- The Tenniel Illustrations to the “Alice” Books by Michael Hancher
Michael Hancher’s The Tenniel Illustrations to the “Alice” Books provides a detailed examination of John Tenniel’s engaging illustrations to Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and Through the Looking-Glass (1871). The author’s close study of these iconic and much beloved visualizations of the Alice story, published and reprinted in many editions, reconstructs important elements of their creation and examines the publishing practices that enabled them to be so broadly circulated.
The first edition of Hancher’s book, published in 1985, was reviewed by Morton N. Cohen in this journal (VPR 21.1 : 35–37). In this second edition the original chapters have been updated and expanded, incorporating new scholarship on Tenniel and Carroll along with archival source material that was not previously included. This material most notably comprises the original wood blocks of the Tenniel illustrations engraved by the Dalziel brothers, rediscovered in a London bank vault in 1985 just as the first edition was being published; electrotypes from the archives of Macmillan Publishing; and significant caches of wood-engraved proofs, many annotated by Tenniel.
Hancher addresses the significance of the Alice books along with the intertwined reputations of their author and illustrator: “For a mix of reasons, Lewis Carroll, like Alice herself, has become a creature of popular legend. And yet Tenniel’s own contribution to the books is probably as well-known as Carroll’s—perhaps more widely known, for there must be thousands of persons (children and adults alike) who are familiar with reproductions of some of the illustrations, despite never having actually read the text. In a ghostly way, Tenniel retains something of his original precedence over Carroll” (2). With this precedence in mind, Hancher traces the evolution of Tenniel’s illustrations for the Alice books. Hancher offers a critical assessment of Tenniel as an illustrator and examines his prolific output as chief cartoonist for Punch as well as other illustrative work. Hancher finds that “his drawings, including his illustrations for the Alice [End Page 639] books, tended to conserve and renew the imagery of the recent and notso-recent past” (9). Early chapters explore Tenniel’s visual language, the replication of imagery from his own designs for Punch (for example, John Bull becomes Tweedledum and Tweedledee), and the influence of Carroll’s original illustrations to Alice’s Adventures under Ground in his 1864 hand-lettered and illuminated gift manuscript to Alice Liddell. Hancher concludes that “it is very likely that Tenniel did see the Carroll illustrations, and furthermore, that they helped shape his drawings for the book” (39). Exploration of Tenniel’s appropriation of imagery from contemporary artists, such as John Leech, John Everett Millais, George Du Maurier, and Augustus Leopold Egg, as well as old masters, including Quinten Massys, Albrecht Dürer, and Salvator Rosa, further documents his ability to layer and combine source material. Hancher’s observations are astute, bringing together a range of visual borrowings. His inquiry would benefit from comparing Tenniel’s appropriations with the works of other illustrators of the 1860s who similarly made clever use of assimilated source material. Further contextualizing this practice would help to deepen understanding of the richness and complexities of Victorian discourses on copying and imitation in the visual arts.
Readers of Victorian Periodicals Review will find of special interest six new chapters in this edition that provide a larger framework for understanding the development and materiality of the Alice illustrations. Focusing on technical processes and archival evidence, these chapters address the transformation of Tenniel’s drawings to printed images through the wood-engraving process; the production of electrotype copies of the wood blocks; the commercial printing of the illustrations and related problems; coloring of the illustrations, including Tenniel’s selection of colors for the Alice illustrations in 1890 as well as Fritz Kredel’s in 1946; practices of re-engraving, such as the creation of entirely new wood blocks by Bruno Rollitz in 1932; and an assessment...