Sunday, June 14, 2015

Hugh the Hostler at the Maypole

Hablot Knight Browne’s Illustrations for  
Barnaby Rudge by Charles Dickens 

(Hugh’s Scenes)

It might help to begin by knowing a little bit about Dickens’s Historical Novel, Barnaby Rudge: that it’s an early work, his fifth novel, though it was actually planned out before any of the others; that it is set between 1775 and 1780 and culminates with the Gordon Riots and their aftermath; and that it is probably the least read of Dickens’s novels.  HK Browne was the main illustrator for the Pickwick Papers, succeeding the original illustrator (and originator of the project,) Robert Seymour, following his suicide.  Browne was himself nominally the son of an illustrator, William Browne (though in fact he was actually the man’s grandson, the illegitimate son of Browne’s eldest daughter, Kate, and Captain Nicholas Hablot of Napoleon’s Imperial Guard,) who abandoned his wife and fifteen children and fled to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania with an embezzled fortune when little Hablot was seven years old.  Two of the central characters of Barnaby Rudge, the eponymous hero and Hugh (the hostler,) are young men whose fathers abandoned them and who become bosom companions while leading the riots; and it is Hugh’s impassioned last speech on the gallows that saves Barnaby from  dying alongside him.   HK Browne worked under the pseudonym of Phiz, a name which he made up to match Boz, the one for which Dickens was then known; he was Dickens’s preferred illustrator through most of his career; and he was the ideal artist to depict the characters of Barnaby and Hugh.

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