Sketches, Illustrations, and Other Visual Arts

 

Visual metaphors abound in the terminology authors used to reference their short fiction. Viewing their work in terms of an essentially static medium (an illustration captures a specific moment and place in time) would enable authors to reign in the scope and range of their fiction. Focusing on the development of one character—a portrait in words.  Focusing on one location—a landscape sketch in prose.  Focusing on one event—a narrative illustration. These visual metaphors, then, provide a counterpoint to the typical realist novels of the time, with their richness of detail, intricacy of plot, and multitude of characters.

In addition, certain aspects of periodical publishing emphasized visual metaphors. Take, for example, the literary annuals. Often beautifully crafted sentimental engravings were the most expensive and notable part of an annual. As Paula Feldman explains, “the plates were the centerpiece of an annual, and twice as much money typically went to pay engravers as went to pay authors and editors.”1Paula R. Feldman, Introduction to The Keepsake for 1829, Ed. Frederic Mansel Reynolds, Ontario: Broadview, 2006: 24. Feldman is discussing The Keepsake in particular.  At times, Feldman notes, authors might be asked to compose narratives to illustrate the illustrations.2Feldman, 24. The two were inextricably tied together.

The most common and stable of the visual terms used in Victorian short fiction is “sketch.” Drawing on the idea of a sketch as a hastily-drawn visual representation, usually done as a preliminary exercise for a more finished work of art, authors could title their work as a sketch to suggest that it gave a mere outline or suggestion of a larger story. Writers might also use the term to suggest writing that was ostensibly done off-hand or informally.  In reality, many authors honed the art of the narrative sketch. A plot given in rough outline or a character drawn quickly could imply greater authenticity, a more sure insight into the mind of an inspired author. A sketch that was unfinished, impulsive, and unpolished, might therefore be considered more natural and faithful to a writer’s original vision.3Richard Sha, in his excellent The Visual and Verbal Sketch in British Romanticism (Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 1998), details the importance of the sketch in Romantic-era thinking. This is a heritage that would carry on through the nineteenth century. Kristie Hamilton’s American’s Sketchbook: The Cultural Life of a Nineteenth-Century Literary Genre (Athens, GA: Ohio UP, 1998) examines the interrelationship between the literary sketch and a developing sense of American national identity.

Significant Terms

Selected Examples

Notes   [ + ]

1. Paula R. Feldman, Introduction to The Keepsake for 1829, Ed. Frederic Mansel Reynolds, Ontario: Broadview, 2006: 24. Feldman is discussing The Keepsake in particular.
2. Feldman, 24.
3. Richard Sha, in his excellent The Visual and Verbal Sketch in British Romanticism (Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 1998), details the importance of the sketch in Romantic-era thinking. This is a heritage that would carry on through the nineteenth century. Kristie Hamilton’s American’s Sketchbook: The Cultural Life of a Nineteenth-Century Literary Genre (Athens, GA: Ohio UP, 1998) examines the interrelationship between the literary sketch and a developing sense of American national identity.