Victorian Illustrated Books (ENG910 F2020) Dashboard


Students in Lorraine Janzen Kooistra's English Capstone Seminar at Ryerson University in Toronto in F2020 aim to make a virtue of pandemic necessity by engaging collaboratively and critically with the digital surrogates of a wide variety of Victorian illustrated books published between 1843 and 1899.

Using the interpretive model of image/text/context for both synchronic and diachronic analyses, and drawing on a range of digital tools, this course aims to understand the past through the present and the present through the past.

Our study begins with Charles Dickens's iconic Christmas Carol: A Ghost Story of Christmas, illustrated by John Leech (1843), then turns to two examples of poetry and illustration: Alfred Tennyson's "The Lady of Shalott," illustrated by Pre-Raphaelite artists William Holman Hunt and Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1857); and Christina Rossetti's "Goblin Market," illustrated by her brother, Dante Gabriel (1862). These mid-century works will provide the foundation for our study of the illustrated books that proliferated at the end of the century. We'll analyze a variety of fin-de-siècle genres and styles, starting with Arthur Conan Doyle's popular detective stories, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, illustrated by Sydney Paget (1892). Next up is Salome: A Tragedy in One Act, Oscar Wilde's censored play based on a biblical story, which was infamously "embroidered" by decadent artist Aubrey Beardsley (1894). Fairy tales and fantasies aimed at adult audiences allowed counter-cultural writers and artists to protest existing norms and imagine other worlds; our examples are Laurence Housman's self-illustrated collection, The House of Joy (1895) and Clemence Housman's gothic novella The Were-Wolf, with wood-engraved illustrations by the author after her brother Laurence's designs (1896). The Annancy Stories, a self-illustrated collection of folktales by Pamela Colman Smith, is the first-known publication featuring this Jamaican trickster figure (1899). Students examine the final work, A Christmas Carol: The Graphic Novel (2019), for evidence of the legacy of Victorian illustrated books today.

The following texts are available in COVE (see D2L for the other digital surrogates):

Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol: A Ghost Story of Christmas (1843): A COVE Studio Text for class annotation

Clemence Housman, The Were-Wolf (1896): A COVE Annotated Edition 

Christina G. Rossetti, Goblin Market (1862): A COVE Annotated Edition 

Alfred Tennyson: The Lady of Shalott (1857):  A COVE Studio text for class annotation

Victorian illustrated books resulted from the collaboration of a number of social agents, including authors, artists, engravers, editors, publishers, and readers. Using the COVE toolset, students and instructor work collaboratively to build resources that critically curate Victorian illustrated books in cultural contexts ranging from the nineteenth century to the present. 

We will use the COVE annotation tool to hone our close reading and editorial skills. In COVE Studio, each student will provide TWO TEXTUAL ANNOTATIONS, one on "content," one on "craft," for Dickens's A Christmas Carol and Tennyson's "The Lady of Shalott."

We will use the Gallery Image tool to provide bibliographic and contextual information and iconographic commentary and analysis on illustrations, and to associate these with events in the Timeline and places in the Map.

We will use the Gallery Exhibition tool to critically curate illustrated books in cultural contexts, situating works synchronically, within their originating moment of production and reception, and diachronically, in terms of their ongoing moments of production and reception. 

We will use the COVE Timeline tool to provide information about historical events relevant to Victorian illustrated books, both at the time of their first publication, and in their ongoing re-production over time and across media.

We will use the COVE Map tool to associate places relevant to illustrated books and their makers and the cultural contexts that we showcase in the Gallery and on the Timeline. 

Galleries, Timelines, and Maps

Blog entry
Posted by Melissa Emanoilidis on Thursday, October 22, 2020 - 13:58

In the popular Sherlock Holmes series image, text and context worked together to convey character interactions that help the reader to better understand the scene. When looking specifically at the story The Adventure of the Speckled Band, the black and white illustrations held several similarities that displayed the crime scenes and characters. They worked together to also show perhaps the social class of the characters, family life, and the race. The illustrations all depict specific moments in the narrative, allowing readers to better understand expressions and reactions to the scene. While these images may not provide the reader with further information about the plot of the story, they help with visualizing the context of the interaction. When looking at other volumes of Sherlock Holmes, such as  The Adventure of the Blue Carnuncle, they all provide similar illustrations that consist of characters engaging with one another. The images for these texts all help the reader to...

