Defoe's Crusoe and Johnson's Rasselas: Relationship between Text and Paratext

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  • Topic: Novel, Robinson Crusoe, Daniel Defoe
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  • Published : March 19, 2013
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TOPIC: Consider the relation between text and paratext (i.e. title page, editorial preface, etc.) in TWO OR MORE of the novels you have studied for this module. How does the presence of the paratext influence our reading of the novel? In this essay the different relations which exist between the text written by an author and the paratext will be analyzed. Special attention will be paid to the paratext belonging to Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe and Johnson’s The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abissinia. Secondary sources will be consulted in order to obtain important information about paratext, its definition and gain an insight into the uses of this paratext. First of all, we need a clear definition of this term in order to know what we are talking about. In Genette words, it can be said that: A literary work consists, entirely or essentially, of a text […]. But this text is rarely presented in an unadorned state, unreinforced and unaccompanied by a certain number of verbal or other productions, such as an author’s name, a title, a preface, illustrations. And although we do not always know whether these productions are to be regarded as belonging to the text, in any case they surround it and extend it, precisely in order to present it […]. These accompanying productions, which vary in extent and appearance, constitute what I have called elsewhere the work’s paratext (1997:1). Rarely a book can be found just with the main text written by the author. It is usually complemented and accompanied by the paratext, which is what allows the writer’s text to become a real book, one which can be presented to the public. Thanks to the paratext, the reader who faces a text does not start from nothing, but from a first hypothesis offered by the paratext which will go changing during the lecture. As we have seen in Genette’s description, the paratext can be composed of many elements. All these elements work together to produce an effect on the reader. Sometimes, the purpose of the paratext can be to reinforce a sense of verisimilitude or credibility of the text. It must be remembered that the novel had to open its way through other genres when it appeared in the 18th century. At first it came approaching or pretending to be other kind of text. In the case of Defoe’s Crusoe, the story tries to appear as a real text, an autobiography written by Robinson Crusoe himself. In order to increase this effect of realism, there are certain elements of the paratext which work in that way. First we can see a preface where the supposed Editor explains the real origin of the text, as can be seen when he explains that “the Editor believes the thing to be a just History of Fact; neither is there any appearance of Fiction in it” (2007:3). Second, a map can be seen showing the situation of Crusoe’s Island, an island which is not real, but which is inserted in a real map of the world. This again reinforces this sense of realism; although this map was not inserted in the book until the fourth edition, and this is because not all the paratext of a book is included since the first moment. Third, attention should be paid to the original title page which was included in the book and which is maintained in the Oxford’s 2007 edition. The title page or cover goes as follows: The life and Strange Surprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, of York, Mariner: Who lived Eight and Twenty Years, all alone in an un-inhabited Island on the Coast of America, near the Mouth of the Great River of Oroonoque; Having been cast of Shore by Shipwreck, where in all the Men perished but himself. With An account how he was at last as strangely delive’d by Pyrates. Written by Himself. (2007:1). When this page is read, it can be noticed that the name of the author is absent; it seems that the text has been written by Crusoe in an attempt to reinforce this realism which has been already mentioned. Perhaps, in an attempt to sell more copies, they tried to make it appear as an autobiography, but...
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