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Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter 2018

Making an Entrance, Illustrating a Life: Remediating Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography in Nineteenth-Century America

From the book Intermediality, Life Writing, and American Studies


As one of the most frequently reprinted and often lavishly illustrated life stories of the nineteenth century, Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography provides an exemplary case study for considering intermediality and life writing within the American context. Although it is one of the most extensively discussed texts in the American canon, little has been said about the hundreds of illustrations that accompanied Franklin’s Autobiography throughout the nineteenth century. Critical discussion of Franklin’s relationship to visual culture invariably returns to either the pictorial representations that Franklin made or the painted portraits in which he appeared. This essay will be the first diachronic analysis of the intermedial operations of illustrations depicting Franklin within the context of mass visual culture in the United States. Drawing upon the theories of the image articulated by W. J. T. Mitchell and Jacques Rancière, this essay analyzes the image/text operations in three nineteenth-century children’s editions of Franklin’s Autobiography. The arc of these three case studies reflects a historical transformation in how the visibility of Franklin’s text was imagined to operate, from the active imagination of individual readerly visualization to the passive mass consumption of optical media.

© 2018 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Munich/Boston
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