Blog entry
Posted by Anjali Jaikarran on Thursday, October 22, 2020 - 13:29

This week's seminar focused on the Sherlock Holmes stories written by Arthur Conan Doyle, the stories are beloved in the genre of detective stories. A product of its time, although not an adequate excuse, the stories are rife with racist stereotypes of BIPOC and portray women in a light where they lack little agency. In the story, 'The Man with the Twisted Lip', one of the character's is seen trying to enter an opium den to look for her husband, but is stopped by the owner in what is portrayed as a very violent way. The man is 'othered' as someone who hails from South-east Asia but is depicted as dark. Sidney Paget's own biases likely influenced this depiction, the notion that someone that was not white, was dangerous, especially to respectable women of the upper classes. This is furthered seen through the way that their clothes are depicted: the man is depicted in assumed to be traditional clothes, but comes off more like rags; while, the woman is wearing a dress...

Blog entry
Posted by Nicole Bernard on Thursday, October 22, 2020 - 12:43

Today's class offered some interesting insights on Sherlock Holmes and its cultural context. Sidney Paget's illustrations reveal an aspect of the stories that is concealed or even otherwise absent in the text. What interested me specifically was the empathy and humanity displayed in the illustrations of Holmes for "The Adventure of the Speckled Band."

In the illustration titled "She raised her veil" we commented on the absence of the deerstalker cap and pipe, symbols that have come to represent Holmes in popular culture due to Paget's influence. The absence of these symbols is a conscious choice but not as complex as it may appear. It would be a common courtesy to remove one's cap when in the presence of a woman (especially when indoors) and smoking was also coded as a male activity. This shows a basic consideration and respect towards Helen Stoner as befitting her rank and status. Considering the lack of authority that Helen had under her stepfather, this action of her...

Posted by Kyle Sarjeant on Thursday, October 22, 2020 - 12:30

Oscar Wilde's French tragedy in one act, Salome, was consored by the London Examiner of Plays in 1892 for its perverse depictions of biblical figures before it had a chance to premiere at the Palace Theatre, London.


Bristow, Joseph. “Oscar Wilde (1854-1900),” Y90s Biographies , edited by Dennis Denisoff, 2010. Yellow Nineties 2.0, General Editor Lorraine Janzen Kooistra, Ryerson University Centre for Digital Humanities, 2019,

Stallings, Kate, and Jeffrey Lou. "Salome." The Censorship Files, Oct 25, 2016,

Posted by Kyle Sarjeant on Thursday, October 22, 2020 - 12:26

The term “decadence” had been in cultural use throughout Europe since at least the Middle Ages and generally refers to a prolonged state of societal moral decline. Its aesthetic uses, however, emerged in 19th century France. In its aesthetic connotation, decadence described a set of anti-Romantic approaches that denigrated the natural and moral in favour of the unnatural, the grotesque, and the taboo. Though often used a critique against artists, decadence was first used in a positive light by Gaultier in describing Baudelaire’s book of poems Les Fleurs du mal in 1868.

The Decadent movement was imported to the Victorians by the likes of Swinburne and Wilde, and coalesced with the Aesethic movement occurring in Britain. For instance, Wilde’s Decadent tragedy Salome—originally written in French while Wilde was living in Paris—used Mallarmé’s Hérodiade and Flaubert’s Hérodias (both retellings...

Blog entry
Posted by Alicia Beggs-Holder on Thursday, October 22, 2020 - 12:19

The discussion seminars really helped in understanding the context in which Sherlock Holmes has been written and its implications in modern society. It’s interesting but also disappointing to see that the racial ideologies really impact an illustrator (and author’s) writing, but it makes sense. The fact that England had the whole desire of wanting exotic Eastern cultures but to keep them (and constantly remind them) of their “savagery” and “inferiority” to England really is something to research into. In regard to our own culture, it still plays heavily in the assumption of who is deemed the villain or the criminal—there’s a prejudice within the police system that paints BIPOC people as doing something “deviant” or indecent and therefore paint their whole image on trying to prove that bias. It’s sad to know that it had been a constant issue that hadn’t seemed to change much even as time progressed. The illustrations also helps, though, in understanding...

Blog entry
Posted by Kyle Sarjeant on Thursday, October 22, 2020 - 12:14

Something that occurred to me as we discussed Doyle’s Adventures of Sherlock Holmes is that these detective stories are functionally conservative texts. That is, the texts are concerned with maintaining a white, middle-class hegemony in Victorian England amidst a time of rapid cultural upheaval as they approach the turn of the century. Holmes figures into this as the ideal British subject (white, male, middle-class, English, rational) who regularly defends the other ideal British female subject from encroaching threats of the Other, whether that be the racialized/exoticized Other that we say in the “Speckled Band”, or the impoverished, fallen man as seen in the “Man with the Twisted Lip.” In both of these texts, Holmes is the one who is shown to defeat, bring to justice, or else “correct” the threat of the Other in the British homeland. In “The Speckled Band,” the oriental Other is literally defeated as Holmes safely contains...

