Arts and Culture
Between 1870 and 1922 the practice of collecting folk and fairy stories from India and transforming them into illustrated gift books was established in Britain. While M. Frere’s Old Deccan Days or Hindoo Fairy Legends current in Southern India (1870) contained only two black and white illustrations, the situation had changed drastically by the beginning of the twentieth century. Lal Behari Day’s Folk Tales of Bengal (1912) advertised thirty-two full-page colour illustrations. Curiously, as the illustrations became more and more sophisticated and elaborate, they started becoming disconnected from the actual text of the books. In time, instead of growing with the narrative, they started growing apart from it, often affecting orientalised misrepresentations in their wake - representations which were ‘almost Indian but not quite’.
However, collecting, illustrating and publishing stories was not limited to imperialist policy. In Bengal, it very much came to represent a part of the nationalist movement driven forward by the popularity of the printing press and rise of the illustrator figure. Giuseppe Flora writes, “The most significant graphic innovations took place in the realm of children’s literature, which included rewriting fairy tales.”
In my paper, I will examine how the conflicting interests of imperialist and nationalist policies intersected and controlled visual representation in these books and shaped new hybrid artistic expressions. In the process, I will further examine the professionalization of illustration both in Bengal and Britain and compound identities of the ‘illustrator’.