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Thesis Format



Doctor of Philosophy


Comparative Literature


Tumanov, Vladimir

2nd Supervisor

Blackmore, Tim

Joint Supervisor

3rd Supervisor

Pocci, Luca

Joint Supervisor


This interdisciplinary study discusses word-picture translation for book illustrations and brings together visual art, book/illustration history, the materiality of the book, literature, and library science. The focus is on communication between the creator, the work of literary and visual art, and the receiver. Theories that observe verbal-visual relations appear typically disconnected from the practical aspects of bookmaking and publishing. In bridging practice and theory, I have developed my own method of word-picture interpretation that can be applied to any adult fiction text.

The thesis discusses the outside and the inside of illustration-making, presents the methodology and theoretical framework, explores such issues as the physicality of expression and perception, mind-hand connections in artistic expression, the concept of the simultaneity of reading and visualizing, as well the relations between creative impression, art, and the market, i.e. the impact of cultural trends, the publishing industry and target audience on the way books are created and perceived. This thesis also discusses the interaction of two media, presenting the indispensability of dialogue between the style of a text and the style of corresponding pictures — these concepts are combined with concrete examples of books and pictures in order to make palpable the practical implementation of bookmaking. My conclusions make possible the transition to a comparative discussion of pictorial and fantastic elements in Nikolai Gogol’s and Italo Calvino’s writings which are taken as examples concurrently with visual adaptations of their literary features. The result of comparative analysis of their poetics reveals the vision-based nature of Gogol’s and Calvino’s abstract pictures in verbal form, which suggest their non-translatability into illustrations despite the paradoxically large number of artists who have continuously attempted to illustrate Gogol’s works. Since the most important aspect of any adaptation is the re-creation of the style of verbal narration by means of visual language, the majority of these images are likely to appear disconnected stylistically from the text and can cause confusion or distortion of the verbal poetics.

Summary for Lay Audience

This study discusses the way books are illustrated. This includes the development of literary descriptions through pictures, which does not mean the explanation or repetition of the plot with drawings but rather the re-creation of a new visual story that corresponds to a given narrative by a variety of stylistic characteristics which are derived from the close study of the literary work. The stylistic correspondence between the verbal and the visual domain can often be challenged by many factors, such as misunderstanding by the artist of the main stylistic features of the text being illustrated, the demands of the publishing industry and a focus on making sellable products, as well as the aesthetics of the specific temporal context of the artist's life and work. Gogol’s and Calvino’s literary works are taken as an example in order to present, through their comparative analysis, the way specific verbal characteristics become embodied in illustrations.

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Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Available for download on Sunday, December 31, 2023