In Little Dorrit, Dickens writes:

A communication of great trap-doors in the floor and roof with the workshop above and the workshop below, made a shaft of light in this perspective, which brought to Clennam’s mind the child’s old picture-book, where similar rays were the witnesses of Abel’s murder.

What is this book Dickens refers to? Bonus points if you can post the picture.

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    Seems possible this is a generic rather than a specific reference - Abel's murder makes it sound like it's a book of Bible stories for children, which were probably commonplace to the Victorian middle classes.
    – Matt Thrower
    Jan 3 at 12:57

2 Answers 2


It's possibly The Christian's Complete Family Bible (1807), which depicts Cain standing beside a dead Abel, and in the background there's both the devil aflame and a sunbeam through the clouds:

Top text: "Cain and Abel, where is Abel thy brother?" Bottom text: Engraved Nuttall's Family Bible, 1806

While children's Bibles did exist at that point, this wasn't one of them. It's a Bible proper with annotations and 40 engravings across the entire publication. I guess parents were supposed to read to their family from it.

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    Unless that is some then-common trope, since vanished, about how the murder of Abel should be depicted, yeah, that’s the image. Jan 4 at 18:24
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    This is very likely the picture that Dickens had in mind, and if it isn't, it must be very similar. Great work finding it!
    – Peter Shor
    Jan 5 at 23:02

I think Matt is right - that it refers to a conventional way of drawing a beam of light coming down from the sky to indicate that God sees something. I don't know whether Dickens had a particular illustration in mind, from a late-18th century child's book of Bible stories. Perhaps an expert on early children's books would know.

For an example of such a beam, see the frontispiece of Eikon Basilike.

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