1st Edition

Lynd Ward’s Wordless Novels, 1929-1937 Visual Narrative, Cultural Politics, Homoeroticism

By Grant F. Scott Copyright 2022
    244 Pages 56 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    244 Pages 56 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    This book offers the first multidisciplinary analysis of the "wordless novels" of American woodcut artist and illustrator Lynd Ward (1905–1985), who has been enormously influential in the development of the contemporary graphic novel. The study examines his six pictorial novels, each part of an evolving experiment in a new form of visual narrative that offers a keen intervention in the cultural and sexual politics of the 1930s. The novels form a discrete group – much like Beethoven’s piano sonatas or Keats’s great odes – in which Ward evolves a unique modernist style (cinematic, expressionist, futurist, realist, documentary) and grapples with significant cultural and political ideas in a moment when the American experiment and capitalism itself hung in the balance. In testing the limits of a new narrative form, Ward’s novels require a versatile critical framework as sensitive to German Expressionism and Weimar cinema as to labor politics and the new energies of proletarian homosexuality.

    Introduction: Origins

    Chapter 1: The Silent Film, the Sketch and the Portrait in Gods’ Man (1929)

    Chapter 2: Colonial Legacy and the Crime of Scholarship in Madman’s Drum (1930)

    Chapter 3: Lynching, Labor and Homoeroticism in Wild Pilgrimage (1932)

    Chapter 4: Disobedient Persuasions: Prelude to a Million Years (1933)

    Chapter 5: The Limits of Allegory: Song Without Words (1936) and Hymn for the Night (ca. 1940)

    Chapter 6: The Duplicity of the Word in Vertigo (1937)

    Epilogue: Dance of the Hours; or, Lynd Ward’s Last Unfinished Wordless Novel (2001)


    Grant F. Scott is a Professor of English at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pennsylvania, and author of The Sculpted Word: Keats, Ekphrasis, and the Visual Arts (1994). He has also edited Selected Letters of John Keats (2002), Joseph Severn: Letters and Memoirs (2005) and The Illustrated Letters of Richard Doyle to His Father, 1842–1843 (2016), and co-edited, with Sue Brown, New Letters from Charles Brown to Joseph Severn (2010).

    Lynd Ward's Wordless Novels, 1929-1937: Visual Narrative, Cultural Politics, Homoeroticism is a knowledgeable, thorough, and compelling account of one of the twentieth century’s most important graphic artists.  It expands the critical conversation around a significant figure—one who is often cited but little analyzed—by treating his wordless novel corpus and interpreting its aesthetic and political impacts. A badly needed, hugely valuable resource.

    -Hillary Chute, author of Why Comics? From Underground to Everywhere

    "This is the first book-length study devoted to the artist and his visual narratives. Scott develops careful and contextual close readings of Ward’s woodcut narratives, most of which are collected in the Library of America edition of Ward’s novels. Indeed, Scott’s book could even serve as a critical companion to the Library of America’s Lynd Ward: Six Novels in Woodcut (2010); this could be an exceptionally generative pairing for a graduate seminar on comics history or modernism. Scott’s prose is scholarly and grounded in Ward’s texts, so much so that I was compelled to re-read each of Ward’s woodcut novels after reading its respective chapter in Scott’s book. His close attention to visual detail made Ward’s works so much richer and full of meanings than I had ever stopped to consider before. Scott’s study is valuable not just for its clear analysis and contextualization of Ward’s woodcut novels, but also because it is a reminder of what close attention to a text can accomplish. It is a comfort to read Ward’s woodcut novels slowly, which Scott’s book encouraged me to do."

    -Daniel Worden, Rochester Institute of Technology, Journal of Modern Literature