In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Illustration

  • Introduction
  • Reference Works

Victorian Literature Illustration
Brian Maidment
  • LAST REVIEWED: 24 November 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 November 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199799558-0158


Growing interest in book and publishing history and the mass digitization of Victorian periodicals and newspapers has given increasing scholarly significance to the study of book and magazine illustration. While some print forms in the 19th century, notably books aimed at children, comic and satirical magazines and serialized fiction, were heavily dependent on illustration for both their popularity and their formal characteristics, the graphic elements of books have been largely ascribed to a subsidiary role in which illustration reiterated text. More recent scholarship has recognized the complexities of illustrative elements beyond the decorative and become increasingly interested in the way in which images extend, elaborate, or reimagine the textual elements they accompany. In order to begin a more self-consciously analytical account of illustration, scholars have had to engage with two previously dominant traditions of approaching the topic. The first has derived largely from an immediate 19th-century recognition that, in spite of being produced by mechanical reprographic processes, often in huge numbers, illustrations might show considerable aesthetic ambition and artistic achievement. The establishment of a canon of “major” illustrative work that embodies a perception of the most artistically successful images has informed responses ever since. The study of illustration is still limited by the inherited double assumption that illustrations merely decorate texts or else form the less interesting and more commercial work of artists whose major achievements lie elsewhere. More recent work has challenged these assumptions by showing the complex and often highly self-conscious ways in which images reinterpret, restate, or even reinvent the printed words they accompany. The second established response to illustration has been more historical and sociological in its interests: how far does illustration form an accurate or historically significantly account of the society in which it was produced? Until the last twenty years or so there was a general belief that aspects of British history could be “illustrated” from graphic images through a largely unmediated reading of pictorial content. More recent cultural and social historians, however, have turned their attention to the intersection between traditional modes of historical understanding and the history of representation in order to show, sometimes in a highly theorized way, the complex social dynamics of printed images and the various ways in which illustration has been used to influence or construct social attitudes. This listing seeks to bring together entries on the mechanics of reprographic media with sources of information about its practitioners, and to suggest the ways in which recent scholarship is engaging with the key questions raised by previous commentators.

General Overviews

The three subsections that comprise this section are, first, a listing of books that list, describe, and evaluate a broad range of illustrated printed books and periodicals drawn from the mass of available material by reason of their common generic or temporal characteristics; second, books that describe the complex of relationships that form between literary texts and their illustrations; and, third, books that offer accounts of Victorian illustration in comparison with equivalent Continental and American book production. All of the books in the first section are themselves illustrated, many of them profusely and in color, and thus allow readers at least a photographic glimpse of Victorian illustrated book production. The works cited in these three sections foreground well known and ambitious illustration, and it is important to read them against an interest in less mainstream publications of the kind suggested in Other Genres.

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