shock and disbelief as they discover that Horatio Sparkins is a fraud — and are caught out buying inferior silks at "a dirty-looking ticketed linendraper's shop" in order "save a shilling." The elegantly dressed young man with the slender waist and perfectly fitting tailcoat, waistcoat, and cravat is a very "fashion-plate," with Byronic curls and a shocked expression that betokens a mutual recognition between himself and Miss Malderton, centre. Although, as Schlicke, points out, what distinguishes this little tale from the previous London sketches in "Our Parish," "Scenes," and "Characters" is the contribution of all elements of setting, character, and costume to the plot, what connects this "tale" to the earlier, non-fiction pieces is the detailed description that George Cruikshank provides of a commercial establishment, with pricing prominently displayed. The very curtains in this prose-farce, suggestive of a theatrical performance, are priced to go.



The colored illustration is for you Peter. :-)


message 20: by Kim (new)

Kim | 6381 comments Mod


"How delightful, how refreshing it is, to retire from the cloudy storms, the vicissitudes, and the troubles of life, even if it be but for a few short fleeting moments!"

Fred Barnard

1876

Text Illustrated:

"There he is, my dear," whispered Mrs. Malderton to Mr. Malderton.

"How like Lord Byron!" murmured Miss Teresa.

"Or Montgomery!" whispered Miss Marianne.

"Or the portraits of Captain Cook!" suggested Tom.

"Tom — don't be an ass!" said his father, who checked him on all occasions, probably with a view to prevent his becoming "sharp" — which was very unnecessary.

The elegant Sparkins attitudinised with admirable effect, until the family had crossed the room. He then started up, with the most natural appearance of surprise and delight; accosted Mrs. Malderton with the utmost cordiality; saluted the young ladies in the most enchanting manner; bowed to, and shook hands with Mr. Malderton, with a degree of respect amounting almost to veneration; and returned the greetings of the two young men in a half-gratified, half-patronising manner, which fully convinced them that he must be an important, and, at the same time, condescending personage.

"Miss Malderton," said Horatio, after the ordinary salutations, and bowing very low, "may I be permitted to presume to hope that you will allow me to have the pleasure —"

"I don't think I am engaged," said Miss Teresa, with a dreadful affectation of indifference — "but, really — so many — "

Horatio looked handsomely miserable.

"I shall be most happy," simpered the interesting Teresa, at last. Horatio's countenance brightened up, like an old hat in a shower of rain.

"A very genteel young man, certainly!" said the gratified Mr. Malderton, as the obsequious Sparkins and his partner joined the quadrille which was just forming.

"He has a remarkably good address," said Mr. Frederick.

"Yes, he is a prime fellow," interposed Tom, who always managed to put his foot in it — "he talks just like an auctioneer."

"Tom!" said his father solemnly, "I think I desired you, before, not to be a fool." Tom looked as happy as a cock on a drizzly morning.

"How delightful!" said the interesting Horatio to his partner, as they promenaded the room at the conclusion of the set — "how delightful, how refreshing it is, to retire from the cloudy storms, the vicissitudes, and the troubles, of life, even if it be but for a few short fleeting moments: and to spend those moments, fading and evanescent though they be, in the delightful, the blessed society of one individual — whose frowns would be death, whose coldness would be madness, whose falsehood would be ruin, whose constancy would be bliss; the possession of whose affection would be the brightest and best reward that Heaven could bestow on man?"

"What feeling! what sentiment!" thought Miss Teresa, as she leaned more heavily on her companion's arm. — "Tales," Ch. 5, "Horatio Sparkins."



Commentary

"Horatio Sparkins," fifth pf the stories in the 'Tales' section of the collected edition of Sketches buy Boz. Originally published in The Monthly Magazine, Feb. 1834. Describes how Sparkins, posing in society as a fashionable young gentleman, imposes on the snobbish Malderton family, who are horrified to discover by accident that he is, in fact, merely as draper's assistant. — The Dickens Index.

