Image versus Text in the Illustrated Novels of William Makepeace Thackeray

Image versus Text in the Illustrated Novels of William Makepeace Thackeray

Fisher, Judith L.

Victorian Literature and the Victorian Visual Imagination, Berkeley:University of California Press (1995)


British book illustration in the nineteenth century can be neatly divided into two periods: from 1800 to mid-century, Isaac and George Cruikshank and Phiz and Thackeray drew on Hogarth’s allusive and allegorical representations and on the great caricaturists James Gillray and Thomas Rowlandson to create “speaking” pictures. From the 1850s on, primarily through John Everett Millais’s illustrations of Trollope’s novels (but also through secondary artists such as Richard Doyle, who illustrated Thackeray’s Newcomes and Frederick Walker, who illustrated Adventures of Philip ), a style deriving from English genre painting emerged that increasingly subordinated the image to the text.

My use of the term “subordinated” suggests one significance of this stylistic shift and explains why we no longer expect novels to be illustrated. Once an illustration simply reinforces the text, it can easily dwindle into mere decoration—as it does in the ornamental style of Kate Greenaway. Thus illustration came to be identified with light literature and children’s books (where, interestingly, the significant image is reviving in the work of such artists as Maurice Sendak).

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