rom the momentous time in the 1830s when the monthly parts of The Pickwick Papers revolutionized British publishing, Charles Dickens had customarily collaborated with such artists as Robert Seymour, George Cruikshank, George Cattermole, and especially Hablot Knight Browne (1815-1882) — better known simply as "Phiz" — to create the illustrations for his fiction. However, when Dickens serialized the shorter novels Hard Times (1854) and Great Expectations (1860-1861) in his own weekly periodicals, Household Words and its successor, All the Year Round, there was no such collaborative programme of illustration. Aware, perhaps, that his friend Browne's essentially comedic and theatrical style of illustration was beginning to look somewhat dated to his serious-minded Victorian readership, Dickens severed an artistic relationship that had resulted in some five hundred initial vignettes, wrapper designs, and full-page illustrations of ten novels.
For twenty-three years Browne continued as illustrator-in-chief of Dickens's writings, ten of the novels being illustrated by him in etching or in wood-engraving, besides various "extra illustrations," and numerous duplicate etchings. A Tale of Two Cities . . . was the last of the novels upon which he was engaged, but there was no rupture in the friendship which had so long subsisted between him and Dickens, and we can only attribute the change to the very natural desire of the author to have his fiction illustrated by an artist of the younger school, whom he found in the son of his old friend, Frank Stone, A. R. A. [Hammerton, 10]
One criticism of Browne's style in the monthly pairs of illustrations A Tale of Two Cities is the general absence of the dark plates (except for The Mail) so characteristic of his work in Bleak House and Little Dorrit, a type of plate using subtle gradations of light and shade to create the impression of a mezzotint. Solberg relates the absence of such atmospheric illustrations after Little Dorrit to the inability of the new lithographic mode of to reproduce Browne's dark plates: "For duplicating a 'dark plate', he was given an additional seventeen guineas, raising his earnings to over £40 a month" (40). However, by issuing A Tale of Two Cities in weekly instalments to inaugurate All the Year Round and establish its circulation, Dickens thereby reduced the reading public's demand for monthly parts, so that, as Solberg explains, a single engraved plate was sufficient to print both illustrations required for the monthly part. "Once this happened, Browne, for whom the business motive appears to have operated throughout, lost the economic incentive for using 'dark plates' and returned to simple line drawings" (4). Thus, we must take the following criticism cum grano salis:
There is little or nothing in Browne's final work for Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities (1859), that comes near to matching his own best work in either Little Dorrit or Paved With Gold [by Augustus Mayhew, monthly serialisation, 1857-1858]. The cover design is inferior to many Phiz did for Dickens and other novelists, there are no dark plates or emblematic details among the sixteen etchings, and only a few scenes of revolution in their energetic depiction of the mob add very much to this last collaboration with Dickens. [Steig, 3]
To maintain as wide a readership as possible, Dickens issued the weekly numbers of All the Year Round without illustration, the price of that small pulp magazine being only 2 d. per issue. However, as Edgar Browne says of A Tale of Two Cities, Dickens "also issued it independently in the usual green-covered [sic] monthly parts, with two illustrations by Hablot K. Browne. The two issues ran concurrently" (Phiz and Dickens, 22), the monthly part in the blue-green wrapper costing a shilling. Elizabeth Cayzer notes that, "When assembled as a monthly part, the pictures were tipped into the episode ahead of the text. Such a juxtaposing of two plates would easily set up a train of reverberations in the reader's mind" (4). "In the closing double number, the reader would find two more illustrations, the frontispiece and the title-page. Placed here they allow the reader to reflect upon what he or she has read. Later, placed at the front of a bound copy of the novel, they also announce the main themes and concerns of the book" (36). Cayzer's remarks, of course, could be applied equally to any of the nine previous Dickens novels that Browne had illustrated, from the fourth monthly part of The Pickwick Papers (1836-7), when Browne (alias "Nemo" and subsequently "Phiz") was only twenty, until the closing number of Little Dorrit, in June, 1857. One naturally wonders what Dickens felt had gone so wrong with the illustrations for A Tale of Two Cities that he determined to severe a collaborative relationship which had lasted twenty-three years, and which had resulted (by Albert Johannsen's calculation) in "724 drawings . . . , of which 567 were etched [i. e., "steels"] and 157 engraved on wood" (xi).
. . . the artist was much upset at Dickens's strangely silent manner of breaking the connection. Writing to his friend and assistant, Robert Young, shortly before the publication of Great Expectations, the artist said, "Marcus [Stone] is no doubt to do Dickens. I have been a 'good boy' I believe. The plates in hand are all in good time, so that I do not know what's up any more than you. Dickens probably thinks a new hand would give his old puppets a fresh look, or perhaps he does not like my illustrating Trollope neck-and-neck with him (though, by Jingo, he need have no rivalry there! Confound all authors and publishers, I say. There is no pleasing one or t'other. I wish I had never had anything to do with the lot" (cited in Hammerton, 429).
