Morton N. Cohen and Edward Wakeling. Lewis Carroll & His Illustrators: Collaborations and Correspondence, 1865-1898. Ithaca, NY: Cornell U. P., 2003. Pp. xxxvi + 349. Cloth £20.95 US $35.00 ISBN 0-8014-4148-X
Now to consider what can be done with all these pictures, which have cost you, I am sure, a great deal of trouble. In the first place, whether any of them are used, or not, you must be duly compensated. That is essential. But, unless you are willing to draw on wood again, I fear the only plan will be to return all the drawings and pay you whatever we may settle as reasonable. (C. L. Dodgson, "To Arthur Burdett Frost," 24 February 1885, regarding the proposed drawings for A Tangled Tale)
What did the nineteenth-century novel's most exuberant showman, Charles Dickens (pseudonym "Boz") and children's literature's most retiring academic, the Reverend Charles Dodgson (pseudonym "Lewis Carroll"), have in common? The answer, provided by Lewis Carroll and His Illustrators (2003), is a highly developed visual imagination that manifested itself in a passionate concern with every aspect of the appearance of their books, from binding through placement of illustrations, as well as the composition of the plates themselves. Had either of them been "mechanically acquainted" with the visual arts, they might well have attempted the illustration of their own texts, as did novelists W. M. Thackeray and George Du Maurier. As he grew older, however, Dodgson's visual sense grew surer (even if his works grew less and less suited to the popular taste), so that his thumbnails for Harry Furniss, although less finished and slightly more wooden that the professional's final productions, are surprisingly talented interpretations of the letter-press. Take, for example, Figure 25, "Dodgson's preliminary sketch of 'Uprose that Pig, and rushed, full whack' and Furniss's final drawing from Sylvie and Bruno Concluded" (p. 128).
Although the names of Hablot Knight Browne ("Phiz") and Sir John Tenniel are most commonly associated with the illustrations of the works of Dickens and Carroll respectively, both writers collaborated with a number of other gifted illustrators, often providing them with highly detailed instructions (and, in the case of Carroll at least, thumbnail sketches of likely subjects) and offering them suggestions for improvement — although the term "suggestions" is hardly adequate to describe the extent of artistic control that these writers attempted to exert over their illustrators. Just as artist Robert Seymour's initial involvement in the mixed-media enterprise now called The Pickwick Papers almost guaranteed the commercial success of the monthly parts (despite the writer's journey status at the time), so John Tenniel's reputation, established through his Punch and Dickens illustrations, granted the first Alice book a certain cachˇ with the book-buying public. Despite popular bias against the perfectionist writer, it was the temperamental Punch illustrator that was responsible for the cancellation of a slightly flawed first edition. Despite the tremendous financial loss of some £600--"a monumental sum for an Oxford don earning less than that amount in a year" (6), Dodgson bore his visual collaborator's whims and fits with equanimity,
As its title suggests, Morton N. Cohen and Edward Wakeling's Lewis Carroll & His Illustrators: Collaborations and Correspondence, 1865-1898 combines relevant Dodgson correspondence with a consideration of that writer's relationship with each of his artists and their work. It sheds new light on the visual dimensions of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass in particular but also follows this thread through such lesser-known works as The Hunting of the Snark and A Tangled Tale, and it pays attention to such less renowned illustrators as Henry Holiday, the American Arthur Burdett Frost, and Emily Gertrude Thomson. The uninitiated might also have expected a chapter on the second-most famous of Carroll's illustrators, the incomparable watercolourist Arthur Rackham, but this book chronicles the children's writer's collaborative relationships: Dodgson having died in 1898, and the copyright for Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865) having expired in 1907, Rackham's version was but one of a number of new illustrated editions that appeared early in the twentieth century; however, it has so generally supplanted Tenniel's in the popular consciousness (having echoed the first artist's conceptions) that the general reader must be forgiven for thinking the 1907 edition a collaborative endeavour. Rackham, therefore, is therefore justifiably omitted since there can hardly have been correspondence to match to his illustrations.
What is missing, less justifiably perhaps, is a detailed discussion of the some of the principal plates themselves. Although Carroll made detailed demands upon his five contemporary illustrators and demanded high technical standards for them, he was indefatigably polite and deferential, even with so truculent an artist as his last, Harry Furniss. By the time that Dodgson approached the cartoonist and illustration in March 1885, Furniss, only 29 at the time, had been a member of the Punch staff five years. This
collaboration . . . passed through stages of cordiality, misunderstanding, disagreement, recriminations, threats, counter-threats, and near-disaster. It was for Dodgson the most difficult collaboration of his career, far more so than the one with Tenniel. 
Following their practice in the three previous chapters (on Tenniel, Holiday, and Frost), to enable their readers to assess for themselves the nature of the relationship between writer and artist, editors Cohen and Wakeling juxtapose relevant letters and images, both the original thumbnail sketches that Dodgson provided the artist and the illustrator's finished product. In some instances, such as "Pays long ceremonious calls" (Fig. 23), the relationship between sketch and plate amounts to mere blocking of the figures and establishing their poses and gestures that the author wished Furniss to consider for the piece. At the other extreme, however, is Figure 28, "Each Herring tries to sing what she has found" from Sylvie and Bruno; here, despite his underscoring to Furniss, "I can't draw badgers!" (130), Dodgson, who displays a theatrical director's flair as he disposes his figures effectively upon the two-dimensional stage, provided his illustrator with the essential elements of the situation in considerable detail. Dodgson concludes: "Now, having put my ideas before you, I leave you free to draw the pictures as seems to you best and funniest" (130), requesting the return of his original sketches as "curios." The result of the author's providing such clear directions and the artist's executing them in so animated and whimsical a manner is, as Dodgson remarks in a letter several months later, "delicious!" (139).
