Illustrations in Novels

When kids graduate from picture books to eventually read grown-up fiction, they don’t always have to give up visual images. As we all know, some adult novels include illustrations.

I thought about this while currently reading Czech author Jaroslav Hasek’s The Good Soldier Svejk, which has drawings every few pages that add to the satiric feel of that hilarious antiwar novel. Josef Lada’s illustrations seem as simple as Svejk himself, but both have more depth than immediately meets the eye.

British writer George Monbiot said of The Good Soldier Svejk: “Perhaps the funniest novel ever written, and a brilliant study in how to get one up on the authorities while seeming to cooperate. Svejk appears to be the most loyal soldier in the Austro-Hungarian army, yet all his energies are dedicated to trying to desert.”

Among the novels most associated with pictures are those written by Lewis Carroll (whose Alice books were illustrated by John Tenniel) and Charles Dickens (whose work was illustrated by “Phiz,” George Cruikshank, and others during the author’s lifetime). Masterful art.

Also, the illustrators of Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote over the centuries have fixed a memorable image in our minds of that ultra-thin, tilt-at-windmills title character.

Some novelists, such as Kurt Vonnegut, have illustrated their own books. And, in the poetry area, William Blake created astoundingly great illustrations to go along with his verse.

Speaking of artists with the first name William, my friend Kathy Eliscu’s great, quirky, seriocomic novel Not Even Dark Chocolate Can Fix This Mess includes illustrations by William D. Eldridge.

Then there are novels with photos, such as the evocative 19th-century New York City shots in Jack Finney’s time-travel tour de force Time and Again.

There’s also the “Great Illustrated Classics” series — which has included novels such as Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, James Fenimore Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans, Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo, Jack London’s The Call of the Wild, Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick, L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables, Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, to name a few.

Young-adult (YA) novels of course tend to have more images than adult books. But even some grown-up novels that don’t include illustrations within their chapters might have little sketches at the start of chapters — as is the case with J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. Then there are drawing-heavy graphic novels (which have been described as large, literary comic books), but that’s a whole other story.

The positives of images in novels? We get to admire the skill of accomplished artists, their drawings help break up hundreds of pages of text, we find out what characters look like, and more.

Negatives? Many readers would rather imagine what characters and scenes look like than be shown. (Some of those readers might try to avoid screen adaptations of fictional works for the same reason.) Of course, many novels without inside illustrations do picture the protagonists on the cover.

What are some of your favorite novels you’ve read in illustrated editions? The pros and cons of pictures accompanying fictional prose?

My 2017 literary-trivia book is described and can be purchased here: Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Authors and the Greatest Novels of All Time.

In addition to this weekly blog, I write the award-winning “Montclairvoyant” topical-humor column for The latest weekly piece, about overdevelopment, is here.