Failure in a Successful Interpretation: The Problem of Visual Literacy in Hablot Knight Browne’s Illustrations for Bleak House

By Shayla Alarie.

Published by The International Journal of the Book

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Hablot Knight Browne (Phiz) was Charles Dickens’ main
illustrator for nearly twenty years and throughout their
partnership Browne’s illustrations are generally praised for
their insight and ability to present the very essence of
Dickens’ characters pictorially. Browne’s images for Bleak
House however, are criticized primarily because of his
departure from emblematic detail. What this criticism fails
to take into consideration is that when Dickens’ writing
became more focused on realism, so too did the
illustrations. This paper conducts a comparison between
Dickens’ text and a visual analysis of Browne’s
illustrations in order to demonstrate Browne’s adherence to
the essence of the story and characters. Because of his
attempt to connect realism and illustration, Browne’s work
ultimately fell below the notice of art critics and went
beyond the comprehension of the late Victorian populace.

Keywords: Dickens, Phiz, Illustration, Narrative, Image/Text Relationship, Realism

International Journal of the Book, Volume 7, Issue 4, pp.143-160. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 4.764MB).

Shayla Alarie

Graduate Student, School of Art, University of Washington, Seattle, WA, USA

I am currently an MA student in art history at the University of Washington working with Dr. Susan Casteras. My focus is in late 19th-early 20th century British and American painting. I am most interested in studying the relationship between image and text and have focused on manifestations of this exchange from book illustrations to the literary paintings of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. Currently, I am researching the narrative and allegorical works of the relatively unknown American artist Anna Lea Merritt.

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