While not yet as “dead” as Roland Barthes would have had the “author,” the concept of the author, once so central to the discipline of literary studies, has in recent years been challenged by forces from the margins. The New Critics had insisted that nothing but the text itself, hermetically sealed and coherent as a piece of art, mattered. The material realisation of a text in the shape of the physical book, its typography, and illustrations were not relevant for the New Critics. These features of the printed edition remained not only on the margins but for many literary critics they also remained invisible entities that did not feature in literary-historiographical narratives. The subjects traditionally on the margin are steadily moving to the centre, however, and illustrations, in particular, are acknowledged as valuable elements of the textual condition that encompasses both the work and its material iterations.
The lecture will focus on the move from the margin to the centre of book-historical approaches to literary texts. It will highlight the significance of illustration studies as part of literary scholarship through a detailed examination of the iconic fortunes of Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe (1719) and the ways in which the diachronic reception of the text can be charted by means of iconological analysis, thereby rescuing what the author-focused centre traditionally obscured.