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Illustrations Browne Dombey Illustration

Hablot Browne's Disappointing Illustration for Dombey and Son

Paul and Mrs Pipchin In October 1846 Dickens, writing to his friend John Forster from Lausanne, Switzerland where he was writing the beginning chapters of Dombey and Son, expressed disappointment in one of the illustrations for the novel prepared by his illustrator, Hablot Browne:

"I am really distressed by the illustration of Mrs. Pipchin and Paul. It is so frightfully and wildly wide of the mark. Good Heaven! in the commonest and most literal construction of the text, it is all wrong. She is described as an old lady, and Paul's 'miniature armchair' is mentioned more than once. He ought to be sitting in a little arm-chair down in a corner of the fireplace, staring up at her. I can't say what pain and vexation it is to be so utterly misrepresented. I would cheerfully have given a hundred pounds to have kept this illustration out of the book. He never could have got that idea of Mrs. Pipchin if he had attended to the text. Indeed I think he does better without the text; for then the notion is made easy to him in short description, and he can't help taking it in."

In the illustration of Paul and Mrs Pipchin, Browne apparently missed the description of Paul's 'miniature arm-chair' in the text but Dickens' disappointment seems mostly to stem from Browne's inability to capture a scene from Dickens' memory. Mrs Pipchin was based on Elizabeth Roylance, with whom Dickens lodged at age 12 when the rest of his family were in the Marshalsea debtor's prison. Dickens had vivid memories of that terrible time, which he had not revealed to either Browne or Forster.