As with The Tuggses at Ramnsgate, Fred Barnard depicts an earlier stage of the "confidence game" with Horatio the node of all orbits in the assembly-room scene, whereas the original Cruikshank illustration, Horatio Sparkins prepares the reader at the very outset for the "discovery scene" in which the noveau-riche Malderton ladies, visiting the cut-rate, somewhat dingy draper's establishment where Horatio works, are shocked to discover his true, "un-Byronic," plebeian identity. As Paul Schlicke remarks,

Formally, the sketches and tales are organized in fundamentally different ways. The sketches generally lack plot and proceed wherever Boz's enquiring eye happens to alight. Their tone is genial, compassionate, and urbane. The tales, in contrast, are generally sardonic, moving boldly towards narrative climax, which often exposes vain or foolish characters to ridicule. . . . — The Oxford Reader's Companion to Dickens

Since in the short story cloth and clothing take on an emblematic meaning of superficial and spurious (as opposed to genuine) identity, both illustrators have chosen thematically significant scenes. Barnard takes us to opening scene, the assembly, a pseudo-aristocratic world of glittering appearances and superficial sentiments in which "Horatio Sparkins," the draper's assistant, is able to pull the wool over the fashion-conscious eyes of the Maldertons precisely because they trust so much to appearances and "very fine words". Dickens's initial description of the family at the ball emphasizes fashion and appearance over character and achievement:

Mr. Malderton was a man whose whole scope of ideas was limited to Lloyd's, the Exchange, the India House, and the Bank. A few successful speculations had raised him from a situation of obscurity and comparative poverty, to a state of affluence. As frequently happens in such cases, the ideas of himself and his family became elevated to an extraordinary pitch as their means increased; they affected fashion, taste, and many other fooleries, in imitation of their betters, and had a very decided and becoming horror of anything which could, by possibility, be considered low. He was hospitable from ostentation, illiberal from ignorance, and prejudiced from conceit. Egotism and the love of display induced him to keep an excellent table: convenience, and a love of good things of this life, ensured him plenty of guests. He liked to have clever men, or what he considered such, at his table, because it was a great thing to talk about; but he never could endure what he called "sharp fellows." Probably, he cherished this feeling out of compliment to his two sons, who gave their respected parent no uneasiness in that particular. The family were ambitious of forming acquaintances and connexions in some sphere of society superior to that in which they themselves moved; and one of the necessary consequences of this desire, added to their utter ignorance of the world beyond their own small circle, was, that any one who could lay claim to an acquaintance with people of rank and title, had a sure passport to the table at Oak Lodge, Camberwell.

The appearance of Mr. Horatio Sparkins at the assembly, had excited no small degree of surprise and curiosity among its regular frequenters. Who could he be? He was evidently reserved, and apparently melancholy. Was he a clergyman? — He danced too well. A barrister? — He said he was not called. He used very fine words, and talked a great deal. Could he be a distinguished foreigner, come to England for the purpose of describing the country, its manners and customs; and frequenting public balls and public dinners, with the view of becoming acquainted with high life, polished etiquette, and English refinement? — No, he had not a foreign accent. Was he a surgeon, a contributor to the magazines, a writer of fashionable novels, or an artist? — No; to each and all of these surmises, there existed some valid objection. — "Then," said everybody, "he must be somebody." — "I should think he must be," reasoned Mr. Malderton, within himself, "because he perceives our superiority, and pays us so much attention."

The night succeeding the conversation we have just recorded, was "assembly night." The double-fly was ordered to be at the door of Oak Lodge at nine o'clock precisely. The Miss Maldertons were dressed in sky-blue satin trimmed with artificial flowers; and Mrs. M. (who was a little fat woman), in ditto ditto, looked like her eldest daughter multiplied by two. Mr. Frederick Malderton, the eldest son, in full-dress costume, was the very beau idéal of a smart waiter; and Mr. Thomas Malderton, the youngest, with his white dress-stock, blue coat, bright buttons, and red watch-ribbon, strongly resembled the portrait of that interesting, but rash young gentleman, George Barnwell [the callow apprentice who murders his master in George Lillo's domestic tragedy The London Merchant; Or, The History of George Barnwell (1731)]. — "Tales," Ch. 5, "Horatio Sparkins."


In the Barnard composition, Horatio enters the dance with the 28-year-old Miss Malderton on his arm — her age being significant in that she and her parents are desperately searching for an eligible bachelor. The two Miss Maldertons, Teresa and Marianne, are both smitten with Horatio, convinced that he must be a nobleman in disguise. The young lady with the extravagant millinery confection and hanging upon the philosophical Horatio's ar, is Teresa Malderton, lately his partner in the quadrille. To further the remation her father, a City financier, invites the "elegant" Sparkins to Sunday dinner at Oak Lodge, Camberwell. The sophistication of the physical setting, suggested by the wallpaper design, is reflected in the elegance of Miss Malderton's dress and Sparkins' shirt-front, which repeats the looping pattern of the wallpaper, as if his dress is perfectly adjusted to the social milieu which his good looks and taste have enabled him to enter. His theatrical gesture is implied by Dickens's his describing Sparkins's "attitudinizing" "with a theatrical air", like a stage version of the leader of the Romantic rebellion, Lord Byron (1788-1824​). He casts his eyes heavenward, as if he were the hero of a romantic novel, which is precisely the effect that the handsome youth is striving for.


message 21: by Kim (new)

Kim | 6381 comments Mod


"Horatio Sparkins"

I can't find who the artist is. The only thing I find is the name of the book and the year 1836.


message 22: by Bionic Jean (new)

Bionic Jean (bionicjean) It's the first one I meant - but I like this second one too! Thanks Kim :)


message 23: by Peter (new)

Peter | 3444 comments Mod
Kim wrote: ""How delightful, how refreshing it is, to retire from the cloudy storms, the vicissitudes, and the troubles of life, even if it be but for a few short fleeting moments!"

