Tag Archives: children’s literature

Guest post: Deciphering the indecipherable in the Janet Powney Collection

This guest post comes from Dr Lauren O’Hagan, sociolinguistic researcher of Edwardian material culture and class conflict.


As a scholar of book inscriptions, what really frustrates me is when a mark of ownership has been thoughtlessly removed from a book. Often, all that is left is a jagged tear line acting as evidence of the bookplate or prize sticker that once was affixed to the endpapers. This careless act of erasure silences voices of past generations and with them, a wide range of social networks, thoughts and feelings that offer new perspectives on life in a particular time period and sociocultural context.

Yet what angers me even more is when an inscription is left in the book but has been scribbled through, almost taunting the reader with its partially obscured information. This is often the work of a later owner who deliberately seeks to stake their own claim to the book, giving no thought for people like me who spend their days researching them! Nonetheless, with a little time and patience, the indecipherable can become decipherable, as I found out last week when working on the Janet Powney Collection.

Towards the end of the day, I picked up a beautiful 1873 edition of Aesop’s Fables. It was custom-bound in dark green full calf leather boards with raised bands on its spine and embossed with a gilt armorial typical of non-state school prize books in Victorian and Edwardian Britain. The armorial on the book’s cover was framed by the abbreviation ‘SCHOL: DIG: SOC: BRAS’ and ‘JACOBO HICKSON FUND’ with the date ‘A.D. MDCLXXXVII’ underneath.

Unlike the working-class prize books of board schools, which were bound and decorated in-house by publishers, prize books for middle- and upper-class children typically arrived at a local bindery unbound and were subsequently custom-bound according to each school’s requirements. In contrast to working-class prize books, far greater attention was also paid to their internal properties. As can be seen in this copy of Aesop’s Fables, the paper is of a higher quality and endpapers are marbled. As grammar and boarding schools considered it important to uphold tradition, it was no coincidence that books such as this one were made to resemble the fine bindings of the eighteenth century.

 

 

Turning to the front endpapers to consult the prize sticker and discover which school awarded the book, I was horrified to find that it had been completely defaced. An attempt had been made to remove the sticker and when the resistant glue had put up a fight, the previous owner had resorted to scribbling through all the information in black ink, totally obscuring the writing below. I had a challenge on my hands that I was determined to overcome!

Using my rudimentary Latin knowledge, I was able to make an educated guess that the abbreviated ‘SCHOL’ was school (schola), while the ‘SOC’ was society or association (societatus). The other two abbreviations posed more of a problem. Although the full name of the awarding institution was printed on the prize sticker, the act of vandalism had made the words almost indistinguishable. Using a magnifying glass, I was able to identify ‘DIG’ as ‘dignif[?]’, which was enough information to help me roughly translate the word as ‘dignified’ or ‘worshipful’. The last word was more difficult. It looked like it read ‘Brasiatorium’. However, the only translation of this word that could be found in Latin dictionaries was ‘brewery’ or ‘malthouse’.  Curioser and curioser…

After feeding various combinations of words into Google, I came across the Worshipful Company of Brewers (WCB). The WCB is one of the oldest Livery Companies of the City of London and received its first charter from King Henry VI in 1438. Could this be our ‘societatus’ and if so, what did the school part mean?

The next clue I decided to chase was the ‘Jacobo Hickson’ behind the fund that was presumably used to purchase the book and award it to its recipient. Throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, it was not uncommon for rich entrepreneurs to leave money in their will to fund books for children. Could Jacobo Hickson be one of them?

After a number of unsuccessful searches for Jacob Hickson, rare books cataloguer Christine Megowan had the clever idea of translating ‘Jacobo’ into its English equivalent: ‘James’. Immediately, this brought up a wide range of results, all of which confirmed that James Hickson was indeed a brewer. Born in 1607 in Melton Mowbray, Hickson moved to London as a young man, became a brewer and was later elected an alderman of the City of London. He was one of the three main benefactors of the WCB, along with Richard Platt and Dame Alice Owen.

Hickson used his fortune to carry out philanthropic work. He built and endowed almhouses in South Mymms and bequeathed money in his will to Dame Alice Owen’s School in Potters Bar and Aldenham School in Elstree. Both schools still exist and to this day, they receive Beer Money, in the form of a commemorative coin, from the Master of the WCB. Was it possible then that the ‘schola’ mentioned in the prize sticker was either Dame Alice Owen’s or Aldenham?

