26th February 2013
Some of the art from the golden age of the illustrated novel remains a vital companion to the text. It is nearly impossible to go down Lewis Carroll’s rabbit hole without envisioning John Tenniel’s drawings of a ranting, bucktoothed Mad Hatter or of Alice eerily elongated after eating the currant cake. George Cruikshank was such a brilliant artist that his emotive illustrations for “Oliver Twist” retain a tenacious hold on the imagination. But we almost never find them in contemporary novels (on the rare occasions that they do appear it’s as ironic anachronism—in Susanna Clarke’s “Jonathan Strange and Mister Norrell,” for instance, or Umberto Eco’s “The Prague Cemetery,” both of which are pastiches of nineteenth-century genre fiction). Even as graphic novels enjoy a surge of newfound critical appreciation, the common consensus seems to be that pictures no longer belong in literary fiction. It’s reasonable to ask, Why not? What do we know that Dickens and Twain didn’t?