Book Covers and Robinsonades: Exploring the Crusoe Collection

This month’s blog post was written by Chloe Wallaker, a final year BA English Literature and Film student at the University of Reading. Chloe has been researching our Crusoe Collection as part of her Spring Term academic placement based at Special Collections. 

Today marks the 299th anniversary of the publication of one of our favourite novels – Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe. It is one of the most popular and widely published books today. The University of Reading Special Collections holds hundreds of editions and imitations of the novel as part of their Crusoe Collection, so I decided to visit and explore what the archives have to offer.

For a novel that was intended for adult readers, it was striking to discover the vast number of publications of Robinson Crusoe that were aimed at children. Different editions emphasise different aspects within the story and aim at children of different ages. I have chosen to showcase some of my favourite modern editions of the text that are aimed at children and published in the twentieth century.

A red book cover including pirates, dragons, Alice in Wonderland and a Knight.

The Rand-McNally edition of Life and adventures of Robinson Crusoe (1954)– CRUSOE COLLECTION–A1954.

I came across the edition published by Mcnally and Company (above), which includes the modernised text of Robinson Crusoe, with minor abridgements. The cover includes different illustrations referencing classical children’s literature, including Lewis Caroll’s Alice in Wonderland, that was also published in the eighteenth century and forms a part of popular culture today. The edition categorized Robinson Crusoe amongst famous children’s fairy tales and recognised it as an adventure story for young readers.

A book cover showing an island and the sea, with Robinson Crusoe and Man Friday sat together.

Nelson (1960), Robinson Crusoe – CRUSOE COLLECTION–A1960

There are many adaptations of the novel that are shortened for younger children. I discovered Nelson’s adaption of the text. The edition is published to be told to children by adults, demonstrating how the story is constructed for very young readers as well as older children. This edition stood out to me as the cover focuses on the more mature and violent themes of the novel, including slavery and death, than the covers intended for older children. This made me question the appropriateness of the story in challenging its young children

The adaptation published by Hunia (above, left) encourages young children to read the story for themselves, instead of being read to. The cover suggests the story focuses on the relationship between Crusoe and Friday, as opposed to focusing on the adventure story which most of the publications adopt to appeal to children. This demonstrates how Robinson Crusoe not only appeals to children through entertainment, but teaches moral lessons, highlighting the pedagogical value of the novel.

Most of the children’s adaptations use illustrations to appeal to children. Wilkes’s edition (above, right) seems to construct the text to resemble a picture book. As well as focusing on the adventure aspects of the text, the publication focuses on the spiritual themes embedded within the novel, with its cover illustration resembling the biblical story of Noah’s Ark.

The publications I found most interesting were the imitations of the text, commonly described as ‘Robinsonades’, which reveal how Robinson Crusoe was not just a popular novel, but became an identifiable piece of popular culture. Crocket’s imitation of the text constructs Crusoe as a child figure, creating an identifiable protagonist for children. The edition takes the themes of adventure from the original text and constructs a version of the novel that is perhaps more suitable for children.

Perhaps the most interesting imitation of the novel is Ballantyne’s edition. This edition focuses on the relationship between a dog and his master, resembling the relationship between Crusoe and his man Friday. The edition removes the mature and violent themes of slavery, which could be considered inappropriate aspects of the novel, and constructs a pet-master relationship, which would appeal to children and in terms they could understand.

Some of the editions that stayed more true to the novel seemed to present problematic themes for children. This made me question the appropriateness of a novel that was intended for adults, being read by children. I found it interesting how each edition focused on different aspects and themes of the novel, demonstrating the number of ways in which the novel can be read and used to educate and entertain children. This investigation into the children’s editions of Robinson Crusoe has reminded me why the novel has remained a favourite read for people of all ages and continues to be published today.

For more information on our Crusoe Collection, visit the Special Collections website, or email us at  



Ballantyne, R.M (1970), The dog Crusoe, London: Abbey Classics, CRUSOE COLLECTION–A1942-2013 [BOX].

Crockett, S.R (1905), Sir Toady Crusoe, London: Wells Gardner, Darton & Co. Ltd, CRUSOE COLLECTION–A1905.