Before investigating this thread further, I wanted to get to the bottom of the coat of arms. It clearly did not match that of the WCB (three kilderkins between three pairs of barley garbs). Could it belong to Hickson? Avidly flicking through an online version of an old heraldic dictionary for the surname Hickson, I was thrilled to find that the Hickson coat of arms was described as “two eagles’ legs, erased à la quize, sa., in saltire sable, the dexter surmounted of the sinister, or and sable” or in plain English, two eagles’ legs, upper-part shown only, crossed over, right on top of left, gold and black. Bingo!

As if all of this information was not enough to prove that the book was given by the WCB using money allocated in the bequest of James Hickson, a name at the bottom of the prize sticker confirmed this. Underneath the scribble, the name E.N. Buxton could be roughly made out with the title ‘Soc Bras [?]’ next to it. Consulting the records of the WCB, I found that an Edward North Buxton was the Master at the time that this book was awarded. Edward North Buxton (1840-1924) was a conservationist and Liberal Party politician. He was educated at Trinity College, Cambridge and became a partner in the London brewing firm of Truman, Hanbury, & Co. It was through his work with this brewery that he obtained the position of Master of the WCB in 1875.

To determine once and for all the school with which the WCB was linked, I turned to the other name underneath the scribble at the bottom of the prize sticker: Herbert Williams, schola magister (school master). Scanning through census records, I found that Herbert Williams (1826-1903) was a Church of England clergyman who went on to become the “headmaster of a brewer’s company school” in 1871. Aldenham School being for boys and Dame Alice Owen’s School being for girls, I was able to state with confidence that Aesop’s Fables was awarded to a pupil of Aldenham School by its headteacher, Herbert Williams. Aldenham School was founded in 1597 by Richard Platt, Master of the WBC. The WBC were its appointed governors and remain its trustees today.

The final piece in the puzzle was the pupil himself: R.W. Russell. This inscription was the perfect example of yet another pet peeve of mine – inscribers who only use initials for first names! This can make it incredibly challenging to track down the person. After several hours of trawling through census forms and consulting school records, I found a Robert William Russell who was born in St Alban’s, Hertfordshire and attended Aldenham School from 1871-1877. He then went on to study at Oxford University. Unfortunately, no census records have been found for Russell after this date, which may suggest that he moved abroad.

—–

Despite the numerous challenges posed by inscriptions such as these, with a bit of perseverance, it is possible to decipher them. Thanks to a combination of digital and traditional methods, I have been able to unlock the history of the WCB, one of its benefactors (Jacob Hickson), masters (E.N. Buxton), brewer’s school (Aldenham School) and pupils (Robert William Russell).

How, after Russell’s death in 1934, the book passed to a female grocer’s assistant in Penarth, Wales – Dorothy Davies of 16 Hastings Avenue (according to the defaced inscription at the top of the prize sticker) – is perhaps a mystery worth unravelling some other day…

Advertisements

Guest Post: Lest We Forget: In Search of the Forgotten Voices of World War One

Yet another fascinating post from recent PhD graduate Lauren O’Hagan on her poignant discoveries in the Janet Powney Collection of Children’s Literature.

Thursdays have become my new favourite day of the week. Why? Because I get to spend the day in Special Collections and help catalogue the Janet Powney Collection – the fantastic assortment of Victorian and Edwardian children’s literature. Every week, the Collection brings a new surprise or delight. In recent weeks, I have come across such unique treasures as a copy of What Katy Did Next mysteriously inscribed two years before its actual publication date and a beautiful 1871 edition of Hetty’s Resolve hand-bound and gilded by a devoted husband to his wife. I may have also accidentally uncovered a nineteenth-century insurance scam involving the arson of a pub (but more about that another time!). But something that has remained a bittersweet constant over the past few months has been the fact that, hidden in most of these books, are some of the forgotten voices of World War One.

John's adventures

John’s Adventures by Thomas Miller, London, c. 1897. Prize awarded to young Albert Stopher.

The Swan's Egg

The Swan’s Egg by S. C. Hall, London, c. 1895. Awarded to a very young George Stopher in 1905.

