Background.

A Christmas Carol.
  • A complexion that was very dingy by nature, or very dirty by art, or a compound of nature and art” is a quotation from Little Dorrit (Book 1, Chapter 13).

Context.

Quotation is a description of Pancks, the rent-collector who makes his living collecting from the tenants of his employer Casby’s slum properties.

Illustration from the original publication of Little Dorrit by Phiz (Hablot Knight Browne) of Little Dorrit leaving the Marshalsea prison.

Character Profile: Mr. Pancks.

On the surface, rent-collector Pancks seems like a pretty heartless individual – indifferent to the plight of the poverty-stricken residents of Bleeding Heart Yard. Behind the scenes however, he is being driven by his rapacious employer, Mr Casby, to squeeze the residents for all they are worth. In his private time, Pancks is also a private detective of sorts. He is brilliant at moling out information and piecing together evidence.

Source.

Taken from the following passage in Book 1, Chapter 13 of Little Dorrit:

‘Where’s Mr Casby?’ asked the short dark man, looking about. ‘He will be here directly, if you want him.’

‘I want him?’ said the short dark man. ‘Don’t you?’ This elicited a word or two of explanation from Clennam, during the delivery of which the short dark man held his breath and looked at him. He was dressed in black and rusty iron grey; had jet black beads of eyes; a scrubby little black chin; wiry black hair striking out from his head in prongs, like forks or hair-pins; and a complexion that was very dingy by nature, or very dirty by art, or a compound of nature and art. He had dirty hands and dirty broken nails, and looked as if he had been in the coals; he was in a perspiration, and snorted and sniffed and puffed and blew, like a little labouring steam-engine.

‘Oh!’ said he, when Arthur told him how he came to be there. ‘Very well. That’s right. If he should ask for Pancks, will you be so good as to say that Pancks is come in?’ And so, with a snort and a puff, he worked out by another door.

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A complexion that was very dingy by nature, or very dirty by art, or a compound of nature and art.
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