Fred Barnard

1876

Text I..."


Kim wrote: ""Horatio Sparkins"

George Cruikshank

1839

Text llustrated:

At twelve o'clock on the following morning, the "fly" was at the door of Oak Lodge, to convey Mrs. Malderton and her daughters on thei..."


Kim

You remembered my feelings about coloured illustrations. You are truly one of a kind - and that is a gracious and good kind of person.

I loved the phrase “fashion and appearance over character and achievement.” What a perfect way to document and describe a person in a succinct manner.

The commentaries on the illustrations are always insightful, and I found this one very helpful in sorting out my own feelings and impressions.


message 24: by John (new)

John (jdourg) | 1120 comments Jean wrote: "I read and enjoyed Horatio Sparkins. In fact I read the Preface to the Sketches by Boz first, and was surprised how apologetic Dickens was! It was quite a defensive pi..."

I'm just starting Horatio today, so I can't offer anything yet, but that is funny about the Veneerings and a nice reminder of them. I must say that in terms of name to persona, that was a great one of Dickens (among many).


message 25: by Peter (new)

Peter | 3444 comments Mod
When I read the line by Sparkins “How delightful, how refreshing it is, to retire from the cloudy storms, the vicissitudes, and the troubles of life, even if it be for a few short fleeting moments” I felt sorry for him. He seems to be portrayed as a gold digger, as a faux Byron, as an opportunist, and so he may well be. I think, however, that another more sympathetic approach may be warranted.

Horatio Sparkins works in a discount drapery store. He has the opportunity to break out of his social class for brief moments, to leap across the shop table both literally and symbolically, to become what is on the other side. The Malderton’s are found on the other side of the counter. They represent all those who are in the process of ascending the social ladder. Can we totally blame Horatio for wanting to attain a higher social position? Was the 19C not a time when entrepreneurs, scientists and inventors were encouraged and praised for breaking the mood of social calcification that had existed for centuries?

Consider the act of Malderton actually hiring a person to judge another’s social position. Is that a prudent act on his part as a father or is it Dickens stating that in the end Malderton is no better than Sparkins?


message 26: by Tristram (new)

Tristram Shandy | 4853 comments Mod
I think we are supposed to regard the Maldertons as fools not so much because they are wealthy but because they now that they are wealthy have forgotten about their origins and look down upon their past in a way. The look down upon Mr. Barton, who is their very opposite: He is obviously well-off but he does not renounce the source of his wealth. In a way, he is like Dickens himself - with the exception that there was one episode in Dickens's life that he kept for himself (and for David Copperfield) - in that Dickens was a clever businessman who never failed to strike the best bargain with his art, but who did not mince words about it.


message 27: by Tristram (new)

Tristram Shandy | 4853 comments Mod
As to the initial question of our favourite sensation writers, I really love sensation novels, and I'd rather read one of them than a modern day detective novel. I have three writers I especially like:

1) M.E. Braddon, because she is sometimes very exuberant in her imagination;

2) Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, because he cleverly mixes the supernatural into his tales sometimes, and they sometimes read like fever dreams;

3) Wilkie Collins, because of his strong female characters.


message 28: by John (new)

John (jdourg) | 1120 comments One of my old English wrote a book about horror writers, in which LeFanu was prominent. I believe he was the focus perhaps.


message 29: by Kim (new)

Kim | 6381 comments Mod
On to The Black Veil:



The figure moved a step forward; and then, turning its head in the direction of the boy—to his infinite horror—appeared to hesitate.

Fred Barnard

Text Illustrated:

There was a hand upon his shoulder, but it was neither soft nor tiny; its owner being a corpulent round-headed boy, who, in consideration of the sum of one shilling per week and his food, was let out by the parish to carry medicine and messages. As there was no demand for the medicine, however, and no necessity for the messages, he usually occupied his unemployed hours—averaging fourteen a day—in abstracting peppermint drops, taking animal nourishment, and going to sleep.

