On the peak of his fame, Charles Dickens may have commanded any illustrator he appreciated for his novels. However initially of his literary profession, it was he who was charged with accompanying the artist, not the opposite means round. His first serialized novel The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Membership, higher generally known as The Pickwick Papers, started as a sequence of comical “cockney sporting plates” by Robert Seymour. Trustworthy sufficient to confess his ignorance of the cockney sporting life however shrewd sufficient to know a possibility when he noticed one, the younger Dickens accepted the writer’s request for tales meant to elaborate on the pictures.
Even then, Dickens possessed irrepressible expertise as a preferred storyteller, and it was his writing — which evidenced scant curiosity in adherence to the prevailing artwork — that made The Pickwick Papers into an excellent success, a mass-cultural phenomenon corresponding to a success sitcom avant la lettre.
187 years later there stays a whiff of scandal round this chapter of literary historical past, Seymour having dedicated suicide early within the serialization course of the day after an argument with Dickens. Finally the writer discovered a everlasting alternative for Seymour in Hablot Knight Browne, or Phiz, who would go on to offer the art work for many of his novels.
You’ll be able to see all of Phiz’s work for Dickens at the Charles Dickens Illustrated Gallery, a challenge of Michael John Goodman, whom we’ve beforehand featured right here on Open Tradition for his Victorian Illustrated Shakespeare Archive (and his assortment of AI-generated Shakespeare artwork). “The world of Dickens illustration is beset with poor reproductions of the supply materials, so for this challenge I’ve searched out what I contemplate to be a few of the greatest editions that function the unique illustrations printed to a good high quality,” Goodman writes on his challenge’s About web page. These are inclined to date from the early twentieth century and include “coloured frontispieces (which the unique novels didn’t have).”
One such frontispiece seems on the high of this submit, depicting the primary look of The Pickwick Papers‘ most beloved character, the cockney valet Samuel Weller (who overtook the title character in recognition in a lot the identical method as Dickens’ writing overtook the illustrations). The Charles Dickens Illustrated Gallery incorporates quite a few plates from that e book, in addition to from all the remainder: Oliver Twist (a collaboration with not Phiz however George Cruikshank), A Christmas Carol (with John Leech), Bleak Home (its grim ambiance heightened by Phiz’s “darkish plates”), even the never-finished The Thriller of Edwin Drood. At present’s readers are more likely to dismiss these illustrations, nonetheless well-rendered, as extraneous to the textual content. However we should keep in mind that almost all had been seen and permitted by Dickens himself, who knew what he needed — and much more so, what his readers needed.
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Based mostly in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and tradition. His tasks embrace the Substack e-newsletter Books on Cities, the e book The Stateless Metropolis: a Stroll by Twenty first-Century Los Angeles and the video sequence The Metropolis in Cinema. Comply with him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Fb.