Keeping Dickens

Charle Keeping was probably my favourite contemporary book illustrator. So, when, in the late 1970s, the Folio Society sought members’ recommendations for pairings of books and illustrators, there was only one possible submission for me.

In 1981 the first of the Dickens series was published. Derek Parker reviewed it thus

in The Times on 4th of June that year. This cutting is slipped inside The Pickwick Papers, which I am currently reading.

Normally I do not feature a book until I have finished it. In the case of this tome I might be some time. I will comment on the text when that time comes, but I have decided to take my readers on a ramble through Mr. Keeping’s signature line drawings as far as I have got.

Here is the frontispiece.

Such pagination as the overflowing layout allows will indicate the publisher’s generous proliferation of penmanship exuberantly deployed.

I have scanned full pages in order to display the artist’s scintillating gems bursting from the text.

Should there be sufficient interest I will present further pictures as I turn the pages of the book.

While I occupied myself preparing this post Jackie photographed a crab apple tree full of sparrows debating whether to trust a new feeder.

Strong winds and very heavy rain had beset us overnight and this morning.

Later, all was reasonably calm and we took a short drive into the afternoon sun.

Clear streams ran down the gutters on Holmsley Passage where

the crossing gate and scudding clouds were reflected in rippling pools.

Trees on the skyline stood against the lowering sun as it peered from behind the clouds;

a mud-caked pony nibbled at yellow gorse;

and the hide of chomping cattle was tinged with red outlines.

Sunset occurred as we returned by Holmsley Road. That, too, was reflected in waterlogged terrain.

This evening we dined with Elizabeth at Lal Quilla. I enjoyed Goan King Prawn; Elizabeth’s choice was Lamb Chana; and Jackie’s Chicken Sag. We shared mushroom and pilau rice, a plain paratha, and Tarka Dal. Jackie and I drank Kingfisher; Elizabeth chose Cobra. The welcome, food, and service were as good as ever.


  1. Gosh, gorgeous yellow sunset photos Derrick. The storm must have cleared the air! Glad to hear you got off lightly – that’s if I am right in assuming it has been and gone?

    I love Dickens and those illustrations suit the period very nicely. I have recently treated myself to listening to several superb reading of his books via Audible I thoroughly enjoy this mode as my hands can be busy while I listen. Miriam Margolies reading ‘Bleak House’ for instance was a complete delight. There are so many interpretations of The Pickwick papers I have yet to decide on which version to buy 🙂

    1. Thanks very much, Pauline. Storm Dennis is due to arrive tomorrow. Maybe I’ll read Bleak House soon. There are a number of copies of this Pickwick on Amazon – some signed by the illustrator and under $40.

  2. The illustrations are very good!

    Looks like a beautiful ending to your day with a forest drive and sunset. Our day here has ended in grey skies and rain is settling in.

  3. I am also currently reading “The Pickwick Papers”, and for the first time. The book came to mind because, as a boy there was animated film for television featuring a ghost story from the book, and although I saw it advertised, I never got to watch the film itself. I’m so glad I saved this masterpiece for later in life. Dickens’ playful command of the language is a joy to read, and the humour holds up very well. As always, you have a very fine edition. Thanks for sharing the illustrations with us, would love to see more and hear your own opinions.

  4. Derrick, What a treat, and what a change from your usual posts! You are a man with multi- interests. And I have been enjoying them all!

    But this time you didn’t tell us what you and Jackie had for dinner, so I’ll ell you what we had: home made minestrone soup, broiled lobster tails and a baked potato!

    1. Thank you very much, Ronnie. Minestrone is one of my favourite soups. Home made sounds good. It looks to me as if you didn’t get the last two paragraphs of my post – I have no idea why, because Jackie, at least, did.
      “Sunset occurred as we returned by Holmsley Road. That, too, was reflected in waterlogged terrain.

