Laura Freeman Laura Freeman

Sweet and sour | 25 February 2016

Were the Victorians really as apathetic and drippy as these paintings suggest?

Dear, good, kind, sacrificing Little Nell. Here she is kneeling by a wayside pond, bonnet pushed back, shoes and stockings off, while she rests her blistered feet. She scoops a palm of water with cupped hands and tenderly washes those of her grandfather: her feckless, gambling, on-the-lam grandfather. It is an old Oscar Wilde chestnut, but one would have to have a heart of stone to look at William Holman Hunt’s portrait of Charles Dickens’s saintly ‘Little Nell and her Grandfather’ (1845) without laughing.

Already a subscriber? Log in

Keep reading with a free trial

Subscribe and get your first month of online and app access for free. After that it’s just £1 a week.

There’s no commitment, you can cancel any time.


Unlock more articles



Don't miss out

Join the conversation with other Spectator readers. Subscribe to leave a comment.

Already a subscriber? Log in