- The Victorian Illustrated Book
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IN SERIALS TO GRAPHIC NOVELS: The Evolution of the Victorian Illustrated Book, Catherine J. Golden presents a well-researched and well-written overview of the development of the Victorian illustrated book, illuminating an under-studied area of scholarship and pointing to intriguing connections between Victorian illustrated books and contemporary graphic narratives. According to the author, the audience for the book is “the general reader and the undergraduate and graduate student,” and the focus “centers specifically on Victorian England with attention to related developments in late-nineteenth-century American and modern developments in England and the US markets.” Golden succeeds in presenting critical analysis in an erudite but accessible style, and the book presents a thoughtful synthesis of meticulous historical research, critical scholarship, and careful readings of notable images and accompanying texts.
The book is organized in a roughly chronological order, with the first chapter concentrating on the publication history of Charles Dickens’s serialized The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club. Golden identifies The Pickwick Papers as a significant moment in the development of illustrated serials, which “generated a mass consumer market for the illustrated book.” After establishing the genesis of the publishing trend in great detail and with scrupulous historical research, chapter two takes a closer look at the “theatrical, caricature style illustration,” that characterized the illustrated serials of the “1830s and 1840s,” providing a very thorough analysis of representative examples of the presiding style that ushered in the rise of illustrated book and which exerted a considerable influence on illustration styles to come, extending even to contemporary graphic narrative adaptations of Victorian texts. Chapter three directs attention to the rise of a more realistic style of illustration which came to prominence after the 1850s, influenced in no small part by the “Great Exhibition of 1851” and “an unprecedented international exhibition of innovation and commodity culture” in England at the time. Yet Golden is careful to stress that even as this more representational style came into vogue, elements of caricature remained, emphasizing the “fluidity of aesthetics across illustrative periods.” Chapter four continues the chronology of the Victorian illustrated book, moving to the end of the period, and “provides a survey of late Victorian illustrated fiction,” which, she asserts, “some critics consider a decline and others call a third period of development.” Golden finds [End Page 534] value in both of these theories, ultimately proposing that the genre simply evolved, diminishing as a vehicle for adult fiction but continuing in children’s literature in England and as serialized, adult fiction in the United States.
In the final chapter Golden turns to connections between the illustrated serials of Victorian texts and what she calls contemporary “graphic classics,” examining “graphic novel adaptation of nineteenth-century novels that originally appeared without illustrations or with few illustrations.” According to Golden, these “adaptations reveal how, in developing historical and psychological elements and topics improper for a Victorian middle-class readership, the graphic classics are rekindling the Victorian conception of illustration as revelatory—shedding light upon the text.” In this last chapter Golden quickly provides an overview of what she terms the “Neo-Victorian graphic novel,” in which a creator “builds a new storyline from characters of Victorian novels,” develops storylines “inspired by Victorian history,” or works to “bring contemporary superheroes face-to-face with characters from nineteenth century novels.” She also pays special attention to contemporary versions of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Dickens’s Oliver Twist. In this section, Golden is particularly interested in exploring Will Eisner’s reimagining of Oliver Twist from Fagin’s point of view in his graphic novel Fagin the Jew, arguing that while two recent graphic narrative adaptations of Oliver Twist “perpetuate” the caricaturist’s stereotyping of Jewish identity, Eisner does much to “remediate” it, working to “revise Fagin’s racialized physical appearance established by Cruikshank as well as his devious character created by Dickens.”
As a scholar keenly interested in comics and comics history I was particular curious about this...