      This evening we dined with Elizabeth at Lal Quilla. I enjoyed Goan King Prawn; Elizabeth’s choice was Lamb Chana; and Jackie’s Chicken Sag. We shared mushroom and pilau rice, a plain paratha, and Tarka Dal. Jackie and I drank Kingfisher; Elizabeth chose Cobra. The welcome, food, and service were as good as ever.”

  5. I am pleased you are enjoying the “Pickwick Papers”. The illustrations are a delight, filled with character and tiny details that could make one believe they were drawn from life.

  6. These illustrations are wonderful! Love the artists flow and details! 🙂

    And you’ve captured some of Mother Nature’s most stunning artwork! 🙂

    Love the Bird Tree! Those birdies make the sweetest “decorations”! 🙂
    HUGS!!! 🙂

  7. I hadn’t heard of Charles Keeping but he is a marvellous fit for Pickwick Papers, one of Dickens’ best works. After a couple of minutes’ trying to find another, I reckon this must be Dickens’ only comic novel.

  8. Those sketches are amazing – I would love to see more.
    It looks like Jackie will be having a lot more birds to feed if all this keeps up. I hope Nugget isn’t getting jealous.

    1. Thanks very much GP. What is amusing is that when Jackie goes out to the back of the house when Nugget’s feeder are, he immediately appears while the others all flee.

  9. Those line drawings are truly wonderful–they convey so much movement and emotion. Thank you for sharing. The photos are beautiful, as always. We also saw bird-filled trees yesterday.

  10. Well, this post sent me down a tangled web. I think you know I have the complete set of Fireside Dickens, published by Chapman and Hall – in the early 20th century – or so I thought. My copy of “The Posthumous Papers of The Pickwick Club” has illustrations by Seymour and ‘Phiz’.
    Searching for who these people were, I chanced upon a web page, The Victoria Web (
    That informs me “Robert Seymour was a veteran illustrator hired by William Hall to illustrate the monthly serial. On 20 April 1836 Seymour committed suicide, shooting himself in his back garden, supposedly distressed that Dickens, at 24 a mere youngster, had assumed the director’s role in the project.”
    My copy includes a long preface by Dickens – does yours? In it, he includes a rebuttal that Seymour had anything to do with the invention of the story line, which apparently was a rumour circulating at the time. I must read the preface in full.
    Hablot Knight Browne became the replacement illustrator. His original pseudonym “was Nemo, as in Latin for nobody, but he eventually settled on Phiz” Again, The Victorian Web contains a long biography on Browne, and references the eventual parting of the ways between Dickens and Brown. Meantime, he “had provided duplicate steels to allow for the increased wear occasioned by the enormous jump in circulation . . . ”
    My copy has an inscription in the fly-leaf “To my dear Husband with best love, 1/11/07”.
    Now I wonder when this series was actually printed, but no doubt all of the illustrations are reproductions/reprints.
    And I still have to get around to reading all 22 volumes 🙂
    And your illustrator has a completely different style!

    1. Thanks very much for this, Gwen. The falling out with Seymour and his suicide is mentioned in the introduction . Keeping died young by today’s standards too – 63. Interestingly, later versions from The Folio Society revert to the Phiz illustrations. I haven’t read them all yet 🙂

          1. Potentially. It appears the Dickens spat was driven by Seymour’s widow, left impecunious after his suicide. Turns out Dickens wrote four prologues over the years, the last in 1867, which is the one in my book. It’s a little strident – ‘methinks he doth protest too much’ comes to mind.

  11. It is amazing how Charles Keeping’s pen stays on the page for ever! Down and up a sleeve round the lapels of a jacket, a whole pair of trousers and on and on! He lived in Shortlands not four miles from where I grew up in Bromley and I never realised until fairly recently.
    What a gorgeous sunset!

  12. Hi I am actually the author of the novel Death and Mr Pickwick, published by Random House in 2015, which tells the story behind the creation of The Pickwick Papers. One of my fans has just sent me the link to this page. The illustrations are superb, and I have just posted the link on my novel’s facebook page. Best wishes Stephen Jarvis

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