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  • Recoupling Text and Image:Graham Greene's The Little Train
  • Kimberley Reynolds (bio)

In 2011, Seven Stories, the UK's national center for children's books, acquired the original artwork for the version of Graham Greene's picture book The Little Train illustrated by Edward Ardizzone and published in 1973. Paintings from the 1946 first edition of the same title as illustrated by Greene's one-time lover and sometime collaborator Dorothy [Glover] Craigie are also held at Seven Stories. For those interested in reappraising and recovering the modernist heritage of children's literature, much can be learned from comparing these two versions of Greene's story. Identifying and examining the changes made by Ardizzone highlights the extent to which the Greene-Craigie picture book is both grounded in its period and able to offer insights into what Greene was then thinking about his work in relation to modernism.1

Bringing Ardizzone on Board

To twenty-first century eyes, Dorothy Craigie's bright, quirky, broadly modernist illustrations appear attractive and exciting and her design is effective. From the endpapers that map the train's journey to the sequence of page openings and page turns, this version of The Little Train demonstrably works well as a picture book. But when, following Craigie's death in 1971, Graham Greene and his publisher, The Bodley Head, decided to reissue it and the others on which Greene and Craigie had collaborated (The Little Fire Engine [1950], The Little Horse Bus [1952], and The Little Steamroller [1953]), they were doing so in a climate that viewed modernism with suspicion as too closely associated with bohemia, too eager to overturn rules that had yet to be acquired by young readers, and too stylistically complex.2 [End Page 1]

Craigie's modernist style may have been blamed for the fact that the book was not commercially successful, but other factors would also have affected its reception and profitability. Notably, when it first appeared, The Little Train was not identified as the work of Graham Greene; only Craigie's name appeared on the cover, and she was unknown. As a tyro illustrator (she was working as a theatrical costume designer) she also made some practical mistakes that added to production costs (Alderson 328). At the time, then, replacing her illustrations with new ones, by the hugely admired, highly experienced, illustrator Edward Ardizzone, reflected the tastes and values of the British children's publishing scene of the 1970s and made commercial sense. There were other reasons why Ardizzone was recognized as the best illustrator for this task. Greene and Ardizzone were friends and contemporaries who began their careers at much the same time and had previously worked together on a story featuring a train: Ardizzone's Nicholas and the Fast-Moving Diesel (1948), published by Eyre and Spottiswoode while Greene was an editor there.3 At an artistic level the choice of Ardizzone also made sense since his children's illustrations generally evoke Britain between the two world wars, the setting for Greene's story. It is perhaps surprising, then, that period resonances are one of the most telling differences between the Craigie and Ardizzone versions.

Craigie's contemporaneous illustrations directly respond to then current changes and debates in culture, largely through her references to modernism, which was at the time the dominant mode in culture. Three decades later Ardizzone's interpretation looks back on the period through the softening lens of nostalgia. The differences affect the story in significant ways; of particular interest here is the extent to which changing the style and relationship to time and place affects how the story is understood as part of Greene's output. Ardizzone's version of The Little Train has completely eclipsed Craigie's. Its success means that a dialogue between Greene's first picture book as it was originally conceived and his other work from the same period has gone unremarked. The insights gained from re-uniting the text with its original images add weight to the case for placing Greene within the ambit of modernist writing (Decoste; Hodgkins). It also adds to the growing body of evidence that modernist writers' stories for children provide valuable information about the...


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