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  • Illustrating The Moonstone in America:Harper’s Weekly and Transatlantic Introspection
  • Molly Knox Leverenz (bio)

In 1868, the most immediately visible image in Harper’s Weekly, the “richly illustrated” second periodical project of Harper and Brothers, appeared in the banner at the top of the first page. Boldly announcing the newspaper as a “Journal of Civilization,” the title is surrounded by images that convey Harper’s Weekly’s vision of “civilization”: icons of art, history, geography, and astronomy—markers of civilization—bracket the nameplate, and, in the center, a hand from the heavens passes down a torch. This central image implies two possible conceptions of the newspaper; Harper’s Weekly might function either as the hand passing forth the light of civilization or as the determiner and architect of civilization itself—the arbiter creating (as opposed to merely communicating) the icons that delineate the boundaries of both civilization and Harper’s Weekly. In the second half of the nineteenth century, innovations in communication and transportation made cultural, physical, and textual exchanges faster, easier, and more common. The question of how civilization is developed, shared, and explored was central as America and Harper’s Weekly participated more fully in global markets and discourses following the Civil War. During this period of what Alfred E. Eckes Jr. and Thomas W. Zeiler have termed “informal imperialism,” in which America started looking to become a leader in international trade, Harper’s Weekly participated in an already-existent, vibrant transatlantic discourse through a variety of means, including reports on international events, illustrations of international places and persons, and reprinting international texts, such as Wilkie Collins’s The Moonstone.1

Reprinting, of course, was a common practice on both sides of the Atlantic in the nineteenth century, and Harper and Brothers had a long history of printing English authors’ work (both with payment and without) in periodical and volume form decades before Harper’s Weekly paid Wilkie Collins £750 for [End Page 21] The Moonstone in 1868.2 While the printing of a British novel in an American periodical may not be remarkable in and of itself, Harper’s Weekly’s publication of The Moonstone informs uniquely our understanding of transatlantic print culture, exchanges, and discourse on a variety of levels. Collins himself was a significant transatlantic figure, gaining wide popularity in both England and the United States; before The Moonstone, Harper’s Weekly had already published The Woman in White (1859–60) and No Name (1862–63).3 As I will discuss in more detail later, the novel’s plot and characterization revolve around international exchanges of wealth, power, and ideas. Furthermore, Collins’s letters to Harper and Brothers prior to and during the printing of The Moonstone reveal the transatlantic collaboration at the heart of the American publication of his work. In these letters, Collins not only negotiates his payment and ensures an American audience for his novel; he also takes pains to send portions of the manuscript and descriptions of the subjects of his story to Harper and Brothers in advance of publication so that Harper’s Weekly’s illustrators will have time to create their signature illustrations.4

The illustrations that Harper’s Weekly created for and printed with Collins’s novel serve as a particularly rich point of entry into the magazine’s participation in transatlantic culture and discourse. The idea that The Moonstone, as it was read in Harper’s Weekly, is a purely English text because it has an English author is disrupted by its American illustrations. Additionally, Mary Elizabeth Leighton and Lisa Surridge argue that the illustrations have a significant impact on the meaning of the novel; they assert that the illustrations create an altogether different text than the English version that was printed simultaneously, without illustrations, in Charles Dickens’s All the Year Round.5 Recent transatlantic scholarship suggests that we should look not only to how these illustrations affect Collins’s novel, but also to how, as distinctly American additions to Collins’s original text, they help to integrate an English novel into an American periodical, creating a hybrid, transatlantic text. Transatlantic scholars argue that, because of the pervasiveness of transatlantic exchange in the nineteenth-century...


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pp. 21-44
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