Authors and Illustrators in the Victorian Era – Publication Process and Collaboration

Karita Kuusisto is a PhD student at the School of English, Communication and Philosophy at Cardiff University. Her research focuses on the work of the artist and illustrator Sidney Paget and the role of the illustrator in the process of making illustrated periodicals in the late Victorian era. Her research interests include illustration, periodical press and photography in the nineteenth century.

In this post, I will take a brief look at how the mode of publication affected the way the author and the illustrator worked together, concentrating particularly on Arthur Conan Doyle’s and Sidney Paget’s collaboration (or lack thereof) when the Sherlock Holmes stories were first illustrated and published in the Strand Magazine in 1891.

The relationship between author and illustrator in the Victorian era is a complicated one – or that is the impression one gets when reading about it. Many of the author-illustrator teams seem to have arrived at a disagreement that brought an end to the collaboration. The relationships were further complicated, and perhaps intensified, by the particular publication process that the two were engaged with – by this I mean the original method of publication, be it the short story or serialized novel in a periodical, for example, with its strict deadlines and restrictions on image sizes and numbers. Sometimes the illustrator and author would work quite closely together. Usually, when fiction was published in a periodical, in addition to the author and illustrator, the editor of the periodical would have their say in what was illustrated and how, while the engraver would also leave evidence of their skill level, and sometimes their own interpretation, on the image. However, in the case of Charles Dickens and George Cruikshank’s work on Oliver Twist, for example, there were few outsiders involved in the publication, as Dickens was also the editor of Bentley’s Miscellany where Oliver Twist was first published, and Cruikshank, in addition to illustrating the story, also acted as the engraver of the images.[1] Of course, there might have been other people influencing the work, but at least in theory, it was only Dickens and Cruikshank that worked on the serialized novel. Authors were not always pleased with the illustrations provided, although sometimes the creation process was somewhat symbiotic – the illustrator and author worked together to create the best possible story both textually and visually. This is the impression one gets when reading George Cruikshank’s account of the creation of Oliver Twist. In The Artist and The Author, Cruikshank talks of the creation process being a highly collaborative one, where the author and the illustrator were in fact co-creators of the story itself, both visually and textually, instead of the illustrator simply providing his own ‘reading’ of the text.[2] I will leave every reader free to draw their own conclusions about the situation between Dickens and Cruikshank, as there seems to be more than one view of the events.

holmes

Illustration by Sidney Paget for Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Boscombe Valley Mystery. The Strand Magazine, 1891. Courtesy of Cardiff University Special Collections and Archives.

As my own research focuses on the work of Sidney Paget, the relationship between him and Arthur Conan Doyle is of course of interest to me. The relationship is an interesting one in that unlike the example mentioned above, Sidney Paget and Arthur Conan Doyle did not, as far as I am aware, have any contact with each other when the Sherlock Holmes stories were first illustrated. Sidney Paget illustrated the Sherlock Holmes stories for the Strand Magazine from 1891 onward. Due to the publication process of the Strand Magazine, Paget and Doyle did not meet or have any direct exchange of ideas, as all communication was done through the editor Greenhough Smith, and the art editor W. H. J. Boot. This is not surprising, as when it comes to the Strand Magazine, the writers seemed not to have much say with regards to the style of the illustrations accompanying their written words, although the illustrations would generally be as faithful to the text as possible. In fact, Conan Doyle did not at first like Paget’s illustrations, fearing that Holmes was depicted as too handsome; but after the highly successful publication of A Scandal in Bohemia (published in 1891), Conan Doyle saw the benefits of having Holmes pictured in the way Paget had fashioned him.[3] The original description of Sherlock Holmes was published in Beeton’s Christmas Annual in 1887, where the Sherlock Holmes described differs from Paget’s rendering quite drastically. Since the first description of Holmes was given in a story published elsewhere, it remains uncertain if Paget was ever aware of the original description of Holmes when he first illustrated the short stories. This may indeed be why Conan Doyle first disliked the illustrations, as they did not comply with his own idea of what Holmes looked like. Paget and Doyle became, and remained, friends, and Conan Doyle even commissioned a portrait of himself from Paget in 1897, which is not a great surprise considering the fact that Paget was a portrait painter.

These two examples, showing different types of collaboration between author and illustrator, seem to highlight the possible problems, and benefits, of artistic collaboration, while resulting in the creation of iconic images and scenes. This begs the question: if Paget and Doyle’s collaboration had been similar to that of Dickens and Cruikshank’s, would we have ended up with a different looking Holmes? Would the iconic image of Holmes, wearing a deerstalker hat, have never existed? I am afraid this brief look to the relationships between authors and illustrators has raised more questions than it answered.

 

Works cited:

[1] Philip V. Allingham, George Cruikshank, 1792-1878 — biographical introduction, http://www.victorianweb.org/victorian/art/illustration/cruikshank/bio.html (Accessed 30.11.2016)

[2] More information about George Cruikshank’s The Artist and The Author on the British Library website: https://www.bl.uk/collection-items/george-cruikshanks-claims-of-plagiarism-against-charles-dickens

[3] Andrew Lycett, Conan Doyle: the Man Who Created Sherlock Holmes (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2007) pp.167-168.

 

 

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