Ironically, although subsequent editions of A Tale of Two Cities were illustrated by "new hands" (Marcus Stone and Fred Barnard in Great Britain, John McLenan for the Harper's Weekly serial in America), it is still Phiz's plates that are most commonly chosen to accompany the text (the most notable examples being the Oxford Illustrated edition of 1948, reissussed many times, and the Penguin English Library edition of 1970), "remarkably tame and lacking in dramatic spirit" (Hammerton 430) as some, including paratextual Dickensian Michael Steig, may find them. The note of bitterness about all publishers and novelists in the closing of his letter to Young suggests that Browne sensed he was near the end of his career as an illustrator; in fact, he was already nearing the end of his working life, for in 1867 Phiz suffered a stroke which reduced his artistic output considerably, although he did not die until long after "Boz" (Dickens), on 12 July 1882. Steig notes that the actual duration of their active collaboration would have been somewhat less: "during the twenty-four years from 1836 through 1859 Browne had thirteen years of employment on Dickens' novels" (23).
Although several possible explanations may account the "falling-off" (3) in quality which Steig among others detects in the sequence for the 1859 novel, he speculates that, owing to the novelist's growing lack of interest in illustration, Dickens provided "Browne less interesting subjects and relatively little guidance. Perhaps another factor was that A Tale of Two Cities was written for weekly part publication (in All the Year Round), and it is thus unusually compressed in its bulk and schematic in its plan and development" (Steig, 32). Much of Browne's work involves contemporary settings and characters in nineteenth-century costume, so that, as Percy Muir uncharitably remarks of his work for A Tale of Two Cities, "The figures look like characters in a masquerade and not very convincing ones at that" (6). Muir and Steig seem to concur in their explanation for this inferior narrative series: "The sad fact is that the poor man's powers were declining" (7). Like Alan S. Watts in "Why Wasn't Great Expectations Illustrated?" Steig attributes Dickens's abandonment of Phiz as symptomatic of Dickens' attitudes towards pictorial accompaniment by the end of the 1850s: "The fact is that Dickens no longer felt the need for illustrations" (Watts 8) because "the days of illustrated novels were drawing to an end, and possibly Dickens foresaw this" (Watts 8).
Had Dickens wanted illustrations [after severing his connection with Browne] he would have had to seek out a new collaborator, a search made difficult by the marked change in style and use of book illustrations in the late fifties. The familiarity of the subject matter in the new realistic fiction and the growing sophistication of the reading public made illustrators less essential to the novels of the 1860s than they had been to the novels of the forties and fifties. [Davis 3]
On the other hand, Percy Muir like A. J. Hammerton suggests that "Dickens felt the need of new blood" (7) in illustrating Great Expectations. Certainly on the eve of his second American reading tour Dickens seems to have been quite interested in the numerous Sol Eytinge (afterwards illustrator of the Diamond Edition) and Sir John Gilbert illustrations intended to accompany A Holiday Romance in Our Young Folks, a highly illustrated, recently-launched children's periodical published by the Boston firm of Ticknor and Fields, Dickens's new American publishers: "They are remarkable for a most agreeable absence of exaggeration, a pleasant sense of beauty, and a general modesty and propriety which I greatly like" ("To J. T. Fields, 2 April 1867"). although this letter to the novelist's American publisher may suggest Dickens' desire to stay current with popular taste, the Eytinge vignettes for A Holiday Romance are hardly the "austere" and serious productions that Steig asserts are characteristic of 1860s illustrators.
Finally, in "To Edward Chapman, 6 Oct. 1859" Dickens complains to his publisher: "I have not yet seen any sketches from Mr. Browne for No. 6 [to be published 31 Oct.]. Will you see to this, without loss of time" (Letters Vol. 9: 36). The Pilgrim editors note that Dickens "may have felt that Browne was dilatory and have resented the fact that he was simultaneously providing numerous illustrations for Once a Week. When the book was published as a volume, CD had his own copy bound without the plates.
The rival weekly was one of the new, illustrated sort, and the other serialised novel on which Phiz had been working was Charles Lever's Davenport Dunn (1857-9), the plates for which Steig pronounces "more interesting than those for Dickens' novel" because of their incisive lines "greater attention to detail, and a depiction of human figures which is charged with life and energy" (32). Thus, Dickens may well have felt that Phiz's superior work for Once a Week was preventing the illustrator from adhering to Chapman and Hall's publishing deadlines for the monthly numbers of Tale, and that Phiz was failing to clear his conceptions at the draft stage with the novelist, who valued the opportunity to suggest alterations.
Although the initial sales of All the Year Round as a result of the serialisation of A Tale of Two Cities were strong (Patten indicates 120,000 for the first number), sales of the monthly parts, though illustrated by one of the public's perennial favourites, "languished" (Cohen 118). Cohen contends that, since Dickens had eliminated his usual detail in descriptions of characters and settings to accommodate weekly instalments, his style in A Tale of Two Cities is "declarative" rather than "evocative," and therefore failed to provide Browne with sufficient visual inspiration.
