I recently read through Once Upon a Time by Amy Weinstein, and it served as a reminder to me about how much I like the Victorian era. Particularly, it reminded me that I do like illustrations for Victorian age children’s books quite a bit. There is a gentleness to the line work, a saturation to the colors, and an aesthetic at work which simply sings to me.
However, this is not simply an article about Victorian children’s literature and my love thereof, rather, it is an ode to anthropomorphic creatures. While there is nothing precisely wrong with the manner in which modern animals-like-humans are drawn, I find that there is a higher degree of humanity afforded to their forms (in general) than you’ll find in some Victorian Children’s Literature.
Let’s take a look at Five Little Pigs, published by McLoughlin Brothers, New York in 1890:
While the pigs are certainly well-dressed, there is still a very piggish style to them. They still possess hooves for both hands and feet, and their overall stature is like that of an actual pig standing on its hind legs. There seems to be minimal manipulation of the animal’s form; I’m not a zoologist, so I may be wrong, but I feel that these pigs more closely resemble a real pig than say, Porky Pig.
I think that it is the unnatural-yet-naturalness that attracts me to animals portrayed in this way. It is lightly disturbing, and I like lightly disturbing images. Is it just me, or does the pig in the first picture appear to be surprised to find an old woman fondling a child’s toes in his living room?
Here, we have a stork and a fox enjoying varied vessels which suit the needs of each, but not necessarily the needs of both. The book lists this as World Wide Fables, also published by McLoughlin Brothers, New York. I simply adore the clothing choices for each, and I especially like how the fox is contorting himself in order to attempt a drink from the urn. Also, the colors and patterns are very engrossing.
Lastly, for some naked animal fun, here’s a page from ABC of Funny Animals. As with the rest of Once Upon a Time, the book was published by McLoughlin Brothers, New York. I think that narrowing the scope to a single publisher was a good idea. It allows the writer to focus on the evolution of children’s literature from the standpoint of a successful publisher. Anyways, I digress.
What makes me laugh here is the Hyena and Hippo. The Hyena looks, um, inviting? and the Hippo looks rather lusty. I wonder… is there something secret that H might also stand for?