Fledgeby and Riah
Illustration for Book 2, chapter 5, of Dickens's Our Mutual Friend in the Lee & Shepard (Boston), and Charles T. Dillingham (New York) 1870 Illustrated Household Edition.
Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham.
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This second illustration for "Mercury Prompting," depicting the noble Jew Riah and his unscrupulous "Christian" employer, Fascination Fledgeby, connects three sets of minor characters through the "prompting" of the Roman deity of commerce, sharp business practice, and thieves: the Lammles, their associate Fledgeby, and his "front man" in usury, Riah. The venerable Jew whom Eytinge depicts is an accurate reflection of his description in the text, but is not entirely consistent with his depiction in the Marcus Stone woodcut "Miss Wren fixes Her Idea" in the 1865 Chapman and Hall volume. Marcus Stone does not utilize stereotypical images of Jews, and, although he includes a hat and staff as Riah's appurtenances, he does not give Riah a tattered, "long out of date" coat and balding head. True to Dickens's text, Eytinge gives us a supercilious Fledgeby and a subservient, bald Riah with patriarchal beard and somewhat ill-kempt long hair, an image consistent with such stereotypical Jews as Fagin:
"Now you sir!" cried Fledgeby. "These are nice games."
He addressed an old Jewish man in an ancient coat, long of skirt, and wide of pocket. A venerable man, bald and shining at the top of his head, and with long grey hair flowing down at its sides and mingling with his beard. A man who with a graceful Eastern action of homage bent his head, and stretched out his hands with the palms downward, as if to depreciate the wrath of a superior.
"What have you been up to?" said Fledgeby, storming at him. 
However, since Fledgeby seems calm and self-possessed in the illustration, we must assume that Eytinge is conflating the above description of Riah with the following scene, in which Fledgeby continues his dialogue with his employee in the St. Mary Axe accounting office of Pubsey and Co. (realized in Eytinge's woodcut):
Fledgeby turned into the counting-house, perched himself on a business stool, and cocked his hat. There were light boxes on shelves in the counting-house, and strings of mock beads hanging up. There were samples of cheap clocks, and samples of cheap vases of flowers. Foreign toys, all.
Perched on the stool with his hat cocked on his head and one of his legs dangling, the youth of Fledgeby hardly contrasted to advantage with the age of the Jewish man as he stood with his bare head bowed, and his eyes (which he only raised in speaking) on the ground. 
Since Marcus Stone worked closely with Dickens on the 1864-65 illustrations, and since Dickens was very much concerned that his characterization of Riah compensate for the perceived anti-Semitism of Fagin in Oliver Twist (1837-38), it seems likely that the more distinguished Riah of the Stone plate for the October 1865 instalment represents Dickens's final intention for Fledgeby's assistant, adjusting the perception created by the description in the November 1864 instalment.
Last modified 7 November 2010