Theatrical Crusoe: Cruikshank, Grandville, and others, 1831-1840.


    Under the influence of the Romantic critics Walter Scott, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and Charles Lamb, Robinson Crusoe assumed the status of an important literary work and Defoe's greatest achievement. The story was acted in pantomime as a Christmas entertainment, with the result that certain incidents or vignettes became highly recognizable. One of the regulars at such pantomimes was George Cruikshank (1792-1878), a political cartoonist, caricaturist, and book illustrator. After trying his hand at several abridged editions of the novel, Cruikshank obtained a commission to illustrate an edition published by John Major in 1831. His drawing of Crusoe offering succor to a kneeling Friday was used as the frontispiece, and the text was filled with numerous half-page vignettes of Crusoe making his boat, having dinner in his cave, and discovering the footprint. Instead of captions, the vignettes were placed in the text at the moment of the narrative they illustrated, creating an interplay between text and picture, and they usually captured a gesture or expression of emotion, as if in a theatrical production. Cruikshank's drawings were reproduced through the use of wood engravings, rather than copper etchings or engravings, which allowed a great many more to be used. Wood engravings could be set up and printed with the type, rather than bound in separately.
    continued on page 2
HOME TIMELINE INDEX