Jane Rabb Cohen, Michael Steig, and other students of Dickens illustrators have focused upon the illustrations produced for the initial serialisations of Dickens's novels, particularly those by Cruikshank and Phiz, because these are unquestionably the result of a collaborative endeavour in two media, visual and textual, by writer and illustrator. In consequence, until recently the illustrations in the most important edition of Dickens's novels published since his death in 1870, have gone largely unnoticed until recently, when scholars such as Chris Louttit and publications such as The Dickens Magazine have begun to consider the mammoth achievement of the Household Edition's lead artist, Fred Barnard.
According to the editors of Broadview Press's recently released reprinting of the 1872 Household Edition of David Copperfield,
The principal illustrator for the edition was Fred Barnard, and the Dalziel brothers (the leading wood-engravers of the time) created the engravings from Barnard's illustrations; they described The Household Edition as "by far the most important commission ever placed in our hands by Messrs. Chapman & Hall."
The Household Edition may well have been the most popular form in which the novel appeared, however; the plates for The Household Edition were widely used for other editions as well, and it is likely that more Victorian readers would have read Dickens's novels in this form than in any other. [Broadview site]
The Broadview edition, which contains Barnard's excellent illustrations in the letterpress of the double-columned pages, argues persuasively—using post-1870 versus pre-1870 sales figures— that this reprinting of the 1872 text will "provide readers with a direct sense of these works as the Victorians themselves experienced them." Late Victorian readers of the Household Edition probably read Barnard's illustrations in particular against those of Hablot Knight Browne since copies of the Chapman and Hall first and subsequent editions published during Dickens's lifetime would have still been widely available, particularly in lending libraries.
Nevertheless one cannot underestimate the importance of these post-1870s illustrations in shaping the initial responses by younger Victorian readers to Dickens's novels, so that the following review of a 1907 volume reproducing these illustrations is important as a key to understanding early modern appreciations of Dickens's works:
This illustration appeared on p. 301 of a review in the 1908 Dickensian
with the following caption:
"'The Thunderbolt.' One of Fred Barnard's drawings, illustrating a dramatic incident in Dombey and
Son. From "Scenes and Characters from Dickens." [Click on thumbnail for larger image.]
The original illustrations to Dickens's works, drawn by "Phiz," are not likely to be forgotten. In sheer draughtsmanship it may be that they leave something to be desired, but apart from the sentiment which of itself will always link the names "Boz" and "Phiz," there is the fact that the artist worked, so to speak, at Dickens's elbow and under his direct influence, and so is more likely to have interpreted the very spirit of the work than anyone else. But ideas and tastes change, and as the editors of the volume under notice remark, "a younger generation is growing up for whom the time-honoured pictures have not the charm of long association, and among them it is common to hear the complaint that the natural humour and pathos of the author's best works are spoiled to modern fancy by the violent caricatures of the illustrator." Dickens, they say, in effect, was a universal genius and Browne was not, and so, while the books are for all time, the illustrations, as such, are only for a time. We may not quite agree with this, though we may admit that there is "something in it."
But (to quote the editors of this volume again) "it happens that there does exist a series of Dickens illustrations, now in danger of being unduly neglected, in which the artists were wonderfully happy in preserving the original features of "Phiz" and Cruikshank's interpretations, while they toned down the more extravagant details, and brought imagination into closer harmony with reality." These, of course, are the illustrations drawn for the famous "Household Edition," which was published in parts in 1870. We suppose that there never has been an edition of Dickens's works that attained such popularity as this one. There were two reasons for this. The loved author had only lately died, his name was on all tongues, and people bought the parts and cherished them with the Family Bible. This is strictly true, and to-day in hundreds of homes, as the Editor remarks, the original copies are among the most valued [301/302] household" possessions. This was the first and chief reason, but not the only one. We believe that the admirable illustrations had a very great deal to do with the success of the "Household Edition." To the average person probably the name of Fred Barnard is indissolubly linked with the edition, and to-day very many imagine that he supplied all the illustrations, but there were ten other artists associated with him, namely, "Phiz," J. Mahony, Charles Green, A. B. Frost, Gordon Thompson, J. McL. Ralston, Harry French, E. G. Dalziel, F. A. Fraser, and Luke Fildes. With the exception of Sir Luke Fildes's illustrations of Edwin Drood, all the drawings were specially executed for this edition, and it is not too much to say that never has an edition of Dickens's works been illustrated so consistently well. Fred Barnard's work was undoubtedly the best — we consider him to have been the best of all Dickens illustrators. He seems to have been possessed with the Dickens spirit, and his work was always marked by sincerity and by splendid draughtstmanship. Less known is the work of Green, Mahony, and Frost, but it is of a very high standard indeed, and worthy of a place by the side of Barnard's. Indeed, Mahony's illustrations to Oliver Twist reach a level that Barnard never surpassed, though his work in Our Mutual Friend is not so good. "Phiz" is here represented by a series of illustrations to Pickwick, and it is interesting to compare these drawings with those be did thirty-three years before.
The "Household Edition" has been out of print for many years, and it is becoming more and more difficult to obtain it. Therefore this volume, containing the whole of the illustrations, is certain of a very warm welcome. All the pictures have been carefully printed from the original wood-blocks on excellent paper, and the book is most handsomely bound. It is a charming production, and will not only be a welcome addition to many Dickens collections, but will form a handsome gift book.
Louttit, Chris. "The Household Edition." 13thn Annual Dickens Symposium. Dickens Society of America. Kingston University: Kingston-on-Thames, England, 18 July 2008. [This is part of a much larger project that will ultimately include consideration of all major nineteenth-century illustrated editions published after Dickens's death in 1870.]
Thomas, William. [Review] "A Dickens Picture Book."The Dickensian. 1908. Pp. 300-302.
Last modified 30 August 2009