In 1872 illustrator George Cruikshank published The Artist and the Author in which he claimed that both William Harrison Ainsworth and Charles Dickens had stolen his ideas, without credit, for their novels. In the case of Charles Dickens and Oliver Twist, the illustrator argued that ‘the original ideas and characters … emanated from me’. In particular, Cruikshank claimed that Fagin was plagiarised from his own descriptions and a ‘performance’ of a character.
Although Cruikshank’s contemporaries dismissed his claims as nonsensical ravings, recent critics have pointed out that there certainly was a close working relationship between the author and artist. The periodical writing, illustration and publication of the novel each month would naturally have encouraged a collaborative way of working. Indeed, Cruikshank alludes to this on p. 15, stating that,
the Writer, or Author, and the Artist, had every month to arrange and settle what scenes, or subjects, and characters were to be introduced; and the Author had to weave in such scenes as I wished to represent, and sometimes I had to work out his suggestions.
Whether Cruikshank’s account is accurate or not, his argument nevertheless raises interesting issues about the role of the book illustrator. Cruikshank’s illustrations for Oliver Twist could be said to have shaped the way that we, as readers, visualise the workhouse inmates, Fagin’s gang, and Oliver himself. The images are creations that deserve credit in their own right but which are also, in some way, inseparable from Dickens’s novel.