Robert L. Patten notes that readers of serial publications, who used the illustrations as what we might term "advance organizers,"

sometimes studied the pictures closely as clues to the contents of the instalment. These graphic designs translate the verbal text into visual terms. Like all translations, they approximate the source, critique it, supplemernt it, and employ a different vocabulary to enact in another language and tradition what the source text expresses. [290]

Because Hard Times was written largely for a London readership but is the only major Dickens novel set entirely far outside of London, it should have been a natural subject for illustration. Dickens and Bradbury and Evans, publisher of the novel in volume form, certainly made changes and additions. The title became Hard Times for These Times, a dedication and chapter titles were added, and the novel was divided into three "books" when the volume edition was published on 7 August 1854. As was customary, volume publication preceded the issuing of the final serial instalment by nearly a week. But the three-volume version inexplicably lacked illustration of any kind.

After the initial (serial) unillustrated publication of Dickens's Hard Times for These Times in Household Words in 1854, the first cheap edition (1865) had a single plate, frontispiece by A. Boyd Houghton. For the 1868 Library Edition, painter and magazine-illustrator Fred Walker, R.W. S. and A. R. A. (1840-1875), had provided four drawings to accompany to accompany Hard Times. The next significant artist to illustrate the short novel was Harry French, who provided a comprehensive programme of a frontispiece and nineteen full-size (generally half-page) plates for the Household Edition published by Chapman and Hall in the 1870s (134 pages, double-columned as are those in Household Words are).

"The paucity of illustrations in British editions of Hard Times has always been frustrating," laments Alan S. Watts, editor of The Dickens Magazine, in the last of four numbers of this highly illustrated magazine devoted to criticism and historical background for the 1854 novel. Since Watts is presumably addressing both specialist and non-specialist readers alike, in what sense are we to take his labelling the dearth of illustrated editions "frustrating"? Certainly, of the six nineteenth-century British and American editions listed by Paul Schlicke in The Oxford Reader's Companion to Dickens (1999), only two have had their programs of illustration reproduced in an edition specifically for late twentieth-century readers: the artists are Fred Walker and Harry French, and the edition is Clarkson N. Potter's massive, two-volume Annotated Dickens (1986).

Watts is not speaking on his own account as a life-time Dickensian but rather on behalf of readers in general, or, at least, British readers from 1854 to the present. One presumes that modern readers of Dickens, unlike some of their nineteenth-century counterparts, do not require the visual scaffolding of carefully executed illustrations to comprehend such matters as setting, character, and theme. Serial readers of Hard Times, although perhaps included among those who have been "frustrated" over the past century and a half, are surely a special subgroup since they lacked the handy aides memoirs that assisted them in recalling in detail what had transpired in the previous week's instalment, short as each was in the 1854 numbers of Household Words.

Whereas well-known artists, such as as Hablot Knight Browne ("Phiz"), John Tenniel, and George Cruikshank illustrated most of Dickens's novels in collaboration with the novelist, such was not the case with Hard Times. Michael Steig and Jane Rabb Cohen, students of the illustrations of Dickens’s novels, have undoubtedly been "frustrated" by the absence of such "authorized" illustrations that reflected authorial intention. Collaborative illustrations for works ranging from Pickwick Papers to A Tale of Two Cities have simultaneously served to clarify the author's vision and extend and comment upon the monthly letter-press, but Dickens sought to provide no such clarification and extension for the 1854 novel, the shortest in the Dickens canon. Later editions have in a few instances supplied what Dickens initially did not, but these plates are very much "after the fact" and are not the result of the artist working with the novelist to provide a doubly informed reading of the text.

Perhaps Watts's feeling "frustrated" by the scarcity of illustrated editions should be linked to the very nature of Hard Times itself. While most readers have probably experienced no such frustration in making their way through the bildungsroman Great Expectations, something about the odd blend of the realistic, the fabular, and the culturally mythical elements that constitute texture of Hard Times cries out for plates that organize the threads of the narrative, capture key moments in the story, clarify the relationships between the characters, and assist us in visualizing the industrial setting.

Watts's comment, of course, implies either that there is no shortage of American illustrated editions or that artistic productions by non-British illustrators are nugatory, even though Dickens visited the Eastern Seaboard of the United States a dozen years before writing Hard Times and was certainly aware that the Republic had its share of industrial cities and urban problems. In fact, the average reader today who would like the opportunity to assess nineteenth-century illustrations for Hard Times would be frustrated by the relative inaccessibility of illustrated editions rather than by their shortage. Unless one visits the Library of Congress, the British Library, or the Dickens House Museum in Doughty Street, London, one is not likely to see any of the plates that originally appeared in the Cheap Edition, the Library Edition, the Illustrated Library Edition, the Charles Dickens Edition, the (American) Diamond Edition, and the Household Edition. Perhaps the enduring fame of Phiz and Cruikshank, neither of whom ever produced illustrations for Hard Times and the present obscurity of such artists as Fred Walker, Sol Eytinge, Harry French, and C. S. Reinhart may in part account for the comparative rarity of their illustrations in modern printings of Dickens's only industrial novel. Even the mammoth, two-volume Annotated Dickens reproduces only twenty-four nineteenth-century illustrations (those by W. S. Stacey are Edwardian) and entirely omits those by Charles Stanley Reinhart, available at the moment only on The Victorian Web.

Related materials


The Annotated Dickens, Vol. 1. Ed. Edward Guiliano and Philip Collins. New York: Clarkson N. Potter, 1986.

Dickens, Charles. Hard Times with twenty illustrations by H. French. London: Chapman and Hall [1875?].

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

Patten, Robert L. "Illustrators and Book Illustration." The Oxford Reader's Companion to Dickens. Oxford University Press, 1999.

Watts, Alan S. "Foreword." The Dickens Magazine, Series 2, Issue 4 (May 2003).

Last modified April 23, 2002