chapter  9
15 Pages

The void

The void is both an absence of things and an absence of meaning. In the rst, the void is vividly invoked in the presence of an empty chair. A chair, something which is at once so directly a sign of presence, a place for sitting, when empty becomes a vessel of loss. Charles Dickens’ empty chair epitomises the ways in which the void of absence carries an emotional cargo. When performed as a tableau, the ‘replica of Dickens’ library at Gad’s Hill, with an empty chair beside the study cabinet’ was described as ‘one of the most affecting of the many tableaux’ at the Coliseum in London when actors paid a tribute to the author after his death in 1870 (Wallace, 1912, p.117). Dickens’ illustrator, Luke Fildes, painted a watercolour of the empty chair, which was published in the magazine The Graphic, and captures the melancholy of the void. Fildes’ empty chair painting nds an uncanny echo in the paintings by Vincent Van Gogh, Vincent’s Chair and Gaugin’s Chair, both from 1888. The resemblance is not a coincidence, as Gilles Soubigou explains – Van Gogh was known to have owned a copy of the illustration of Dickens’ empty chair, and knew his work well. The pipe and tobacco on Vincent’s Chair emphasise the connection, as Van Gogh wrote in his letters about taking up smoking after reading Dickens. He had great empathy for Dickens’ work, even to the extent of following his ‘remedy against suicide’, as he described in a letter to his sister Willemien in 1889: ‘a glass of wine, a piece of bread and cheese and a pipe of tobacco. It isn’t complicated, you’ll tell me, and you don’t think my melancholy comes close to that place, however at moments – ah but …’ (in Soubigou, 2013, pp.164-165).