Charles Dickens' Illustrators: Background information when reading Death and Mr. Pickwick

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Death and Mr. Pickwick

by Stephen Jarvis

Death and Mr. Pickwick by Stephen Jarvis X
Death and Mr. Pickwick by Stephen Jarvis
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  • First Published:
    Jun 2015, 816 pages
    Jun 2016, 816 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Rebecca Foster
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About this Book

Charles Dickens' Illustrators

This article relates to Death and Mr. Pickwick

Print Review

Illustrations were crucial to Victorian novels – a fact that is difficult to absorb nowadays, when the only books for adults with drawings are graphic novels. Charles Dickens was known for showing obsessive interest in his novels' illustrations, always making sure that artists adhered closely to his written descriptions. All but two of his novels (Hard Times and Great Expectations) first appeared with illustrations.

The controversy over Robert Seymour's work on The Pickwick Papers, the subject of Stephen Jarvis' Death and Mr. Pickwick, should not distract from the long, fruitful relationships Dickens had with other illustrators. He popularized these artists' work, but at the same time their drawings helped to promote and sell his stories (which were almost all published as serials in magazines before they later became books).

George Cruikshank

Cruikshank's FaginCruikshank (1792-1878) produced more than 40 drawings for Dickens' first book, Sketches by Boz. He also illustrated Oliver Twist, imprinting Oliver (the waif-like orphan), Fagin (the hook-nosed crook), and Bill Sikes (the menacing villain) on the public imagination. Cruikshank's depictions have had a noticeable influence on Oliver! (the stage musical and subsequent 1968 film), and other present-day adaptations. In a curious repetition of the Seymour scandal, however, Cruikshank later argued that many of the ideas behind Oliver Twist came from him rather than from Dickens.

John Leech

Leech's Marley and his ghostLeech (1817-1864), an illustrator for Punch magazine, contributed drawings to Dickens' holiday books, including A Christmas Carol. He and Dickens were lifelong friends.

Robert Buss

Buss (1804-1875), a portraitist, filled in for Seymour after his suicide, but his drawings were found to be unsuitable and he was dismissed after he had completed two plates. Today he is best known for the unfinished watercolor painting he started after Dickens' death, entitled Dickens' Dream.

Hablot Knight Browne

Browne's David CopperfieldDickens had his longest working relationship with Browne (1815-1882), who stepped in to illustrate The Pickwick Papers after Seymour's suicide (chosen over William Makepeace Thackeray, no less). Browne took the nickname "Phiz" to match Dickens' "Boz." In total he illustrated ten Dickens novels, including some of his best-known works: Nicholas Nickleby, David Copperfield, Bleak House, and A Tale of Two Cities. In 2012 four of his illustrations were printed on UK postage stamps to commemorate the 200th anniversary of Dickens' birth.

Fred Barnard

After Dickens' death, Barnard (1846-1896) was chosen to illustrate a reprint of his collected works, for which he made over 450 drawings. Some consider his illustrations to be superior to the originals.

Luke Fildes

Fildes (1844-1927) was the illustrator of Dickens' last, unfinished novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood.

The full text of Dickens and His Illustrators, by Frederic G. Kitton, is available through Project Gutenberg.

Cruikshank's drawing of Fagin in his cell, courtesy of Amandajm
Leech's drawing of Jacob Marley's ghost, courtesy of Mutter Erde
Knight Browne's drawing of David Copperfield, courtesy of DostoHouskij

Filed under Books and Authors

Article by Rebecca Foster

This "beyond the book article" relates to Death and Mr. Pickwick. It originally ran in July 2015 and has been updated for the June 2016 paperback edition. Go to magazine.

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