A recent visit to the Wilson Library’s special collections -specifically to study pieces concerning Frankenstein, Robinson Crusoe, Sherlock Holmes, and Jane Eyre– has brought forth the importance of visual and material elements in the perception of media. These are meant to lend a certain notion of the content inside to the reader as soon as they pick up a work, before they can even begin to read the words. When viewing the pieces at Wilson Library, the most heavily discussed and prevalent elements included cover designs, illustrations, and binding/printing materials.
In particular, the Robinson Crusoe collection had a variety of different designs and editions, most of which relied on the addition of illustrations either printed along with the story or drawn in by other readers. For instance, one edition examined, The farther adventures of Robinson Crusoe; being the second and last part of his life, : and of the strange surprizing accounts of his travels round three parts of the globe. Written by himself. ; To which is added a map of the world, in which is delineated the voyages of Robinson Crusoe, featured a map of Crusoe’s voyages. Fictional writers often choose to include maps in order to add a sense of legitimacy or to immerse the reader more fully in the story of a fantasy world. In this case, the author’s reason probably aligns with the former. Another reason could be that the map may show particular geography that justifies decisions that Crusoe makes while on the island. The life and adventures of Robinson Crusoe of York, mariner : with an account of his travels round three parts of the globe written by himself was a version that had belonged to George Cruikshank, with his hand-drawn illustrations inside the front cover and inside title page. The binding itself was relatively cheap: cardboard cover and small size. However, the drawings of Friday dancing and Crusoe add some interest and leave the reader with impressions of Cruikshank’s own interpretation/vision of the events occurring in the novel.
Yet another Crusoe example, The adventures of Robinson Crusoe
by Daniel De Foe ; embellished with numerous engravings, after designs by J.J. Grandville, John Proctor, and others, sets an entirely different expectation of the novel due to its design and illustrations. On the surface, the pages of this edition read more like a storybook with elaborate borders on every page and many images scattered throughout. In this way, a reader may be less likely to take Crusoe’s story as a real one as Defoe tries to emphasize in other versions of Robinson Crusoe.
As observed at the library, authors and publishers make very specific decisions regarding the use of visual or material elements to achieve a certain purpose, whether it is appealing to different types of audiences or intentionally misleading readers. After examining the various editions available in the special collections, determining the intended impacts of visual aspects of a piece of literature or other media will be much easier and more meaningful as the experience has highlighted the importance of the distinctions made and how they can affect the audience mindset.