George Cruikshank and Charles Dickens

Philip V. Allingham, Faculty of Education, Lakehead University, Thunder Bay, Ontario

At the height of his fame as a caricaturist, Cruikshank was requested by John Macrone (1809-37), editor of The Monthly Magazine between January and August, 1834, to illustrate young Charles Dickens's Sketches by Boz; in 1836, Cruikshank illustrated both the first and second series of the Sketches. In 1839, for Chapman and Hall's enlarged edition he redrew and enlarged all but one of his original illustrations, added thirteen new subjects, and provided the celebrated frontispiece for the Cheap Edition (this plate has served for seventeen years as the cover for Dickens Quarterly). After his work on Oliver Twist in Bentley's Miscellany from February, 1837, through April, 1839, Cruikshank did not illustrate other Dickens serials because publisher Richard Bentley had engaged him exclusively for Bentley's Miscellany from its founding in 1837. However, Cruikshank did illustrate Dickens's Memoirs of Joseph Grimaldi (1838) and "The Lamplighter's Story" in the little-known but uproariously funny The Pic-Nic Papers (1841).

Although Dickens worked closely with George Cruikshank on the serial illustrations for Oliver Twist (1838-41), the novelist, who disliked the heavy teetotalism of The Bottle and the moralizing emendations of his edition of fairytales, responded to them satirically in Household Words with his "Frauds on the Fairies," (1 October, 1853).

After Dickens's death in 1870, Cruikshank made the preposterous assertion that it was he who had originated Oliver Twist , a claim which Dickens's biographer and confidant, John Forster, refuted by referring the Dickens's letters, although the plates for that novel certainly reflect Cruikshank's extensive knowledge of the London underworld. Essentially a caricaturist, Cruikshank had difficulty in depicting Dickens's heroines as beauties; however, the dramatic power of "Fagin in the Condemned Cell" (Ch. 52) at the close of Oliver Twist is undoubted, as is the farcical comedy of "Mr. Bumble and Mrs. Corney Taking Tea" (Ch. 23). According to Hammerton,

George Cruikshank, who was born in London in 1792 and died in 1878, was famous as an etcher before the name of Boz had begun to rise above the literary horizon. Artists of repute, such as Cruikshank and Seymour, were unlike illustrators of a later day, who are summoned by the publisher when an author's MS. has been delivered, and instructed to supply so many illustrations, one for this chapter and one for that. It often happened that the reverse was the case, the artist's notion for a particular set of plates furnishing the author with a subject to "write up to." This never actually happened with Dickens. . . . (2)

Works Consulted

Bentley, Nicolas; Slater, Michael; and Burgis, Nina. The Dickens Index Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990.

"George Cruikshank," Aardvark

Hammerton, J. A. The Dickens Picture-Book . London: Educational Book Co., 1910.


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Last Updated: 13 Dec 2000