- Picturing the Empire in India:Illustrating Henty
The frontispiece illustration to an early edition of G. A. Henty's Rujub, the Juggler (1893) depicts a rousing scene of escape on horseback (Fig. 1).1
Click for larger view
View full resolution
A British soldier, his sword drawn, rides away from three armed sepoys. The blur of smoke from one sepoy's rifle makes this an image of particular dramatic intensity; it anticipates for the reader a moment of narrative crisis and pictures the possibility of a hero's death at the hands of Indian mutineers. But this visual foreshadowing of terror is [End Page 155] balanced by the caption—"Bathurst succeeded in carrying him off." Bathurst dominates this image both compositionally and at the level of detail. The strong lines of his right arm and the horse's body make his face the focal point for the reader's gaze; the direction of Bathurst's gaze in turn guides the reader's interpretation of both the image and the narrative incident it depicts. Bathurst strains his body to look back towards the sepoys and to shield the man he has just rescued; a dark head is just visible over his shoulder. Much of the energy and emotion of this image is contained in the muscular body of Bathurst's black horse, airborne in mid gallop. The sepoys, sketchily drawn in the background, stand over the body of a fallen soldier; however, this is not a scene of defeat, retreat, or cowardice, but one of heroism in the face of peril.
Rujub, the Juggler was illustrated by Stanley L. Wood, who also contributed the artwork for Henty's other adult novels. In 1893, the year it was published, the journal Young England described Henty as "the most popular writer of boys' books."2 Unlike Henty, Wood has attracted virtually no critical attention, but—as his obituaries make clear—his work was well known to readers in the metropole and the colonies. Late-Victorian novels for children and adults were profusely illustrated—both as magazine serials and in book editions—to the extent that a number of critics have proposed using terms such as "hybrid text"3 and "interart form."4 However, in the case of popular adventure novels, it is evident the illustrations were always subordinate to the written narrative both for producers and readers; as the title page demonstrates, Rujub, the Juggler is simply not presented as a collaborative text. While even the most successful of Henty's illustrators did not come close to achieving his "fame and fortune,"5 their contribution to his books is more significant than existing scholarship suggests.
The frontispiece to Henty's novel is an exemplar of the illustration of popular imperial adventure fiction in the closing decades of the nineteenth century. As Robert H. MacDonald argues, an illustration such as this is a "tiny unit in the vast myth of empire" but "has a dramatic and immediate meaning."6 When Wood's image of Bathurst and his horse was published in 1893, British military art or "battle painting" was at the peak of its popularity. By the final decades of the nineteenth century, the pages of illustrated newspapers and the walls of major public art galleries were dominated by images of British soldiers and historic battles. After 1875, J. W. M. Hichberger estimates that nearly forty percent of the illustrations published in the Illustrated London [End Page 156] News were of military scenes, the majority of these from "campaigns being fought in the outposts of empire."7 During the same period, there was a striking increase in the number of military paintings hung in public exhibitions; Hichberger explains that between 1874 and 1914 the Royal Academy displayed three times more battle pictures at their prestigious annual shows than at any time pre-1855. Late-Victorian readers of Rujub, the Juggler, one of Henty's few adult novels, would have been very familiar with the key thematic and stylistic elements of Wood's illustration. The desperate ride of a soldier was a staple, for example, of academic...