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The Lion and the Unicorn 28.2 (2004) 314-317
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In her celebrated article "Children's Magazines," written for Scribner's Monthly just before she undertook her editorial duties at St. Nicholas Magazine, Mary Mapes Dodge insisted boldly that the best pictures for children must "cause a whole tangle of interrogation marks in the child's mind," and that the editor must be careful not to "over-help nor hinder" the reader's active effort to puzzle them out (353). "To do this successfully," she said, "is a matter of instinct, without which no man should presume to be a child's editor and go unhung" (354). It is possible for a modern reader to guess at the kind of questions a good picture might be expected to raise, the kind of instinctive critical help a good editor might presume to offer. But the tastes, expectations, and critical vocabulary of the late nineteenth century differ so much from our own that it is hard to be sure. So it is good to know that anyone in need of enlightenment about the subtleties of Victorian discourse on art for children can now turn to Anne Lundin's Victorian Horizons: The Reception of the Picture Books of Walter Crane, Randolph Caldecott, and Kate Greenaway for an original and carefully-researched clarification of the unspoken assumptions that shaped criticism of these artists. The reception history of children's literature is a relatively new area of research much in need of further exploration, but Lundin's work demonstrates how " foundational" children's literary studies can be "to cultural studies, including the burgeoning new fields of consumerism and media commercialization" (Myers, Foreword viii).
In Victorian Horizons Lundin has located, excerpted, and analyzed a large body of important critical reviews and commentaries that influenced the work of Crane, Caldecott, and Greenaway and shaped popular response to it. The three artists, all of whom worked for the printer and publisher Edmund Evans, have long been linked in the popular mind. Though Lundin began her study resisting the idea, she came to see that the original conception of the Evans group as a unit emerged from a Victorian understanding of publishing as a complex and collaborative process. Scholars today, Lundin suggests, are only just beginning to catch up with the Victorians' appreciation of the many important mediators to be found in the field of children's literature—printers, [End Page 314] publishers, editors, agents, booksellers, librarians, teachers, parents, and, in particular, critics and reviewers.
To present a properly historicized poetics of the picture book from the Victorian vantage, Lundin first lays out a critical position rooted in reader-response, and offers a sketch of the horizons of expectations governing the response of Victorian audiences to children's books. Her understanding of the dynamics of this interaction emerges from a wide and diligent reading in British and American periodicals of the mid-1870s to the turn of the century. (Graduate students in search of research topics will find her chapter on "Victorian Horizons" full of leads to useful source material.) Three chapters are devoted to the work of the individual artists, each chapter covering the story of a career, offering a very detailed survey of significant reviews, and a summary of reputation history. A final chapter examines the artists in relation to one another, and traces her own understanding "of the nature of their conjoined reputation through the direction and dialogue of Victorian Criticism—and subsequent cultural criticism" (225).
The epigraph to Lundin's concluding chapter is an apt one from Emerson: "All reputations each age revises." It speaks to the way "Crane, Caldecott, and Greenaway's picture books were rooted in the horizons of expectations of the late Victorian age in its various continuities, shifts, and sites" (237). Lundin's documentation and analysis of the language of...