Behind the beautiful pictorial covers of these treasured Sunday school prize books lie the tragic tales of many of the working-class men who marched off to war to fight the Germans just a few years later. Beguiled by the notion of adventure or the ‘Great Game’, as Kipling put it, many would never return. I would like to use the blog space this week to share the story of two incredible brothers. In doing so, I hope to show how book inscriptions may offer a new way to explore and explain the War, keeping alive the stories of soldiers for future generations now that the conflict only exists outside of human memory.

George Stopher and Albert Stopher
When the Stopher brothers, George and Albert, received The Swan’s Egg and John’s Adventure from St John’s Church of England Sunday School for attendance, good conduct and progress in 1905, little did they know that some years later, they would be dressed in military uniforms and sent off to battle in France.

George and Albert came from a working-class family in Saxmundham, Suffolk. Born just one year apart in 1896 and 1897, respectively, the boys grew up at White House Farm Cottages, with their parents, Herbert (a farm labourer) and Lydia, and six other siblings.

When George and Albert left school, they quickly found work as gardeners. However, the job was precarious and poorly paid. As a result, both boys enlisted quickly in the Suffolk Regiment of the army upon the outbreak of World War One in 1914. George served in the 8th Battalion and Albert in the 11th Battalion. After completing training in Ripon, Yorkshire and Salisbury Plain, George landed in France in July 1915, while Albert arrived in January 1916 – both ready for action on the Western Front. Shortly after his arrival, George became wounded and spent some weeks recuperating in hospital before returning to action.

George Stopher inscription

Inscription recording the award of The Swan’s Egg to George in 1905.

During their time in France, George and Albert regularly corresponded with their families and sweethearts. There is a wonderful surviving archive of their letters hosted at Suffolk Record Office in Ipswich. The letters vividly describe their experiences of war. In August 1916, George was hospitalised once again for shellshock. A surviving letter to his mother poignantly states that sending him back to the front line would be like “sending a rat to catch a dog.” It is surprising that it got past the censor.

On 9th April 1917, the Battalions began the Arras offensive, advancing slowly to attack German defences near the city of Arras. The next day, both George and Albert took place in the First Battle of the Scarpe, which involved a series of attacks that pushed the Germans back north and south of the Scarpe river. Tragically, Albert was shot by an enemy and died immediately. He was just 19 years old. His body was never recovered. Today, he is remembered on the Arras Memorial at the Faubourg d’Amiens Cemetery.

George continued on in what must have been harrowing circumstances. He successfully took part in the Second Battle of the Scarpe (April 1917), helping to capture part of the Hindenburg position and push the Germans to the Drocourt-Quéant line south of the River Scarpe. However, during the Third Battle of the Scarpe (May 1917), which involved a general offensive by all three armies astride the Scarpe to secure better defensive positions, he was badly wounded. George held out for nine days in a field hospital before succumbing to his wounds and dying on May 19th 1917 at 21 years old. He was buried in the Warlincourt Halte British Cemetery at Saulty.

Tragically, Herbert and Lydia Stopher had to deal with the loss of two sons, just over one month apart from each other.

Today, George and Albert’s medals are on show at the Suffolk Regiment Museum. Their names are also commemorated on a War Memorial in Saxmundham Parish Church. In recent years, Rachel Duffett, a lecturer at the University of Essex and a member of the Everyday Lives in War Centre, has painstakingly attempted to retell their stories using the letters held at Suffolk Record Office. She plans to write a book on the subject and work with local seamstresses to recreate some of the local landscapes where the Stopher brothers grew up.

Albert Stopher inscription

Inscription recording the award of John’s Adventures to Albert in 1905.

With its unique range of nineteenth- and early twentieth-century prize books, I already found the Janet Powney Collection to be exceptional. Now knowing some of the stories that are lingering like shadows between the colourful covers of these volumes, I feel even more appreciation for the Collection. While buildings no longer stand, communities have passed on and grass on the bloody battlefields grows once more, these books keep alive the memories of many of the brave men and women who gave their Today for our Tomorrow. They stand as a testimony of the unsettling victory of material objects over the temporality of the people that once owned them and the places in which they formerly dwelled.

“The living owe it to those who no longer can speak to tell their story for them.”

Guest Post: The Inscriptions of Herbert Scylla Mallalieu

Today’s guest post comes from Lauren O’Hagan, who has been diligently cataloguing the Janet Powney Collection of Children’s Literature.

