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C. V. Dwiggins: An Illustrator of Fitzgerald’s Rubaiyat

February 19, 2018

Joe Howard has sent us the following fascinating article about yet another undocumented illustrator of FitzGerald’s Rubaiyat.   It shows that there is still more to be discovered about the wide ranging impact of Khayyam’s verses and their English translation.  Thanks, Joe, for sharing your findings with us all.

Clare Victor Dwiggins (DWIG)

My research into Rubaiyat-related cartoons, has yielded several interesting discoveries, one of which relates to the work of Clare Victor Dwiggins (1874-1959). He is known to some Rubaiyat enthusiasts for his parody “Rubaiyat of the Egg” (Potter 1126), an approximately egg-shaped book published in 1905.

Clare Victor Dwiggins, was an extremely well known, respected and prolific American cartoonist. His work not only appeared in nationally syndicated comic strips (School Days, Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer, Ophelia etc.), but also in books and magazines. During WWII, Dwiggins worked as a cartoonist for the Douglas Aircraft Company producing illustrated posters. He signed his artwork “DWIG” and that is how he is commonly known.

It had been reported that “…at the time of his death, he was working on illustrations for Fitzgerald’s Rubaiyat.” I have studied his original drawings for this Rubaiyat and I can confirm that it is essentially complete, but unpublished. DWIG illustrated 100 different quatrains (one with two different illustrations) and drew 3 options for a cover page (1 complete with title). The 100th illustration has Tamam Shud written at the bottom. DWIG has formed the letters by extended the string from a kite pictured within the frame, so that it looks like elaborate cursive handwriting. He used the same device, fishing line or kite string, to write both Kuza Nama and the book’s title.

While I have not finished identifying the sources of all the quatrains, it is apparent that he did not always follow Fitzgerald’s quatrain numbering and that he made use of more than one version. DWIG inserted a complete quatrain, hand written in a neat upper-case script, beneath each drawing. The initial letter is a raised capital with his quatrain number written above (see illustration).

All of the illustrations are in black ink with a mixture of outline drawings, hatched interiors and patches of solid black. He also occasionally used some white paint for highlights.  Many of his drawings have been extensively reworked. His technique for doing this was to cut out, sometimes complex, shapes in paper and paste them over the original. Examination of original drawings for his cartoon series indicates that this was a standard technique for him.

A comparison between his published cartoon work with his Rubaiyat, reveals that DWIG borrowed extensively from that body of earlier work. The famous Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer characters appear throughout in characteristic poses, along with common scenic elements such as castles, homesteads, river banks and wonderful old gnarled trees.

Many of DWIG’s pictorial representations of the quatrains are both novel and intriguing. His Saki is a 1930’s-1940’s girl with a flared dress. Soda-pop or water replaces wine, while an ice cream parlour represents the tavern. DWIG’s image for his quatrain 24 (Fitzgerald’s No. 23, Version 1) “Ah make the most of what we yet may spend…” contains an image of Huck Finn leaning on a stick and tossing some coins in the air while looking thoughtfully into the window of a well-stocked sports shop. In the attached image, DWIG nicely represents the passage of life by contrasting the image of an elderly man examining a “love-heart” carved, obviously by him in his youth, on a now elderly tree, with two young people actively engaged in carving a new heart on a younger tree. This image does not adequately capture the quality or detail of the original drawing.

I have not located any of his Fitzgerald’s Rubaiyat images in print or on the internet. His original Rubaiyat artwork was donated (1974) by his daughter to the University of Oregon in Eugene, where it is kept in the Special Collections and University Archives at the Knight Library.

It is my intention to write detailed notes on my study and analysis of DWIG’s work. When this is complete I will offer them to anyone who is interested. I’m now engaged in tracking down DWIG’s heirs with the intention of encouraging the publication of his Rubaiyat illustrations.

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