Dickens relates to the visual arts in several ways. First of all, Dickens worked unusually closely with the original illustrators of his novels. These include George Cruikshank, who created the image of the dog at left and who did the illustrations for Sketches by Boz and Oliver Twist, but Halbot K. Brown under the name of Phiz illustrated most of Dickens's major works; Great Expectations was unusual in that it appeared without such illistration.

Like Thackeray, who illustrated his own books, Dickens thus offers the rare example of a novelist using another medium to amplify and enforce the meaning of his writings. As scholars have shown, Dickens chose the subjects of his illustrations and gave precise, detailed directions to the artists who produced them. He had final control over these illustrations and made their creators revise them according to his notions of what they were supposed to convey. His instructions to his illustrator often provide fascinating glimpses of the novelist at work.

Second, the novels of Dickens provided a popular subject for contemporary painting. William Holman Hunt, for example, drew upon David Copperfield for The Awakening Conscience (1853), and Hunt's friend and student Martineau painted a scene from The Old Curiosity Shop.

Third, Dickens drew upon William Hogarth, John Gillray, Thomas Rowlandson, and other creators of the eighteenth-century satiric print for characterization, description, setting, and satire. This debt seems clear, and one may speculate that, like Carlyle and Ruskin, he drew upon the tradition of emblem literature as well.

Fourth, Dickens had a complicationed relationship with the Pre-Raphaelites. The name of the group, which suggested they rejected all advances in art since the time of Raphael, led him to the mistaken conclusion that the Pre-Raphaelites were political and artistic reactionaries allied in some manner to the Young England Movement lead by Disraeli and Manners; in fact, at this stage in their careers, the young artists held liberal, even radical opinions. When an article by one of the group attacked Tom Taylor, the art critic for the Times who was one of Dickens's friends, the novelist wrote a savage attack on the works of Hunt and Millais in Household Words. Within a few years, however, he became friendly with them, and in his memoirs Hunt relates that Dickens gave him valuable advice on pricing his major work.

Related Materials


Victorian Web Overview Charles Dickens Victorian Book Illustration

Last modified 25 March 2004