Interpretation of text by the illustrator: contradictory positioning

Illustrations of Ernst’s assertive female characters by Dorothy Ashley do not offer the same perspective. Fang (1996) suggested that “whether intended or not, illustrations sometimes tell a slightly different or even contradictory story than the text” (p. 134). Many of the illustrations in Fairy tales from the land of the wattle by Ashley exemplify female figures in maternal, spiritual, or nurturing roles.Suggesting that illustrations are also cultural symbols that transmit meaning as effectively as written symbols, Meganck (2010) researched the portrayal of female images in children’s literature between 2000 and 2010 and applied the categories devised by Goffman (1978) in his analysis of non-verbal images of women in advertising to her study of picture book illustrations. These categories included relative size (in relation to the male), the feminine touch (caressing, nurturing), ranking and subordination. 
This suggests that the illustration may communicate more about the artist and their beliefs about society and culture than the author. Kang (1997) stated that visual images produced by the media affect attitudes, values, beliefs, and behaviours (p. 980) and, by narrowing the breadth examined by Kang and applying his statement to the print illustrations of Ashley, the connection between the narrative and how Ernst’s text is depicted visually is significant.

Reeder (2010) described Ashley’s illustrations in the following way: The fairies that drift through the pages of Olga Ernst’s Fairy tales from the land of the wattle (1904) have a more ethereal quality. Dorothy Ashley’s sketchy drawings show semi-transparent, pretty creatures with big hair and flowing drapery that hover amongst the native blossoms (22). The text, however, indicates there is a disparity.

The different perspectives of male and female appearance and their actions as presented by Ernst and Ashley suggest that they may be reflecting their own perceptions about gender. Schriber (1987) analysed 19th century American culture by evaluating popular publications such as fiction and diaries as well as education curricula and argued that the “ideological framework circumscribed the lives of actual women and prescribed norms of conduct for them” (2–5). Unfortunately rather than being a harmonious relationship between illustration and text, the mixed messages may become confusing for the reader, who may find the gender stereotyping in the illustrations overpower what is posed by the text. 

Ashley has added a sleeping child in front of the hearth in The fairy of the vase (Ernst, 1904 p. 22). This character is not mentioned in the story. She has chosen not to illustrate the more powerful image of the fairies broadening their view of the world by venturing outside on a quest. The size of the sleeping child also takes the emphasis away from the mantlepiece where the action begins. The disparity between Ernst and Ashley’s interpretations suggest that Ashley has interpreted Ernst’s textual meaning in a different way.
There is no evidence that Ernst had any communication with the artist or the publisher after she submitted the manuscript so the artistic interpretation of story tale episodes are more likely to portray the perspective of the illustrator or the pu