Eighteenth-Century Book Illustration and The Novelist’s Magazine

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This blog entry is the third in a series dedicated to showcasing our current exhibit, Eighteenth-Century Book Illustration, which can be viewed in the Reading Room until the middle of this semester. Today we will focus on our display of James Harrison’s The Novelist’s Magazine, which features illustrations from three volumes of the series.

The Novelist’s Magazine, which was published throughout the 1780s, does not correspond to our contemporary ideas of what constitutes a magazine. Each volume of The Novelist’s Magazine includes the complete texts of two to six works, excepting those written by Samuel Richardson, which are lengthy enough to fill entire volumes by themselves. Throughout the eighteenth century, boundaries between novels, magazines, and periodicals were much more fluid than they are today, partially because the novel had not yet attained the status of high literature. Eighteenth-century readers would view journalistic prose and novels as very similar texts.

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The works included in The Novelist’s Magazine are mostly popular texts from earlier in the century whose copyright had expired. James Harrison aimed to produce a collection of “bestsellers” that would be attractive, yet still affordable to a large number of people. Engravings illustrating the works were included in every volume. Undoubtedly, Harrison hoped that the illustrations would attract customers. A number of the engravings were prepared by William Blake and these are the illustrations that are on display in our exhibit. However, do not expect to find Blake’s singular, unconventional style: these illustrations date from early in Blake’s career, when he was mainly employed to engrave designs already prepared by others. Although Blake completed the engraving, the original designs of the illustrations were created by Thomas Stothard.

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