Defoe, Daniel (1954), Life and adventures of Robinson Crusoe, New York: Rand McNally & Company, CRUSOE COLLECTION–A1954.

Defoe, Daniel (196-), Robinson Crusoe, London : Thomas Nelson and Sons Ltd., CRUSOE COLLECTION–A1960

Hunia, Fran (1978), Robinson Crusoe, London: Collins, CRUSOE COLLECTION–A1954.

Wilkes, Angela (1981), The adventures of Robinson Crusoe, London: Usborne Publishing, CRUSOE COLLECTION–A1981.

Emma: a heroine whom no one but myself will much like

Written by Louise Cowan, Trainee Liaison Librarian

This month celebrates the 200th anniversary of the publication of Jane Austen’s ‘Emma.’emmacover

One of Austen’s more comedic novels, ‘Emma’ follows the eponymous heroine as she meddles unsuccessfully in the romantic lives of her friends and neighbours. Although Austen is known for describing Emma as, ‘a heroine whom no one but myself will much like,’(Goodheart) the book’s popularity has endured in the two centuries since its publication.  It has been adapted countless times for television, stage and film; including the cult-hit adaption ‘Clueless’ which takes Emma from the rural Highbury and transports her to the mansions of Beverly Hills.

According to Goodheart, it is Emma’s role as an ‘imaginist’ and her constant flights of fancy, which Austen admired and which make her such an appealing heroine within the setting of a slow and quiet rural town.

The Special Collections Library holds a beautifully illustrated edition of ‘Emma’ in our H.M.Brock Collection.  Henry Matthew Brock was a prolific book and magazine illustrator who found particular success illustrating children’s books.  This illustrated edition of ‘Emma’, was published in 1898 in two volumes:


Emma, illustrated by C.E. & H.M. Brock

Emma, illustrated by C.E. & H.M. Brock



Barchas, Janine (2007) Very Austen: Accounting for the Language of Emma Nineteenth-Century Literature, University of California Press Vol. 62, No. 3 (December 2007), pp. 303-338 Accessed: 01/12/2015

Emma 2015. Britannica Academic. Retrieved 01 December, 2015, from

Eugene Goodheart. “Emma: Jane Austen’s Errant Heroine.” Sewanee Review 116.4 (2008): 589-604. Project MUSE. Web. 1 Dec. 2015.

Behind the Scenes: A Tour of Treasures!

Hello! My name is Louise Cowan and I’m a new member of staff here at UMASCS.  Although my official role is ‘Trainee Liaison Librarian’ and I will mostly be based at the University Library at Whiteknights Campus, I am excited to be spending one day a week working with the Special Collections team to support and contribute to their fantastic social media channels!

Today was my first official day and as part of my induction I was treated to a behind the scenes tour by UMASCS Librarian, Fiona Melhuish.

The special collections store at UMASCS

The special collections store at UMASCS

The large store rooms are amazing treasure troves of rare books full of beautiful illustrations, archives of documents with fascinating stories, and unique ephemeral collections.

As an MA graduate in Children’s Literature one of my favourites from today’s tour was the popular Children’s Collection; in particular, this beautiful copy of ‘Peter and Wendy’, illustrated by Mabel Lucie Attwell:

Peter and Wendy by J.M.Barrie

Peter and Wendy by J.M.Barrie


I also love the John Lewis Printing Collection which consists of roughly 20,000 items illustrating the history of printing from the fifteenth century to the present. This little Christmas card is a treat:

Philosopher dogs, Group XI : 3 Juvenile : c1850-

Group XI : 3 Juvenile : c1850-

And as it is officially #MusGif Day  I couldn’t resist making a Gif from this charming trio of cats:

Christmas Cats, Group XI : 3 Juvenile : c1850-

Group XI : 3 Juvenile : c1850-

I’m really looking forward to delving in, learning more and sharing the collections with you.   Make sure you follow us on Twitter: @UniRdg_SpecColl and Instagram: @unirdg_collections to keep up-to-date!