When asked why I have dedicated the last ten years of my life to investigating book inscriptions, I always answer with the same response. No, it is not because I am an admirer of old handwriting (although I am!) or even that I am nosy (well, maybe there is an element of that!); rather, it is I am fascinated by the fact that they act as thousands of threads which, together, weave the tapestries of life. Book inscriptions have an ability to stop time, to bring an emotional immediacy to the people who once walked this earth, to transform the book from a commercial object into a personalised item that forms the life soul of families…

Those of you who have been following my guest blog posts will know that for the past four years, I have been researching and helping to catalogue the Janet Powney Collection – a wonderful assortment of Victorian and Edwardian children’s books in Cardiff University’s Special Collections. While each book stands out for its beautiful covers and stunning illustrations, it is the inscriptions inside that most intrigue me. And last Thursday, I came across a real gem.

Cover

Publisher’s binding of The Poetical Works of Mrs Felicia Hemans.

After a long session of cataloguing, I picked up the final book of the day: an 1894 edition of The Poetical Works of Mrs Felicia Hemans. As I turned to the front endpapers, I came across a lovely inscription in black ink stating, “Herbert Mallalieu A birthday gift from his loving sister Pollie.” “September 1896” had been added in pencil below. The unusual surname immediately struck me. That would surely be easy to track down in census records! And indeed, it was! But what I didn’t expect was the sheer amount of ‘hidden history’ that it would unlock about Herbert and his family.

Herbert Scylla Mallalieu was born in 1879 in Coventry, England. He was the son of William Mallalieu (1845-1927) and Margaret Smith (1846-1919). Herbert had two older brothers, George (1873-1948) and William (1884-1937), and a younger sister Pollie (née Mary, 1880-1944). Herbert came from a family of professional actors and comedians. His parents were famous stars of the Victorian music hall. They also brought up their younger children to perform with them. For a reason that is sadly now lost to time, Herbert was the only member of his family not to join them on the stage. Census records show that he was not “deaf, dumb, blind, lunatic, imbecile or idiot,” so we can only assume that it was a personal choice on his part.

Inscription1

Mallalieu’s ownership inscription on the front fly-leaf.

This meant that Herbert spent most of his childhood on his own lodging throughout the UK with a wide range of strangers, while the rest of his family constantly moved around and performed. The 1891 census records him as living with the Wall family in Wells, Somerset and attending the local cathedral school. It was during his time in Wells on the occasion of his 17th birthday that he received The Poetical Works of Mrs Felicia Hemans from his sister Pollie. Meanwhile, his family were based in Bath where they regularly took the stage at the Theatre Royal. Reviews in the Western Daily Press praise the Mallalieus’ talent, particularly young Pollie who stood out as a child star.

Pollie caught the eye of Lewis Carroll after seeing her perform in The Silver King in Brighton in October 1891. From this date on, he struck up a regular correspondence with Pollie’s parents. A surviving letter dated June 22nd 1892 that recently sold at auction asks Pollie’s mother whether he can take Pollie to the New Gallery, luncheon at a friend’s house and German Reed’s entertainment. We know from Carroll’s diary records that he did indeed take Pollie out and that he thought she was “a lovable child, ladylike and speaking good English.” Pollie also stayed at Carroll’s house in Eastbourne on several occasions and he even paid for a custom-made pair of boots for her.

By the time of the 1901 census, William Mallalieu had set up his own acting company in Leicester. The company was incredibly successful and brought much fame and fortune to the family. The company’s location may explain why Herbert is also based in Leicester on the 1901 census, although he is living alone in a boarding house run by Elizabeth Fox and working as a “land agent clerk.” Herbert’s brother George, on the other hand, known by the stage name Aubrey Mallalieu, had now found success on the stage in Australia and New Zealand. He would later go on to appear in hundreds of films throughout the 1930s usually as a respectable elderly gentleman of the establishment. He was described as having a “Dickensian appearance” with combed-over white hair and spectacles. Herbert’s other brother, William, left acting in 1901 and joined the Cheshire Regiment. He saw active service in the Anglo-Boer War and the First World War.