‘A lady, sir—a lady!’ whispered the boy, rousing his master with a shake.

‘What lady?’ cried our friend, starting up, not quite certain that his dream was an illusion, and half expecting that it might be Rose herself.—‘What lady? Where?’

‘There, sir!’ replied the boy, pointing to the glass door leading into the surgery, with an expression of alarm which the very unusual apparition of a customer might have tended to excite.

The surgeon looked towards the door, and started himself, for an instant, on beholding the appearance of his unlooked-for visitor.

It was a singularly tall woman, dressed in deep mourning, and standing so close to the door that her face almost touched the glass. The upper part of her figure was carefully muffled in a black shawl, as if for the purpose of concealment; and her face was shrouded by a thick black veil. She stood perfectly erect, her figure was drawn up to its full height, and though the surgeon felt that the eyes beneath the veil were fixed on him, she stood perfectly motionless, and evinced, by no gesture whatever, the slightest consciousness of his having turned towards her.

‘Do you wish to consult me?’ he inquired, with some hesitation, holding open the door. It opened inwards, and therefore the action did not alter the position of the figure, which still remained motionless on the same spot.

She slightly inclined her head, in token of acquiescence.

‘Pray walk in,’ said the surgeon.

The figure moved a step forward; and then, turning its head in the direction of the boy—to his infinite horror—appeared to hesitate.

‘Leave the room, Tom,’ said the young man, addressing the boy, whose large round eyes had been extended to their utmost width during this brief interview. ‘Draw the curtain, and shut the door.’



message 30: by Kim (new)

Kim | 6381 comments Mod


"Who was he? inquired the surgeon. "My Son! rejoined the woman; and fell senseless at his feet"

The Black Veil

Fred Barnard

Text Illustrated:

The surgeon turned his face towards the bed, and bent over the body which now lay full in the light of the window. The throat was swollen, and a livid mark encircled it. The truth flashed suddenly upon him.

‘This is one of the men who were hanged this morning!’ he exclaimed, turning away with a shudder.

‘It is,’ replied the woman, with a cold, unmeaning stare.

‘Who was he?’ inquired the surgeon.

‘My son,’ rejoined the woman; and fell senseless at his feet.

It was true. A companion, equally guilty with himself, had been acquitted for want of evidence; and this man had been left for death, and executed. To recount the circumstances of the case, at this distant period, must be unnecessary, and might give pain to some persons still alive. The history was an every-day one. The mother was a widow without friends or money, and had denied herself necessaries to bestow them on her orphan boy. That boy, unmindful of her prayers, and forgetful of the sufferings she had endured for him—incessant anxiety of mind, and voluntary starvation of body—had plunged into a career of dissipation and crime. And this was the result; his own death by the hangman’s hands, and his mother’s shame, and incurable insanity.



message 31: by Kim (new)

Kim | 6381 comments Mod


"The Black Veil"

Harry Furniss

1910

Text Illustrated:

One winter's evening, towards the close of the year 1800, or within a year or two of that time, a young medical practitioner, recently established in business, was seated by a cheerful fire in his little parlour, listening to the wind which was beating the rain in pattering drops against the window, or rumbling dismally in the chimney. The night was wet and cold; he had been walking through mud and water the whole day, and was now comfortably reposing in his dressing-gown and slippers, more than half asleep and less than half awake, revolving a thousand matters in his wandering imagination. First, he thought how hard the wind was blowing, and how the cold, sharp rain would be at that moment beating in his face, if he were not comfortably housed at home. Then, his mind reverted to his annual Christmas visit to his native place and dearest friends; he thought how glad they would all be to see him, and how happy it would make Rose if he could only tell her that he had found a patient at last, and hoped to have more, and to come down again, in a few months’ time, and marry her, and take her home to gladden his lonely fireside, and stimulate him to fresh exertions. Then, he began to wonder when his first patient would appear, or whether he was destined, by a special dispensation of Providence, never to have any patients at all; and then, he thought about Rose again, and dropped to sleep and dreamed about her, till the tones of her sweet merry voice sounded in his ears, and her soft tiny hand rested on his shoulder.

There was a hand upon his shoulder, but it was neither soft nor tiny; its owner being a corpulent round-headed boy, who, in consideration of the sum of one shilling per week and his food, was let out by the parish to carry medicine and messages. As there was no demand for the medicine, however, and no necessity for the messages, he usually occupied his unemployed hours — averaging fourteen a day — in abstracting peppermint drops, taking animal nourishment, and going to sleep.

