Imperial Crusoe: Berkeley, Paget, Finnemore, 1890-1895.


    After a period of relative inactivity from 1870 to 1890, English illustrators re-discovered Robinson Crusoe as a parable that validated Britain's imperial ambitions. Stanley Berkeley (1840-1909), known for his drawings of animals, used a rampant lion for the frontispiece of his 1891 edition of the novel, placing Crusoe and Xury in the background as the would-be slayers of the dragon-like beast. Other scenes, such as Crusoe's rescue of Friday, emphasize the violence of the moment, rather than Crusoe's compassion or Friday's humanity. Walter Paget (1863-1935) was, like Berkeley, an excellent draughtsman, and was superior to every preceding illustrator in his attention to detail and clarity of execution. He minimized the religious content of his drawings while still finding a spiritual or emotional dimension in Crusoe that enhanced the book's status as an inspirational work for boys. The theme of a young man's formative adventure was also the basis of the edition of 1895 published by Ernest Nister and illustrated by three artists, of whom the most important was Joseph Finnemore (1860-1939). Finnemore's powerful images of ten men in a small boat during a raging storm or of Crusoe thrusting off his raft from the shipwreck have become signature images of Britain's struggle for empire over nature and an adverse world.




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