- Le Conte et l’image: L’illustration des contes de Grimm en Angleterre au XIXe siècle by François Fièvre
How strange and how disconcerting to find a book on a fairly narrowly defined topic that one has been preparing to write oneself! I have been working on and off on the various illustrated editions of the Brothers Grimm, with special interest in the work of George Cruikshank and Richard Doyle, in an attempt to get a research focus in the huge area of the development of the fairy tale in nineteenth-century Anglo-American culture. Along the way I came across François Fièvre’s recent and engaging Le Conte et l’image: L’illustration des contes de Grimm en Angleterre au XIXe siècle (The Tale and the Image: Illustration of Grimms’ Tales in England in the Nineteenth Century), not to my knowledge yet reviewed in English.
As the fairy tale evolved to become a definitive literary form in England, the various editions also formed a connected narrative in the history of illustration, with artist after artist trying his or her hand at capturing a visual essence of the verbal narrative. The books in themselves are delightful in the way the tales are so brightly energized by the illustrators, who also provide, in a sense, interpretative commentary for children and adults on how to “see” a story and how to engage with them. The topic thus begs to be written about, even though there is already a rich developing literature on the illustrations, in articles on particular tales (such as Ruth Bottigheimer’s “Iconic Continuity in Illustrations of ‘The Goose Girl’”  or Rachel Freudenburg’s “Illustrating Childhood: Hansel and Gretel” ), in collections of images (such as those presented in Maria Tatar’s Annotated Brothers Grimm  or Noel Daniel’s Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm, published by Taschen in 2011), and in the historical collections and critical commentaries for various tales (“Little Red Riding Hood,” “Cinderella,” “Bluebeard,” and so on).
Fièvre’s book is a well-written and well-researched study of principal editions of Grimm prepared by four artists: Cruikshank, Doyle, Walter Crane, and Arthur Rackham. It is also nicely illustrated with 120 black-and-white images (some rather small but helpful nonetheless) and 16 pages of color images at the end. The work (a 2007 thesis at the Université de Nantes) comes in six parts, an introduction, a chapter dedicated to each of the four illustrators, [End Page 366] and a conclusion. Other illustrators (such as Edward Henry Wehnert or Phiz) and fairy-tale authors or collectors (such as Charles Perrault or Ludwig Bechstein) are mentioned along the way, but the focus is maintained, dissertation-like, on Grimm and the four artists.
For each of the illustrators, Fièvre provides a background based on the narrative of English translations provided by such authoritative studies as Martin Sutton’s Sin-Complex (1996) and David Blamires’s Telling Tales (2009) and on the usual biographical accounts (Robert L. Patten on Cruikshank, Rodney Engen on Doyle, etc.) but supplemented by many other historical materials and manuscript correspondence in the British Library and Edinburgh. The initiating frame is thus strongly biographical and historical. Fièvre is alert to the way one artist has an impact on the next (e.g., the way the young Dicky Doyle attended to the work of Cruikshank), and he is especially careful with any historical documentation related to the actual production of the books under examination.
After the historical frame has been set forth, Fièvre turns to the actual illustrations and the way they operate in the text. With Cruikshank, for instance, he begins with asking how the stories for illustration were chosen and then moves to a close analysis of the two title page vignettes, how they relate to a developing sense of the orality of the narrative (in 1823 a fireside reader is depicted, whereas in 1826...