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Mark Twain's Illustrated Books Essay

3401 words - 14 pages

Illustrations were an integral part of Mark Twain’s published works. They embellished his stories, informed the reader, and often reflected his humor. However, today’s fictional novels rarely include illustrations beyond the cover and fly leaf. In a digital publishing world, illustrations often do not translate well to the digital format. My research paper will delineate the reasons that illustrations were relevant and necessary for the 19th century publication and why they are less relevant in the digital age. I will show that illustrations played an essential part in the success of Mark Twain’s books because he made them an integral part of his writing, because of the subscription ...view middle of the document...

The illustrations in all of Twain’s books can give the impression that they are the author’s pencil drawings. They were actually rendered by carefully vetted artists who Mark Twain or his publisher contracted with after the writing was more or less complete and long after the event transpired in the case of his travelogues. Some of his books contained illustrations by several different artists, sometimes pulling them from previously published works by other authors.
Twain was very particular about the illustrations in his books and, as much as possible, he maintained full editorial control over the look, feel, and quality of the drawings. If he wasn’t happy with them, they went back for revision until he was satisfied. After his first look at the illustrations for Huckleberry Finn, he remarked that “the first set of drawings portrayed Huck’s mouth as a ‘trifle more Irishy than necessary’.” (Michelson, 127) In 1885 he set his nephew, Charles Webster, up in the publishing business partly to attain more control over the illustrations in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. This novel, the first he had complete control of, is a testimony to his love of illustration. Every chapter started with an illustration which consumed one quarter of the page and incorporated the chapter heading and the first word of the chapter as art instead of typeset printed words. (130) According to Bruce Michelson, the author of a book on the printer/publisher years of Mark Twain’s life, “From Huckleberry Finn to the end of his career, Mark Twain, his illustrators, and his publishers, with varying degrees of collaboration and influence over the final product, would experiment with the balance and mix of printed words with visual experience. In some of those later books the illustrations would take up literally half the space in the volume, nearly equaling the verbal text as a source of thematic content and tone.” (Michelson, 130)
Twain’s personal correspondence testifies to his belief in the importance of illustrations in his books. He wrote to his publisher, Elisha Bliss in February of 1869 regarding Innocents Abroad, “I am glad of the pictures – the more we have, the better the book will sell.” (Mark Twain Project Letter to Elisha Bliss, Jr.,) And in August of 1870 in a letter to Bliss regarding the publication of Roughing It, “I will write a book that will sell like fury provided you put pictures enough in it.” (Illustrating Roughing It) Again on Sept. 4 of 1870, regarding Roughing It, he wrote “Now I want it illustrated lavishly.” (MT Project) . When Roughing It was published it contained 234 pictures. These pictures came from nearly a dozen different artists and many of them were not original to Twain’s book. This was a cost-saving measure on the part of Bliss, his publisher, as he was anxious to get Roughing It out before Christmas, 1871. Some of the cannibalized pictures didn’t even match the text they were illustrating but were still considered...

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