The Illustration of the Master: Henry James and the Magazine Revolution examines the crucial role of the illustrated press in the formation of the reading public and the writing profession during Henry James’s lifetime. The book rereads a significant portion of James’s oeuvre in light of the explosive growth of the magazine industry in the United States and abroad during the final decades of the nineteenth century—a revolutionary period in publishing history when the rise of the pictorial challenged the primacy of the written text.
My project began several years ago with an inquiry into the original publication of one of James’s late tales of the artist, “The Beldonald Holbein.” The story appeared in 1901 in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine with three mediocre illustrations by a staff artist, Lucius Hitchcock. The fact that these pictures were hackwork at best and contradictory to the text at worst did not lessen their significance for me as telling glimpses into the literacy practices of James’s contemporary audience. I searched out other periodical stories by James that had first been seen with illustrations (according to James’s bibliographers, these numbered twenty-six, roughly one-quarter of his output of short fiction for the magazines) and along the way encountered nonfiction pieces by James that had been lavishly illustrated. So began the archeological phase of my research, which entailed recovering hundreds of pictures that accompanied James’s writing for the periodicals, including drawings, paintings, photographs, and advertising images.
The fact is that these nineteenth-century contexts are disappearing from the public record. Drawings that introduced magazine readers to