- Artist of Wonderland: The Life, Political Cartoons, and Illustrations of Tenniel. Victorian Literature and Culture Series by Frankie Morris (review)
- Victorian Review
- Johns Hopkins University Press
- Volume 33, Number 2, 2007
- pp. 133-134
- View Citation
- Additional Information
133 Reviews Artist ofWonderland:The Life,Political Cartoons,and Illustrations ofTenniel.Victorian Literature and Culture Series by Frankie Morris; pp. 416. Charlottesville: University ofVirginia Press, 2005. $85.95 cloth. Afew years ago I took part in a quiz in which the deciding question happened to be“Who illustrated Lewis Carroll’s Alice inWonderland?” It was, in a sense, the perfect quiz question because most people can picture little Alice (long locks held in place by a hairband, flared skirt, dainty shoes, pretty features marred by a frequent scowl), but very few can name the artist who drew this picture: JohnTenniel. Frankie Morris’s analysis of the life and work ofTenniel begins with an assertion of his relative anonymity today, which, as Morris points out, is in stark contrast to the power his work held over the Victorian imagination. His huge popularity was attributable not just to the Alice books but also to the 3,900 drawings that he contributed to Punch in his fifty years working on the magazine. Part I consists of a biographical sketch of the artist that wisely avoids conjecture (very little actually is known ofTenniel’s personal life) and focuses instead on how his experiences fed into his work.We see, for example, the scrapbooks thatTenniel drew as a child, replete with the medieval armour, weaponry, and costume that were to characterize his later work. At times, Morris treats his subject with a reverence that is reminiscent ofVictorian biographers.The appeal to the reader—“Surely we should not begrudge [Tenniel’s] privacy to one who gave so much of himself in his drawings” (1)—reminds one of the eulogies that appeared in the press onTenniel’s death. Despite this unwillingness to stray intoTenniel’s private life, however, Morris constructs a compelling picture of his career that includes some revealing anecdotes, such as the artist’s involvement with the Cremation Society of England and his poignant deathbed scene, where, holding an imaginary pencil, he drew figures in the air. The biographical sketch ofTenniel is an appealing opening to the book, but perhaps the most informative section is Part II: Methods and Modes, where Morris describes the processes by which Tenniel’s images were produced. It is all too easy to forget the fact that these pictures were not just the work of Tenniel but also of the wood engravers, whose job it was to cut the white parts from the end of boxwood, leaving the parts to be inked in relief. Morris focuses on the artist’s relationship with the engravers, as well as the skill and speed required to produce a design on wood. Punch’s topical news items meant that the design for the large political cut, decided on in the weeklyWednesday dinner party, would have to be with the engravers by the Friday.The artist had to choose what type of pen or pencil to use (Tenniel, so Morris informs us, chose a 6H point) and to make sure not to place the crucial features of the image where the joins between blocks would be (the larger cuts were engraved from woodblocks bolted together). Occasionally, Morris appears a little too defensive of Tenniel’s pictures, quashing the idea that the engravers’ input victorian review • Volume 33 Number 1 134 was more creative than mechanical, but these value judgements aside, this is a fascinating discussion of howTenniel (and, indeed,Victorian illustrators in general) worked, Morris even discussing those new reproductive processes like photoengraving thatTenniel avoided. Parts III and IV deal with the Alice and Punch illustrations, respectively, and these sections will no doubt appeal to the majority of readers. Both facets of Tenniel’s work have been previously discussed (Alice more than the Punch cartoons), but Morris manages to tease out new significance for these images. Reassessing the relationship between Carroll andTenniel, he argues that neither was the controlling influence but that they complemented each other, and this is borne out in the shared themes and preoccupations that appear in both text and image, such as the tropes of the pantomime tradition, the grotesque and the gothic. For the Punch illustrations, the focus is on key themes that featured in the 2,300 or so...