Lotus-Eating #4: Format

Text + Image

Lotus-Eating formats images and text together in a way that I haven’t seen in any other book from this period. The images reflect the text, and the text is arranged around the images.


Lotus-Eating, Chapter 1

I initially thought the illustrations were woodcuts because of this neat integration, but after our discussion in class last week, I thought they might be intaglio images because of the high level of detail. After looking back at the Gaskell, I realized my first instinct was correct. As Gaskell notes, “woodcuts never quite disappeared, and they returned to favour in the delicate form called ‘wood-engraving’ at the end of the hand-press period” (Gaskell 154). The images appear to be wood-engravings–they combine the easier printability of the standard woodcut with the higher level of detail of the copperplate engraving. (Since we didn’t really discuss them in class, seeing the wood-engravings in this book helped me identify them during this unit of book sleuthing!)

Illustrator + Ephemera

Since the title page only identifies the illustrator (in a barely legible gothic font) as Kensett, I did some more research. In one of the only scholarly articles I found about Lotus-Eating, Melissa Geisler Trafton confirms that Kensett is, as I suspected, artist John Frederick Kensett (Trafton 104). Trafton suggests that Kensett’s experience as an engraver of bank-notes and maps “provided him with a greater sensitivity to page design and an awareness of the possibilities of technical innovation” (114), allowing him to create his distinctive wood-engravings.

Much of Trafton’s article is based around Kensett’s preparatory sketches for the wood-engravings. She says that the engravings have received so little scholarly attention because no one knew about the drawings, which “reveal not only another facet of Kensett’s oeuvre but also the various stages in making and designing a book in mid-nineteenth-century America” (104). These drawings are a prime example of the ephemera that Andrews talks about in “The Importance of Ephemera.” He says that “even for the work of well-known illustrators and artists, much of the ephemeral evidence has been neglected and lost. Design decisions, demonstrated through these artifacts, could have a major effect on the nature and success of a book” (Andrews 440). Trafton believes that these drawings can help her understand both Kensett’s individual work and the design decisions of the book as a whole.


Kensett’s preparatory drawings (Trafton 106)

While I see how the drawings can contribute to a discussion of Lotus-Eating, I don’t agree with Trafton’s claim that they are necessary for understanding Kensett’s work; that kind of idea is too intentionalistic for my liking. Ephemera may be important, but the book as a standalone object is important to me as well.

Along those lines, I am interested in the advertisements present in the back of the book. Andrews argues that from printers’ and publishers’ ephemera, “one can piece together the story of the firm and the stories of the books produced” (439). Lotus-Eating contains five ads that take up a total of ten pages, mostly for other books published by Harper & Brothers. My favorite by far is the ad for Nile Notes, or a Howadji, also by Curtis. Just like Lotus-Eating, it uses some funky typefaces! What I gather from the book in conjunction with the advertisements is that Harper & Brothers as a publishing company is interested in cosmopolitan worldliness — as exemplified by their travel books, history books, and world literature books — but also spiritual anti-worldliness, as exemplified by their religious books.

Collation + Cetology

Using the Gaskell reading for this week, I tried to collate the book. The sequence is: B1, B2, B3, B4, B*1, B*2, B*3, B*4, B*5, B*6, B*7, B*8. I don’t quite know what to make of that; it’s almost as though it’s a mix of the quarto and octavo formats. This whale may be too oddly-shaped to fit into Melville’s cetology.


I learned that the letters that make up Lotus-Eating were not from Curtis to Charles A. Dana in private, as I had originally thought, but to his newspaper as a public column (Trafton 105).

Works Cited

Andrews, Martin. “The Importance of Ephemera.” A Companion to the History of the Book, edited by Simon Eliot and Jonathan Rose, Blackwell Publishing, 2007, pp. 434-450.

Gaskell, Philip. A New Introduction to Bibliography. Oxford University Press, 2015.

Trafton, Melissa Geisler. “‘It is a Joint Venture’: John Frederick Kensett’s Images for Lotus-Eating.” American Art, vol. 25, no. 2, 2011, pp. 104-119.

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