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Artistic Liberties

American Literary Realism and Graphic Illustration, 1880-1905

Adam Sonstegard

Publication Year: 2014

Artistic Liberties is a landmark study of the illustrations that originally accompanied now-classic works of American literary realism and the ways editors, authors, and illustrators vied for authority over the publications.

Though today, we commonly read major works of nineteenth-century American literature in unillustrated paperbacks or anthologies, many of them first appeared as magazine serials, accompanied by ample illustrations that sometimes made their way into the serials’ first printings as books. The graphic artists creating these illustrations often visually addressed questions that the authors had left for the reader to interpret, such as the complexions of racially ambiguous characters in Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The artists created illustrations that depicted what outsiders saw in Huck and Jim in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, rather than what Huck and Jim learned to see in one another. These artists even worked against the texts on occasion—for instance, when the illustrators reinforced the same racial stereotypes that writers such as Paul Laurence Dunbar had intended to subvert in their works.

Authors of American realism commonly submitted their writing to editors who allowed them little control over the aesthetic appearance of their work. In his groundbreaking Artistic Liberties, Adam Sonstegard studies the illustrations from these works in detail and finds that the editors employed illustrators who were often unfamiliar with the authors’ intentions and who themselves selected the literary material they wished to illustrate, thereby taking artistic liberties through the tableaux
they created.

Sonstegard examines the key role that the appointed artists played in visually shaping narratives—among them Mark Twain’s Pudd’nhead Wilson, Stephen Crane’s The Monster, and Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth—as audiences tended to accept their illustrations as guidelines for understanding the texts. In viewing these works as originally published, received, and interpreted, Sonstegard offers a deeper knowledge not only of the works, but also of the realities surrounding publication during this formative period in American literature.

Published by: The University of Alabama Press


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Title Page, Editorial Board, Copyright Page

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List of Illustrations

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pp. vii-xii

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pp. xiii-xvi

This study is dedicated to humanities scholars of middle-and working-class origins. Professionally, I owe a deep debt of gratitude to Vivian Pollak. I also thank Wayne Fields, Amy Joyce Pawl, Matthew Devoll, Charles Sweetman, Noel Sloboda, Jennifer Cays Raymond, and Angelica Zeller-M ichaelson of Washington...

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Introduction: Reading Rivalries in Illustrated Literary Realism

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pp. 1-28

“March, here, if he had his own way, wouldn’t have any illustrations at all,” claims Mr. Fulkerson. Basil March, the protagonist of William Dean Howells’s A Hazard of New Fortunes (1889) and the literary editor of the fictitious magazine Every Other Week,1 clarifies his position on illustrations: “Not because I...

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1. Kemble and Twain: Sketching "Truths" within the Minstrel Masquerade

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pp. 39-57

“You don’t know about me,” says a famous character in a striking instance of direct address, “without you have read a book by the name of ‘The Adventures of Tom Sawyer,’ but that ain’t no matter” (Twain, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: An Authoritative Text 13).1 “You don’t know about me,” he might...

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2. Kemble and Stowe: Taking Liberties with Slave Imagery

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pp. 58-85

When scholars of American literature discuss Kemble’s illustrations, their conversations have a curious way of beginning and ending with Twain. These conversations, which I explore in the previous chapter, recount how the author in his late forties contacted an artist in his early twenties and invited...

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3. Loeb and Twain: Returning to the Illustrated Scene of the Crime

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pp. 86-107

Several artists, including Kemble, illustrated Twain’s The Tragedy of Pudd’nhead Wilson, but Louis Loeb was the novel’s first illustrator, and photography was its first form of illustration.1 The novel first appeared sixty pages into Century Magazine’s 1893 Christmas issue, and each of its subsequent monthly installments...

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4. Newell and Crane: Keeping Close to a Personal Honesty of Vision

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pp. 108-133

While artists Kemble and Loeb were rendering illustrations for realist narratives treating “race,” artist Peter Newell rendered surreal, fantasy imagery for children’s literature and innovative fictions. Newell’s work appeared in Harper’s, Scribner’s, and the Saturday Evening Post, and he often wrote poetry to...

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5. Kemble and Dunbar: Manipulating the Masks of Folks from Dixie

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pp. 134-158

Newell and Kemble not only rendered illustrations for Caucasian writers such as Crane but also did so for Paul Laurence Dunbar, an African American fiction writer, novelist, and poet. While Newell grappled with a Crane character whose blackface is tragically burned away, Kemble treated Dunbar’s characters...

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6. Wenzell and Wharton: Marketing 'The House of Mirth's' Disigns

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pp. 159-189

While my chapters on Twain, Crane, and Dunbar examine visual and verbal artists who are comfortable or uncomfortable thanks to differences of “race,” this final chapter considers inequalities of sex and gender, as they are rendered visually for comfortable purchasers of books. Edith Wharton’s Lily Bart stands...

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Coda. Owen, Skeete, and Hopkins: Countering the Caricatures of Literary Realism

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pp. 190-198

My six chapters have revisited sets of ongoing rivalries between literary and graphic realists. They have postulated that such rivalries generate realism, as artists perceive how closely and appropriately their medium and competing mediums approach the “realities” that literary fiction seeks to represent. The...


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pp. 199-212

Works Cited

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pp. 213-222


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pp. 223-230

E-ISBN-13: 9780817386979
E-ISBN-10: 0817386971
Print-ISBN-13: 9780817318055
Print-ISBN-10: 0817318054

Page Count: 248
Illustrations: 85 illustrations
Publication Year: 2014

OCLC Number: 879927551
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Artistic Liberties

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Stereotypes (Social psychology) in literature.
  • United States -- Race relations -- History -- 19th century.
  • Stereotypes (Social psychology) in art.
  • American fiction -- Illustrations.
  • Illustration of books -- United States -- History -- 19th century.
  • United States -- Ethnic relations -- History -- 19th century.
  • Publishers and publishing -- United States -- History -- 19th century.
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