Furthermore, Dickens utilized his knowledge of France in the Tale to a far greater extent than he had in Little Dorrit. But the artist, who had never visited the country, clearly did not bother with architectural or sartorial details of place and period. Finally, the author's fascination with the French Revolution (especially as portrayed by Carlyle), which also capitalised on contemporary anti-French sentiment, was not shared by the apolitical artist [whose father, we should remember, was in fact a French officer]. To judge from his plates, he remained unmoved even by the rush of the narrative, which reflected Dickens's own tumultuous emotions at the time. [Cohen 118]
Bearing in mind the swirling action and ferocity of the mob in Phiz's The Sea Rises, we might well disagree with the above points, but we must acknowledge the justice of Cohen's point that Dickens's cast of characters (much more limited than one finds in his usual monthly serialisations), are "easily recalled without graphic reminders," and therefore illustrations for this novel are "superfluous." She asserts that the artist's renditions of Darnay and Dr. Manette are "too conventional to be memorable" and that his visual realisations of the villains "look too benign to be credible." Browne's interiors and architectural backgrounds, she continues, lack interest, atmosphere, and authenticity: "When they are suggested at all, backgrounds and interiors, previously a Browne strength, lack interest and atmosphere, as well as authenticity" (118). She even finds fault with the program’s being composed almost entirely of oblong plates: "Since they contain neither draftsmanship to be admired nor detail to be studied, it is hardly worth interrupting the gripping narrative to turn the page around to view them. They are merely representations, not genuine illustrations" (118).
Even if we grant Sander's point that "none of the plates adds substantially to a reader's grasp of the story" (Companion, 66) or Steig's that Browne's plates for the monthly instalments of A Tale of Two Cities lack the detail and in particular the emblems so evident in his earlier work for Dickens, nevertheless as a narrative series they are not lacking in imaginative power and coherence. However, Browne's work poses a problem for the modern, critical reader: how to integrate illustrations and text into a total interpretation when the relationship between the two is not entirely clear. We know little of Dickens' directions for Browne's program since both author and artist subsequently burned much of their correspondence, including (presumably) the novelist's instructions and responses regarding the visual sequence that runs from the second chapter through all but the last three (that the last three are not illustrated is perhaps no accident, since an illustration of any incident in those last chapters would have let the cat out of the bag in terms of plot and suspense).
One must approach Browne's etchings for A Tale of Two Cities, then, not individually but as a series or program in which certain poses and objects acquire additional meanings through repetition and placement and serve to knit individual scenes together, and in which characters initially unknown become more and more recognizable as a result of an interaction of text and plate, and of the plates with each other. The pair of plates accompanying each monthly unit had to serve in part as an inducement to lay additional money out; another advantage of the monthly over the weekly parts is that the former, on superior paper, leant themselves eventually to being bound together as a single text. Throughout their long association, Phiz had supplied the illustrations (visual counterpoint and pictorial commentary to Dickens' texts) as the value-added feature that so much of the Victorian readership appreciated: two full-page plates per serial instalment. The function of these illustrations was initially to provide an anticipatory set for the serial reader, then subsequently a handy aide memoire so that, as the date of release for the next number approached, the reader could quickly refresh his memories of characters and relationships thus far introduced. Perhaps, then, with these functions in mind the modern reader should approach these plates as a sequence and juxtapose them against Dickens' text, just as monthly readers would have from May to November, 1859, the wrapper each month reiterating themes, movements, and characters, and lending itself to successive reinterpretations as both printed and visual texts unfolded.
- The Plates
- Some Discussions of Dickens's A Tale of Two Cities
- A Note on Phiz's Wrapper Design for Dickens's A Tale of Two Cities (1859) in Monthly Serialisation
- Costume Notes on A Tale of Two Cities
- Illustrations to A Tale of Two Cities: The Plates
- John McLenan's illustration in Harper's Magazine (USA)
- A Tale of Two Cities: An Overview (Sitemap)
- Sol Eytinge, Jr.'s Diamond Edition illustrations for A Tale of Two Cities (1867)
- A. A. Dixon's illustrations for A Tale of Two Cities (1905)
- Harry Furniss's illustrations for A Tale of Two Cities (1910)
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Buchanan-Brown, John. Phiz! The Book Illustrations of Hablot Knight Browne. Newton Abbot, London, and Vancouver: David and Charles, 1978.
Cayzer, Elizabeth. "Dickens and His Late Illustrators. A Change in Style: Phiz and A Tale of Two Cities." Dickensian 86, 3 (Autumn, 1990): 30-4.
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Cunnington, C. Willett, and Cunnington, Phillis. Handbook of English Costume in the Eighteenth Century. Boston: Plays, 1972.
_______. Handbook of English Costume in the Nineteenth Century. Plays: Boston, 1970.
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______. A Tale of Two Cities (1859), ed. George Woodcock. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1970.
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Shakespeare, William. The Tragedy of Julius Caesar (1599), ed. Sylvan Barnet. New York: Signet, 1963.
Solberg, Sarah A. "A Note on Phiz's Dark Plates." Dickensian 76, (1980): 40-4.
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Created 9 November 2007
Last modified 11 June 2020