The period when Charles Dodgson wrote the Alice books is justly considered the golden age of British book illustration. Some artist-novelists, such as Thackeray and DuMaurier, illustrated their own works. Others, like Dickens and Dodgson, closely supervised each of the images that appeared in their works.
Sir John Tenniel, one of Punch's most famous political cartoonists (some of whose other work appears in the Victorian Web), created the first — and still most famous — illustrations of Alice for the reproductive process called wood-engraving. In the next century Arthur Rackham created equally brilliant interpretations for color reproduction, and recently Barry Moser, who has also illustrated Moby Dick, emphasized the dark, terrifying side of the Alice books in his black-and-white illustrations.
As you read Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, consider the complex relations of these pre-electronic multi-media works and the questions they raise. For example, since the author of the verbal text (Dodgson/Carroll) so influenced (controlled?) the images that accompany it, can one interpret that verbal text without paying attention to the visual? What, in other words, is Alice in Wonderland or Through the Looking Glass — the verbal text alone or the combination of word and image? If the answer is the second, then what different interpretive strategies does the reader have to employ?
Furthermore, what relations can you determine between the Alice books, contemporary caricature and satire, and the fine arts? What is the relation, too, between the grotesques of Dickens — both those in word and those in image — and Carroll's?
Lewis Carroll and His Illustrators: Collaborations and Correspondence, 1865-1898. Eds. Morton N. Cohen and Edward Wakeling. Ithaca, N. Y.: Cornell UP, 2003.
Text last modified 26 December 2000