The Art of Book Design: Tanglewood Tales

Tanglewood Tales, by Nathaniel Hawthorne, illustrations by Virginia Frances Sterrett; 1921; Philadelphia, Penn Publishing Company

As promised, today we’re looking at the second book illustrated by Virginia Sterrett, Tanglewood Tales by Hawthorne, and the artwork is just as beautiful as that in Sterrett ‘s first book, Old French Fairy Tales.  The soft flowing lines and attention to small details are still present, but there’s more boldness in the colour palette and, perhaps because of this, a different quality of light. Sterrett was only 20 when she completed this work and was already sick with the tuberculosis that would eventually take her life.


Cadmus beheld a female figure, wonderfully beautiful

She whipped up the snakes and ascended high over the city

“Thou hast slain the monster”, cried Ariadne, clasping her hands

This giant gave them his brotherly kindness

The pitiless reptile has killed his poor companions

The voyagers examined the web of cloth

They brought along with them a great many beautiful shells

“I shall not touch it I assure you”, said she

At the appointed hour he met the beautiful Medea

“What is it?” asked Jason


via: The Public Domain Review

For anyone interested, the entire book can be read at The Internet Archive and their copy includes Sterrett’s black and white illustrations.


  1. Ice Swimmer says

    The flowing lines are wonderful.

    I feel empathy for the giant (the position of his head is melancholic), but if you disregard the position of his head, the kind pose his body is in has been used in sexually suggestive contexts when the person depicted is a woman. I wonder if the artist is/was playing games with us.

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