Blog entry
Posted by Marina Arnone on Thursday, October 22, 2020 - 12:14

I enjoyed listening to the different perspectives of my peers during today's presentations. I often do not gravitate to mystery stories, therefore it was interesting to read the story and look at the images associated with it. One interesting thing I noticed was how Sidney Paget often used his images to express ideologies within their society at the time. For example, the image of the beggar man from “The Man with the Twisted Lip,” called him a “professional beggar.” This is significant because it alludes to the idea that poor people choose to be poor, that they are too lazy to contribute to society in a meaningful way. This is an idea that is still very relevant in society today, as people often forget about other factors that contribute to homelessness. His illustrations also brought forth gender relations and female agency, such as when Mrs. St. Clair is being grabbed by the opium den owner. This is important because it demonstrates how women are...

Blog entry
Posted by Yousef Farhang on Thursday, October 22, 2020 - 12:03

In today's class we discussed Sherlock Holmes, the iconic detective figure in the The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. We specifically discussed Sidney Paget's illustration of the text in The Man with the Twisted Lip" and "The Adventures of the Speckled Band" and how it worked with both the Victorian context and the text itself to create meaning. The discussions were informative as they opened my eyes to a variety of visual cues that I had not noticed. For example, in the vignette "At the foot of the stairs she met this Lascar scoundrel," it was interesting to see the black and white imagery that alluded to the gothic, mysterious and the unknown world of the "exotic" that was highlighted by placing dark shades of black behind the Southeast Asian character while placing bright white shades around the Victorian European women. The use of light and dark imagery to illustrate the British attitudes towards non-European people was astonishing and I wondered whether Paget included...

Blog entry
Posted by Alexandra Monstur on Thursday, October 22, 2020 - 11:27

Today, along with several of my other classmates, I had the pleasure of presenting and analyzing an image from one of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories. What I most enjoyed about this class was how the atmosphere of collective discussion ended up highlighting and emphasizing points of interest in the text, image, and context that I (as a presenter) had not previously considered. For example, in my question - which touched on visual cues - I had not considered the shading in the image as significant until Dr. Kooistra and my other classmates mentioned it. Just touching on that one detail allowed for the discussion to be opened even further; to me, this highlighted just how necessary the contributive process of discussion can be in relation to individualized research. 

What I also found interesting was how effective images are at portraying/expressing contemporary attitudes that surround the literary context. Through image analysis alone, we were able to explore...



Individual Entries

Posted by Anjali Jaikarran on Wednesday, October 28, 2020 - 19:49
Posted by Kisha Rendon on Wednesday, October 28, 2020 - 16:45
Posted by Patricia Lucreziano on Wednesday, October 28, 2020 - 00:56
Posted by Kyle Sarjeant on Tuesday, October 27, 2020 - 16:18
Posted by Simon Mancuso on Tuesday, October 27, 2020 - 14:56
Chronology Entry
Posted by Alicia Puebla on Friday, October 23, 2020 - 21:37
Posted by Alicia Puebla on Friday, October 23, 2020 - 21:18
Posted by Alicia Puebla on Friday, October 23, 2020 - 21:04

Christina Rossetti was an English poet who was born in London on December 5th, 1830. She had volunteered at the St Mary Magdalene house also known as “Magdalene Asylum”  in the Whitechapel district of London, England from 1859 to 1870. During that time she had come to know the women that lived there. Many of the women who lived at this shelter were believed to be prostitutes and lower class. There is speculation that these women were the inspiration for Christina Rossetti’s characters “Laura” and “Lizzie” in Goblin Market. Many of the women living there formed bonds of friendship and sisterhood that led to the Goblin Market’s strong themes of feminism and also helps account for the erotic themes throughout the poem.


Thor, Jowita. "Religious and Industrial Education in the Nineteenth-Century Magdalene Asylums in Scotland." Studies in Church History, vol. 55, 06/01/2019, pp. 347-362, doi:10.1017/stc.2018...

Posted by Emma Fraschetti on Friday, October 23, 2020 - 13:36
Posted by Kisha Rendon on Friday, October 23, 2020 - 00:17