Victorian Children's Book Illustrations
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In the nineteenth century, as society in Victorian Britain adjusted to the effects of urbanization and industrialization, social roles began to shift, changes that were reflected in the children’s book illustrations of Randolph Caldecott, Henry J. Ford, and Beatrix Potter. This time period was considered the golden age of children’s book illustrations due to a large boom in both number and quality available. These children’s books illustrators had a lasting impact on culture and aesthetics and reinforced the social constructions of the new urban middle class. Randolph Caldecott’s illustrations of nursery rhymes gave new interpretations to familiar texts, some of which furthered shifts in gender roles for both males and females. Andrew Lang’s fairy tale series, illustrated by H. J. Ford, walked a fine line between high art ideals and consumerism. Ford’s illustrations referenced the Pre-Raphaelite aesthetic. The fairytale genre has emphasized female roles from its inception, and Lang's and Ford's focus on an essentially English femininity added complexities to messages about the ideal woman. Beatrix Potter’s subversive work can be seen as the culmination of the Victorian period. She satirized the ideal woman at home, illuminating the anxieties and pressures of the domestic sphere and exploring the Victorians' fixation with the etiquettes of social rank. In an attempt to further the scope of traditional art history, this dissertation shows that, even in consumerist-driven visual culture, even in seemingly inconsequential children’s book illustration, we can see the impact of key social changes and values.
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