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  • Illustrating Pip and the Terrible Stranger1
  • Jolene Zigarovich (bio)

Of all Dickens’s novels, Hard Times and Great Expectations were the only ones to appear without accompanying illustrations. Coincidentally, both were written to revive slumping sales of Dickens’s own unillustrated weekly journals. This has spawned speculation about the reason for the omission of illustrations for Great Expectations. In “Why Wasn’t Great Expectations Illustrated,” Alan S. Watts concludes that the era of illustrated fiction was coming to an end (8–9). In Dickens and Phiz, Michael Steig asserts that by the late 1850s Dickens was experiencing a growing lack of interest in illustration (312).2 Robert Patten claims that Dickens’s readers in his lifetime more often read his novels without all, or any, of the original illustrations.3

Early critics of Dickens, like Edgar Browne, Hablot K. Browne’s son, assumed that after Dickens severed ties with his father, the novelist found it too difficult to find a new collaborator. In “Dickens, Hogarth, and the Illustrated Great Expectations,” Paul B. Davis explains that changes in realistic fiction and readership “made illustrators less essential to the novels of the 1860s” (139). Yet many novels during the 1860s were illustrated, such as the bestselling The Woman in White and Lady Audley’s Secret, Trollope’s Chronicles [End Page 21] of Barsetshire series, Gaskell’s Wives and Daughters, and Eliot’s Romola to name a few. In 1859 Phiz was successfully illustrating the magazine Once a Week, including Charles Lever’s Davenport Dunn; and in a letter to Edward Chapman in October 1859, Dickens referred to the reissue of A Tale of Two Cities in monthly installments to be illustrated by Phiz. “I have not yet seen any sketches from Mr. Browne for No. 6,” he wrote. “Will you see to this, without loss of time” (Letters. 9: 136). Browne’s sketches were subsequently reproduced in the Chapman and Hall one-volume edition (1859). No comparable discussion occurred with reference to Dickens’s next weekly serial contribution to All the Year Round. Q. D. Leavis infamously observed that the novel’s complexity and “unique greatness” explain why Great Expectations didn’t need an illustrator. “Can we imagine satisfactory illustrations to this novel?” she asked in Dickens the Novelist (362).

This statement, as Jane Cohen notes, is misleading (268, n. 16), particularly in view of Dickens’s intention to publish the novel in monthly parts, only to abandon the plan in order to issue it in weekly numbers in All the Year Round. Working quickly and adhering to a tight schedule, he produced a brilliantly structured novel whose weekly format allowed no scope for illustrations, even had Dickens thought them desirable.

The American serialization of Great Expectations, however, confirms that publishers and readers of novels, especially those by Dickens, still valued illustration. Great Expectations appeared in Harper’s Weekly from 24 November 1860 through 3 August 1861, and at home in All the Year Round from 1 December 1860 through 3 August 1861. In 1859 Harper had employed New York artist John McLenan to illustrate A Tale of Two Cities for Harper’s Weekly; a year later, Mclenan produced 34 full-sized plates, and six headnote vignettes for Harper’s serial printing of Great Expectations. The novel was subsequently issued in volume form by T. B. Peterson & Brothers of Philadelphia (1861), and included McLenan’s illustrations (though not the vignettes for Great Expectations). Although installments of Great Expectations in Harper’s Weekly were accompanied by John McLenan’s illustrations, neither the installments in All the Year Round nor the Chapman and Hall first edition (1861) was illustrated.4 As Edgar Rosenberg notes, “Despite the [British] copyright laws, which forbade prior publication in foreign countries, the serial began with a week’s head start in Harper’s Weekly: ‘Splendidly Illustrated by John McLenan’” (399). This would lead us to regard the volume issued by T. B. Peterson of Philadelphia as the first volume edition (though many consider the Library Edition the first one-volume edition). We can agree that it isn’t until the Chapman and Hall Library Edition that an illustrated [End Page 22] volume was overseen by Dickens, but for...


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