EN228H: The Victorian Illustrated Book

“Victorian Illustrated Book” Class Description:

“What was the last book you read with illustrations? Was it a graphic novel, a comic book, or a children’s book? All of these types of books have their roots in the Victorian illustrated book. This vibrant genre came into being, flourished, and evolved during the long nineteenth century and finds new expression in our time in the graphic classics, a prescient modern form of material culture that is the heir of the Victorian illustrated book. This Honors, writing-intensive course at Skidmore College explores the evolution of the Victorian illustrated book with attention to illustration, critical analysis, and creative practice.

(Above) Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

Readings will include Charles Dickens’s Pickwick Papers (1939) and Oliver Twist (1838), Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865), and Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit (1902) series, which demonstrates how the Victorian illustrated book found a new home in children’s literature at the fin de siècle. Will Eisner’s Fagin the Jew (2003), our final selection, reimagines Oliver Twist and turns Dickens’s classic into a hyper-modern form for twenty-first-century readers. Students will engage in curatorial work in the rare book room and put on a library exhibition on an aspect of Victorian literature and culture. In addition to reading and writing frequent papers and designing a brochure to accompany the exhibition, students will become author-illustrators and create their own illustrated texts” – 2017 Skidmore College Master Schedule.

Connecting with the Norman M. Fox Collection

Every year, students from Catherine Golden’s Victorian Illustrated Book class work with Special Collections staff to present an exhibit of books from the Norman Fox Collection.


(Above) Students from Catherine Golden’s “Victorian Illustrated Book” class exploring the treasures of Special Collections from the Norman M. Fox Collection for their exhibit.

Spring 2017

The most recent exhibition “In the Know About Victorian Literature,” explored aspects of Victorian culture, which are not readily understood by readers today.  The aim of the exhibition was to bring viewers to light about Victorian economics, material objects, courtship practices, and humor in order for them to fully appreciate and absorb the details of book illustrations from this era. Click here to read the student-produced exhibition booklet.

Pointing to your nose with your right index finger in the Victorian Era was a way to signal to another that you share a private understanding, that you are “in the know.” Via Victorian illustrated books and periodicals, “‘In the Know,’ Victorian Style” gives viewers an inside look into life in the Victorian age.

(Above) a close up of some materials used in the 2017 exhibition

(Above) “The Jew and Morris Bolter begin to understand each other” by George Cruikshank for Oliver Twist. Fagin and Bolter demonstrate the ‘in the know’ nose gesture.

The first case provided information on the economic reality of Victorian times. The case presents the cost of books in the Victorian Era and how the binding of books demonstrated the class of its owner.

The second case recognized that material objects spoke volumes to the Victorians. Specifically noted is the small figurine of Paul Pry on Mrs. Corney’s mantle in “Mr. Bumble and Mrs. Corney Taking Tea” from Oliver Twist. Paul Pry, a character from a well-known play by John Poole, was known to appear at inopportune moments and pry into another’s business.  The figure signals Mr. Bumble’s corrupt motivation for marrying Mrs. Corney.

The third case illuminates Victorian style courtship etiquette.  Today we still associate a rose with love, but those “in the know” recognize there was an entire language of flowers to convey your sentiments.

The final case illuminates what the Victorians considered to be funny. Changing dynamics of Victorian life and customs were prime vehicles for humor.

(Above) Student Produced Booklet from 2017

Click here to view the “In the Know” booklet.

Spring 2013

In 2013 the student exhibit explored one dichotomy present during the Victorian era, which witnessed the rise of animal protection, zoos, veterinary medicine, cattle and sheep breeding, vegetarianism, antivivisection, pet keeping, and dog and cat shows, but at the same time, beheld big game hunting, blood sports, animal abuse, a burgeoning fashion industry that threatened animal populations, and widespread fears of our animal ancestry, sparked by Darwinian evolution.

(Above) Student Produced Booklet from 2013

Entitled “Human and Animals on Display: A Victorian Menagerie,” five cases were created (four in the Harris Lobby and one in the Pohndorff Room) that exhibit these human-animal interactions in culture and literature with particular attention to animal protection and endangerment, domination over the animal kingdom, humanized animals, and fantastical creatures (flying horses, mermaids, and magical hares).

Spring 2012

In 2012, the student exhibit was “Past and Present: An Illustrated Look at Regency and Victorian Times Versus Today,” and examined aspects of our modern age in relation to Regency and Victorian tomes, specifically focusing on “past” and “present” in beverage consumption, fashion, popular icons, childhood, and entertainment.

The students developed five cases which provided an illustrated look of how our present world resembles and departs from the past and hopefully rekindles interest in the long 19th century, the dawning of our modern era.

See Below for More Examples of Past Projects from the Victorian Illustrated Book Class

(Above) Student Produced Booklet from 2011

(Above) Student Produced Booklet from 2008

(Above) Student Produced Booklet from 2006

(Above) Student Produced Booklet from 2011

(Above) Student Produced Booklet from 2009

(Above) Skidmore College Produced Booklet from 2002. “The booklet is under copyright to Skidmore College.”

Click here to view the Dressed to Express booklet

(Above) Skidmore College Produced Booklet from 1991. “The booklet is under copyright to Skidmore College.”

Click here to view the body politic booklet

(Above) College Produced Booklet from 1996. “The booklet is under copyright to Skidmore College.”

Click here to view the reading between lines booklet