William Makepeace Thackeray is celebrated as the only major Victorian author to have illustrated his own work. Centrally concerned with the interplay of visual and written texts, Thackeray created a series of complex pictorial schemes in which the images are placed in contrapuntal relationships to the letterpress, producing a rich, usually ironic resonance in the oscillation between the two sets of signs.

The process of constructing Thackeray’s meanings can be traced in the dual-texts of Vanity Fair (1847–48), Pendennis (1849–50) and The Virginians (1858–59), as well as in his richly illustrated Christmas books, notably The Rose and the Ring (1855). There were three exceptions, however, when Thackeray passed the task of illustration to a collaborator: Richard Doyle interpreted Rebecca and Rowena (1850) and The Newcomes (1853–55), and Frederick Walker was the writer’s partner at work on Philip, when it first appeared in The Cornhill Magazine (1861–62).

Doyle and Walker are interesting contributors to the development of Thackeray’s fictions. Viewing the texts as outsiders, they provide inflections of their own that expand the stories’ range of meanings; sometimes a match, they are also, on some occasions, at odds with their source material. The effect of this unevenness predictably created some tensions between the author, who was both demanding and seemingly unwilling to relinquish control, and his artists, neither of whom was pliable.

The difficulties arising from these clashes of interest have been the subject of a number of critical readings, among them extended essays by Stephen Canham, John C. Olmsted, and Viola Hopkins Winner; John Harvey’s wide-ranging Victorian Novelists and their Illustrators also includes discussion and analysis. These investigations chart the primary interactions and establish the essential facts. Their readings are far from definitive, however, and Doyle’s and Walker’s visualizations of The Newcomes and Philip pose a number of critical challenges. One of the difficulties is the role of context, and existing scholarship has underplayed the importance of the frameworks in which the artists were working.

One way of reading their work is to view it more clearly from the illustrator’s point of view as a jobbing professional engaged in a period when graphic artists were gaining a new status, placing them in equivalence with their authors. This re-alignment provides a critical lens through which to reassess Philip, and it is also possible to revisit Doyle’s interpretations from a parallel perspective. The essays listed below explore the relationship between Thackeray and Doyle as they produced The Newcomes.

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Last modified 28 March 2017