AChristmas Carol by Charles Dickens with illustrations by Arthur Rackham.
The story of Scrooge is arguably one of the most famous stories that is retold over the festive period. Written by Charles Dickens, it was published just before the Christmas of 1984 and sold out immediately. The novel describes the wealthy miser, Scrooge, whose unsociable and mean temperament is transformed after several ghostly visitations. The book has proved to be an enduring success. It has never been out of print and has been published in various formats and styles since it’s release.
Arthur Rackham, a leading illustrator of children’s books at the time, worked on one of the most famous editions in 1915. Rackham was very selective about the books he worked on generally only illustrating one a year and for this year A Christmas Carol was chosen. His vision of the characters completely captures the intentions of Charles Dickens. Rackham employs a novel use of bold outlines and colour washes to vividly portray the pre and post spirit of Scrooge. In addition, Rackham employs the popular technique of silhouette for his black and white illustrations within the book.
A publisher’s marketing ploy at the time was to publish two versions of a book. One was regarded as a “trade” edition with a simpler and cheaper use of paper and material for the covers. The other edition, made for the gift market, comprised of finer paper and was usually limited in numbers and signed by the illustrator.
Looking through the images of the book transports the reader to a Victorian Dickens Christmas. A rare festive treat!
“Rackham gave his talk on Silhouettes to the Art Workers’ Guild in November 1919, the month in which Cinderella, the first of his two great silhouette books, was published. Cinderella and The Sleeping Beauty differed from Rackham’s preceding books in relying almost wholly on silhouette for their effect. It is immediately clear from the collection of images that Rackham is a master of the medium, being able to evoke character and humour by profile and gesture alone and allowing the two-dimensional effect of his pen work to lead the reader through the book and keep the story going.” (James Hamilton. Arthur Rackham, A. Biography, p. 188).
As I hold this antique book of Cinderella (the rare signed first edition) open in my palms, the skill and beauty of Arthur Rackham’s silhouette masterpieces is truly enchanting.
The facing title page treats you to the only tipped in colour illustration of Cinderella. She looks longingly out of the window, dressed in soft rags and appearing vulnerable. Below her are stark black silhouettes of the ugly sisters, gaily dancing with equally unattractive beaux – the contrast in mood is masterful.
C.S. Evans, the author, proceeds to recount the tale of Cinderella and Rackham flawlessly instills life into this cherished tale. In “The Baroness and her Daughters, Evans introduces chapter IV with the words “Have you ever noticed that there are some people whom you are not going to like the first time you set eyes on them?”- Rackham depicts this clearly.
Rackham vividly presents the mood of these characters. Cinderella’s loneliness and sadness is tangible while the ugly sisters’ mistreat her and their horror is real when they see Cinderella’s foot fits in the shoe.
Rackham also expertly conveys humour through his illustrations. “We’ll have this fat fellow, because he has such a splendid set of whiskers.” The poor rat who is transformed into a coachman looks charmingly horrified!
The careful use of colour is another technique that Rackham employs with a brilliant rare touch. He adorns a double page spread with soft pink and green to illustrate the transformation of Cinderella and her coach, ensuring the magic flows from the page.
“The pumpkin immediately changed into a magnificent coach, all glass above and gilded panels below!” The way in which energy and movement is portrayed within Rackham’s illustrations is captivating. It is evident in the dancing scenes through his successful use of carefully placed small silhouettes that lay on the page at jaunty angles. “Dance succeeded dance” is the mood he creates.
Similarly Rackham beautifully generates the images for her flight from the ball. “Cinderella ran as she had never ran before. She lost herself in the shrubberies, and found her way out again, blundered among the flower beds, and snapped roses from their stalks in the speed of her flight.”
The final picture summarises Rackham’s skills in silhouette illustration– fine graceful lines that convey so much emotion and movement – “Cinderella and the Prince lived happily ever after for the rest of their lives.”