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Picturing Fairyland: Illustrated Fairy Tale Books and the Rise of the Child Reader-Viewer in the Victorian Era


Picturing Fairyland: Illustrated Fairy Tale Books and the Rise of the Child Reader-Viewer in the Victorian Era

Harris, Rachel ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-7356-0127 (2017) Picturing Fairyland: Illustrated Fairy Tale Books and the Rise of the Child Reader-Viewer in the Victorian Era. PhD thesis, Concordia University.

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Disney versions of fairy tales have largely overshadowed the pictorial diversity otherwise found in the long history of illustrated fairy tale books. When earlier variants of fairy stories do get unearthed, it is often only the texts that are scrutinized, while another limitation is the assumption that picture books and fairy stories have always been exclusively for children. This dissertation revisits the neglected legacy of fairy tale illustration, arguing for the importance of pictures in how the stories were received, and asking how the same stories could be transformed through their pictorial re-telling. The question of whether fairy tales were destined for adults or children is a complex one, which involves shifting understandings of childhood itself. Addressing these questions, the dissertation asks: How can the pictures in traditional fairy tale books (roughly 1690-1960) generate pathways of interpretation between the characters, their worlds, and generations of child and adult reader-viewers?

Part I provides an overview of fairy tale scholarship and the role accorded to illustrations. Beginning with French aristocratic storytellers such as Charles Perrault and Marie-Catherine d’Aulnoy, and proceeding to the Grimms’ proto-national and philological project, I then discuss English authors such as John Ruskin, G.K. Chesterton, and J.R.R. Tolkien, who defended fairy tales and fantasy more broadly. Andrew Lang’s “Coloured Fairy Books,” which assume a child-only readership, are a central focus, largely because issues of gender, sexuality, race, and an imperialist ideology are embedded in his project. This section also analyzes how concepts of childhood, including the “Romantic child,” the “noble-savage child,” and the “innocent child,” are implicated in this history.

Part II proposes three aesthetic modes––the cute, the satirical, and the utopian–– as a way to approach nineteenth-century Victorian fairy tale illustrations. As a diminutive of sorts to the major aesthetic category of the beautiful, the cute is associated with infantile characteristics (i.e. mammalian infants or other creatures with small bodies and large heads), and effeminized or miniature commodities. Cuteness is exemplified by Kate Greenaway’s children inhabiting fantasy gardens, but could also be found in the representation of child-men in the satirical press. Visual satire is commonly associated with caricature, which deploys the art of exaggerating bodily features as political critique, but satire intersects with fairy tale illustration in numerous ways, not least because artists such as Richard Doyle and John Tenniel could be found both in Punch and in fairy tale novellas. Finally, the utopian is concerned with fairyland as a site of beauty, liberty, justice, and fulfilled desire – and is epitomized by the work of Walter Crane, whose socialist values emerge in political posters as well as fairy tale illustration. Throughout these three categories, I develop the concept of interpictoriality – as a way to track motifs and styles across multiple genres and forms of visual culture.

Part III narrows in on Cinderella’s visual transformation, from the early versions by Perrault, d’Aulnoy, and the Grimms to English chapbooks and toy books, to fairy tale anthologies, and eventually to Disney. This discussion is informed by the debate between second-wave feminists Alison Lurie and Marcia Lieberman over the value of fairy tales for a child reader. To move past the yes-or-no question of whether stories of passive and beautiful heroines support the indoctrination of young girls, I examine multiple examples of text and image interaction, and shifts in narrative focus, to show how images of female liberation and suffering have been integral to the story’s appeal. To counter the impact of the Disney version, I emphasize the pictorial diversity embedded within the fairy tale book, and point to the agency of child and adult reader-viewers.

Divisions:Concordia University > Faculty of Fine Arts > Art History
Item Type:Thesis (PhD)
Authors:Harris, Rachel
Institution:Concordia University
Degree Name:Ph. D.
Program:Art History
Date:1 July 2017
Thesis Supervisor(s):Sloan, Johanne
Keywords:fairy tales, Victorian era, nineteenth century, picture books, childhood, fantasy
ID Code:983070
Deposited On:08 Nov 2017 20:22
Last Modified:23 Aug 2022 15:33
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