Comments made by Furniss about his emotionally turbulent relationship with Dodgson abound, but they are in the main either outrageous exaggerations or spurious blame-shifting, for in their correspondence as presented by Cohen and Wakeling Dodgson remains uniformly polite, enthusiastic, and laudatory, even when having difficulty impressing upon Furniss his essentially anthropomorphic conception of his animal characters. The love-stricken spider in "Miss Muffet" (122), for example, seems to have caused both author and illustrator considerable trouble because Furniss, who conceived of it as an insect wearing shoes, tried to create an anatomically correct arachnid, providing a back view because, as he tells Dodgson, "The face of the spider is not one to make anything out of" (122). Dodgson, on the other hand, stated in reply:
My idea is that there is no necessity for being so entomologically accurate as you aspire to be, and that a creature, mostly human, but suggestive of spidery nature, would be quite accurate enough.Secondly, that by giving only a back-view, you lose all chance of the "Little Man" sympathizing with the spider, and so you lose the gist of "his soul shall be sad," etc. 
If we imagine Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse and Goofy as a zoologically correct rodent and dog, we can comprehend Dodgson's frustration with Furniss here, and appreciate the delicacy with which he tries to explain his characterization to the artist.
The portrait photographs of the artists, reproductions of Dodgson's thumbnail sketches, and plates from the various Carroll books number thirty-six, but only four of these, including a photograph of the last illustrator, pertain to Emily Gertrude Thomson (1850-1929), whose working relationship with Dodgson is the subject of the fifth and final chapter. Without much visual complement, the correspondence presented will probably be of limited interest to all but the most scholarly of readers, as opposed to the opening chapter on Tenniel's illustrations for the first Alice book. However, even for those not particularly devoted to this somewhat arcane subject, Cohen and Wakeling's "Introduction" (pages xv through xxix) is a highly readable and informative commentary not merely on Dodgson as theologian, Oxford don, poet, wit, and amateur photographer, but on Victorian publishing and illustration generally.During the first half of Dickens's career, for example, specifically between 1828 and 1853, the average price of a book declined sharply (according to the editors, "by 40 per cent" [xxvi]) even as books became more beautiful and much more abundant, perhaps owing to the economy of scale possible in supplying the burgeoning middle-class market of England and wales, whose population rose from 14 to 33 million over the course of the nineteenth century and became progressively more and more literate as a direct consequence of the Education Acts of 1870, 1876, and 1880. In this, undoubtedly advancements in printing technology undoubtedly played a significant part:
. . . book production and book illustration changed dramatically. Books were still largely handcrafted at the beginning of the century. Paper was made by hand, print was set by hand, and what machines were available were mostly operated by hand. Books were heavy and expensive, and very few, rather special volumes were illustrated, usually by wood engravings. Novels came in the form of "three deckers," that is, three volumes. Then, in the late 1830s [precisely the period in which Dickens entered the publishing scene with his illustrated monthly instalments] the mechanical typecaster was invented in America, and by the mid-1850s, it was in common use in England as well as the United States, producing in a single day five times as much type as the old hand-setting method. By the 1860s [when the first Alice book appeared], mechanized book production began to make an impact, and by the 1880s, the combined casting and composing machine became a reality. (xxv)
Other such tidbits include the facts that in 1865 some two hundred children's books were published in England, principally for the Christmas book-trade and that these were intended to be read aloud to children by their parents. "More books were published on religion than on any other subject in the first half of the nineteenth century" (xxvi). Similarly, one may glean a great deal about Victorian society from the letters and their generous annotations. For example, having received from his American illustrator a letter addressed to the "Rev. C. L. Dodgson" (44), the writer politely explains to his collaborator from across the Atlantic the appropriate manner of address in England:
If you won't mind my mentioning it, the English form of address, where one is not "Rev.," is "So-and-so, Esq.," not "Mr. So-and-so." The usage is really a curious anomaly: my friend leaves his card on me as "Mr. J. Smith," and I begin my letter to him "Dear Mr. Smith," but I direct it "J. Smith, Esqu." I should only write "Mr. J. Smith" if he were a tradesman. ("To Frost," 12 April 1878)
On the matter of Dodgson's fascination with prepubescent females, the editors do not address the question of Dodgson's being either a paedophile or a pornographer directly, but allow the reader to judge that he was neither through the correspondence itself: although, for example, he tells Frost in a letter dated 7 May 1878 that his "ideal of beauty of form" is "a girl of about 12" (50), his interest is utterly aesthetic and not in the least physical, peculiar though it may well seem to people today.
That this new work that illuminates Dodgson's collaborations would have met with Dodgson's approval as a beautiful, well-laid-out text there can be little doubt: he loved beauty in all things, but especially in books. However, that the new book exposes the author's private life to public view would have rankled the Rev. Charles Dodgson, a. k. a. "Lewis Carroll" considerably:
I specially wish my face to remain unknown to the public. I like my books to be known, of course: but personally I hope to remain in obscurity. ("To Frost," 3 May 1878)
Again we note his obsession with the image and his equating it with the thing itself: how odd in a great writer, let alone a philosopher and theologian of the first rank!
Humphrey Carpenter and Mari Prichard, "Rackham, Arthur (1867-1939)," The Oxford Companion to Children's Literature (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987) 437-440.
Jane Rabb Cohen, "Introduction: Dickens and the Rise of the English Illustrated Novel After 1836," Charles Dickens and His Original Illustrators (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1980) 3-11.
Last modified 20 December 2003
Last modified 20 December 2003