"A lady, Sir — a lady!" whispered the boy, rousing his master with a shake. — "Tales," Chapter 6, "The Black Veil,"


Commentary:

To fill up the first two volumes of Sketches by Boz Dickens proposed to Macrone that they use several pieces heretofore unpublished out some nine or ten pieces he had already written. In fact, so good were three of these pieces that Dickens and Macrone omitted eight of the sketches published before 1 November 1835 in order to accommodate "The Great Winglebury Duel," which Dickens had written with the Monthly Magazine in mind, and the two darker pieces written specifically for Macrone, the sketch "A Visit to Newgate" and the short story "The Black Veil." The latter is a landmark in Dickens's short fiction, as Peter Ackroyd remarks:

— the saga of a hanged man and his mother — occurred to him [after his 5 November 1835 visit to Newgate Prison], and he set to work on what is really his first proper story; it is no longer a sketch or a scene or a farcical interlude but a finished narrative. Thus we see, in miniature, the formation of the artist, reacting to the events of the life around him, using them and being used in turn.

The plot of the tale is melodramatic. A young physician, recently begun in practice, receives his first request for help on a dismal winter night. His visitor, "a singularly tall woman, dressed in deep mourning" with a face "shrouded by a thick black veil" is a mysterious individual who implores the young doctor's assistance for a patient who cannot be seen immediately "though he is in deadly peril" and can only be seen on the following morning when he will be "beyond the reach of human aid". The true explanation of the woman's errand is the subject of suspense throughout the tale, although, at the end, the mystery is resolved when the physician conquers his misgivings, keeps his appointment at an isolated address with the man whom he has been summoned to assist, and discovers that the latter is a criminal who has been hanged that morning and whose distraught mother has summoned medical aid in the vain hope that her son's corpse might thus be restored to life. — Deborah A. Thomas, "Imaginative Overindulgence,".

Although Cruikshank has not attempted to illustrate this story, probably because it depends so much on an appreciation of the psychological — on the emotional and mental states of the young physician and the anguished mother — rather than on the mere externals with which Cruikshank as a caricaturist felt so comfortable, Fred Barnard has realised in the first illustration two key moments at the very beginning of the story. The initial wood-engraving, situated on the same page as the text it describes, fuses two distinct moments: the first is the boy's pointing towards the enigmatic stranger as she appears at the door (the subject of the boy's excited curiosity); and the second, when, once the doctor has ushered her in, she stands in the surgery, evoking a sense of wonder and mystery in both the young doctor and the reader. Furniss, in contrast, presents the physician still asleep and Rose as more real than the shadowy visitor.

Harry Furniss, undoubtedly having studied the illustrations of both Fred Barnard and George Cruikshank and benefitting from recent developments in the depiction of psychological states at the end of the century, actually suggests the young doctor's struggling with insomnia as he thinks about proposing to Rose, a young beauty at home, and bringing her to set up housekeeping in this remote, poverty-stricken hamlet. In the Furniss treatment of this scene, The Black Veil, the doctor is still dreaming of Rose (centre) as the boy tries to nudge him awake, and the ominous outline of the veiled mother stands at the surgery door (right rear), waiting to be admitted. Barnard's fusion of the two moments in The Black Veil is less psychological than Furniss's — and both more sinister and more melodramatic. Although Deborah A. Thomas contends that Dickens's primary interest in the story is not the development of suspense so much as the "careful cultivation of the motif of the 'disturbed imagination'" of both the doctor and his mysterious client, Furniss foregrounds the young doctor, spawled asleep in his easy chair, and his messenger-boy, giving his dream of the beautiful Rose greater prominence than the obscure figure at the door of the surgery, right rear. The skull in the background (left rear), balancing the black-clad figure opposite, both implies the doctor's professional calling and prepares the reader for the story's sensational conclusion.


message 32: by Peter (new)

Peter | 3444 comments Mod
Kim wrote: "

"The Black Veil"

Harry Furniss

1910

Text Illustrated:

One winter's evening, towards the close of the year 1800, or within a year or two of that time, a young medical practitioner, recently es..."


For some reason I find the Furniss illustration rather bizarre and confusing. There is too much going on. The shadowy figure at the door, the sleeping doctor, the boy servant are all jumbled.

Generally I really enjoy Furniss illustrations. Nope, not this time.


message 33: by Tristram (new)

Tristram Shandy | 4853 comments Mod
The Furniss illustration seems to be about the young doctor dreaming of his intended wife unless I completely misinterpret it. I found it quite strange that Dickens took some time to acquaint us with the fact that the doctor was in love because this detail does not really play a role with regard to the rest of the story. That's why I wonder that an illustrator should focus on this tiny detail rather than on the more sombre aspects of the story.


back to top