Favourite Find: Aubrey Beardsley’s illustrations for ‘The Rape of the Lock’

I’m Fiona Melhuish, and in my work with the Special Collections rare books I get lots of opportunities to spotlight my favourite items from our wonderful book collections through our Featured Items on the Special Collections website. One of these include an edition of Oscar Wilde’s play Salome, with illustrations by Aubrey Beardsley, and for my first ‘Favourite Find’, I would like to focus on another of Beardsley’s masterpieces, his illustrations for The rape of the lock : an heroi-comical poem in five cantos by Alexander Pope. This small book, measuring 14.3 cm high, was published in London by Leonard Smithers in 1897, three years after Elkin Mathews & John Lane published Salome. It is a copy of the miniature ‘bijou’ edition of the book that Smithers had first published in 1896, and is one of 1000 copies printed on art paper.

Headpiece for the first canto: ‘The Billet-Doux’

Headpiece for the first canto: ‘The Billet-Doux’

Aubrey Beardsley was born in 1872 and died from tuberculosis in 1898 at the age of only twenty-five. He completed the ten Rape of the Lock drawings and a cover design for the first edition in just a few months despite his increasingly poor health. During his short and brilliant career he became notorious for his illustrations in two ‘decadent’ periodicals of the period, The Yellow Book and The Savoy. His designs and illustrations for books such as Le Morte D’arthur, Lysistrata, Salome and Volpone added to his notoriety as the most daring artist of the 1890s.

The exquisite illustrations for The Rape of the Lock, considered by many critics to be among Beardsley’s finest work, are almost like pieces of intricate needlework in their delicate rendering of line, texture and pattern. It is appropriate that the title page should credit the illustrations as having been “embroidered … by Aubrey Beardsley”. Close examination of the drawings also reveals that they are full of Beardsley’s mischievous wit, especially in his use of sexual imagery, and demonstrate his flair for satire, features which are characteristic of much of Beardsley’s art.

Plate: ‘The Toilet’ – Belinda at her dressing table.

Plate: ‘The Toilet’ – Belinda at her dressing table.

Beardsley produced the illustrations in the style of eighteenth-century engravings, inspired by the French rococo style. The drawings are photoengravings, drawn on paper and then photographed directly onto the wood block, enabling the artist to make his drawing in any size he wanted since it could then be reduced by photography to the dimensions required for the publication. The eminent American artist James McNeill Whistler, who was known to dislike Beardsley’s work, was forced to change his opinion when shown a portfolio of The Rape of the Lock drawings by Beardsley himself, declaring that “Aubrey, I have made a very great mistake – you are a very great artist” whereupon Beardsley, overcome by the unexpected praise, burst into tears. Even Punch magazine, who had ridiculed the artist as ‘Aubrey Beardsley-Weirdsley’ because of his taste for the grotesque, came close to praise when it described The Rape of the Lock as “a dainty curiosity”.

Pope’s narrative poem was first published in 1712 and then later revised, expanded and reissued, appearing in its final form in 1717. The poem, a satire on contemporary society, centres on a ‘storm in a teacup’ incident of a theft of a lock of hair from the character of Belinda by her suitor, the Baron. The triviality of the incident is emphasised by Pope’s use of the formal and elaborate structure of a classical epic poem. The story was based on an actual incident recounted by Pope’s friend, John Caryll.

Plate: 'The Rape of the Lock' - the Baron can be seen on the left of the picture snipping off a lock of Belinda’s hair with a pair of scissors.

Plate: ‘The Rape of the Lock’ – the Baron can be seen on the left of the picture snipping off a lock of Belinda’s hair with a pair of scissors.

This book is one of a number of publications illustrated by Beardsley held in the University rare book collections. Other books include his illustrated edition of Ben Jonson’s Volpone (1898) and Under the Hill (1904), as well as a number of volumes of The Savoy and The Yellow Book. The University archives also hold correspondence and personal papers relating to Beardsley, which include family photographs. There are also a number of archive collections relating to other figures of the 1890s period, including Lord Alfred Douglas, W.B. Yeats, Oscar Wilde (in the Sherard papers), and the publishers John Lane and Charles Elkin Mathews.

Plate: ‘The Battle of the Beaux and Belles’ – Belinda confronts the Baron.

Plate: ‘The Battle of the Beaux and Belles’ – Belinda confronts the Baron.