This blog provides an online forum for English 325: Victorian Literature and Visual Culture at Mount Holyoke College.
When Mr. Guppy is being led throughout Chesney Wold, he is described as being “so low that he droops on the threshold and has hardly strength of mind to enter” until he sees a portrait of a woman, which “acts upon him like a charm” (Dickens 102). The description of Mr. Guppy before he notices the picture makes his reaction more pronounced and the change in his expression more drastic. Mr. Guppy is so transfixed by the picture that he feels as if he has seen her once before and inquires about whether or not the picture has ever been engraved. In connection with our class last week, the concept of a portrait being owned by a man is represented in this passage when Rosa states, “The picture has never been engraved. Sir Leicester has always refused permission” (Dickens 103). In this sense it is not the painter, nor Lady Dedlock that can claim possession of this painting, but Sir Leicester Dedlock. Even with both characters absent, the reader gets a sense that Sir Dedlock has a commanding presence in the household and assumes control over his wife. Even after Rosa points out portraits other than that of Lady Dedlock, Mr. Guppy cannot tear his eyes away from the picture. When Mr. Guppy states, “if I don’t think I must have had a dream of that picture”, it is as if he cannot imagine a world where he has seen the picture because the painting is so captivating (Dickens 103). This passage demonstrates how much power a picture can have as Mr. Guppy “follows into the succeeding rooms with a confused stare, as if he were looking everywhere for Lady Dedlock again” (Dickens 103). Mr. Guppy wishes to connect all subsequent events with Lady Dedlock, and inquires whether or not the story of Ghost’s Walk has anything to do with the picture.
Many times, a painting of a person can be embellished and not contain some of the flaws of that individual. Rosa does state, however, that for this painting , “It is considered a perfect likeness and the best work of the master” (Dickens 103). Although this could be interpreted in various lights, it makes Mr. Guppy’s fascination with the portrait all the more intriguing as the reader wishes they could see this painting of Lady Dedlock. The fact that the painting is said to look like Lady Dedlock makes it more understandable that Sir Dedlock would not wish for the painting to be copied because he wishes to be the only person to have authority over every aspect of his wife.