While Herbert’s parents and sister are recorded as living in Heston, London on the 1911 census, Herbert cannot be found with them. An inspection of emigration records shows that he moved to New York in the early 1900s for business purposes before returning to the UK where he married Elsie Blythe, a dairy maid, in 1913. The newly-weds then moved back to the USA, this time to Orange, New Jersey, where she gave birth to a son, Herbert Blythe Mallalieu (1914-1988). Herbert Blythe Mallalieu went on to serve in the Second World War and gained renown as a war poet. Julian Symons described him as “one of the best known of the younger British poets before the Second World War.” He published several poetry collections in his lifetime, including Letter in Wartime (1940) and On the Berlin Lakes (1988).

Inscription2

A second enigmatic inscription, dated 33 years after the first.

Unfortunately, Herbert and Edith’s marriage did not work out. Just a few years later, Herbert returned to the UK with his son and filed for a divorce. In 1923, he got remarried to Edith F. Curteis, a grocer’s cashier. On July 5th 1929, Edith gave birth to a little girl, Paula. Sadly, Paula was stillborn. In a remarkable yet sad twist of fate, the event is recorded in Herbert’s poetry volume. As I flicked through the pages, I was astounded to come across an inscription tucked away on the flyleaf clearly added by Herbert 33 years on from his sister’s original message: “He never smiled again pg. 128 July v/29.” Turning avidly to page 128, I discovered that it was a direct quote from a poem in the collection about King Henry I’s grief over his son William’s death. Clearly, Herbert had remembered the quote and drew parallels with his own tragic situation. Feeling so upset about the premature death of his only daughter, he recorded the date in his poetry book alongside this quote. The book he had kept since he was given it as a young boy by his estranged younger sister had now become embedded with a new inscription that marked this important event in Herbert’s life.

Herbert and Edith never had any further children. They lived a quiet life together in Croydon, Surrey until his death in 1957. Herbert outlived all of his other family members.

——

Behind the two seemingly insignificant inscriptions in The Poetical Works of Mrs Felicia Hemans lies the untold story of Herbert Mallalieu and his family. In just a few written words, we can learn so much about his life, his loves, his losses. It is stories like this that make me so thankful for the work I do and the opportunity I have to keep these memories alive for future generations.

Guest post: Daisy Ashford’s The Young Visiters: A Forgotten Bestseller

In today’s guest post, recent PhD graduate Lauren O’Hagan shares a recent discovery from the Janet Powney Collection of Children’s Literature.

For the past month, I have been helping to catalogue the Janet Powney Collection in Cardiff University’s Special Collections and Archives. Having worked extensively with the collection as part of my PhD research, I was very excited to have the opportunity to reacquaint myself with the wonderful Victorian and Edwardian children’s books that it comprises. As I sifted through the familiar colourful volumes with their decorative lettering and pictorial cloth covers, enjoying the pleasant scent unique to old books, I felt like I was reencountering old friends. That was until I came across an intruder, a strange trespasser that seemed out of place in a collection largely made up of religious novels that were given as prize books to the working-class children of nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Britain.

The book stood at just 7” in height. It boasted quarter black cloth covers with marbled paper on its boards and a printed spine label: all characteristics of early publisher’s bindings (1820s-1840s) or temporary bindings. Inside, the text was printed on heavy wove paper with deckle edges, suggesting that the volume was, indeed, a product of the early nineteenth century. However, to my surprise, the front of the book clearly stated “Reset, 111th thousand Nov. 1919” meaning that 111,000 copies had been printed by November 1919. How could this be?

YV_Cover&Edges

The binding and paper are in a style reminiscent of early 19th century books.

With the appearance of machine-made paper in the nineteenth century, the deckle edge (which is only found on handmade paper) gradually came to be seen as a status symbol. This tradition carried forward into the twentieth century when many presses advertised two versions of the same book: one with smooth trimmed edges and a higher-priced deckle version. Could this desire for prestige explain the unusual pages of the book? Perhaps so.

YV_inscription

The only clue to the book’s provenance is this cryptic inscription.

But what about the binding itself? Now able to discount the fact that the book was an early publisher’s binding, the question arose that if the book was, indeed, a temporary binding, why did its owner never get it rebound? The longevity of temporary bindings was certainly underestimated, as attested by the survival of so many books with temporary bindings in special collections. Could the high quality of the temporary binding expound why the owner chose to keep it that way? Or perhaps they lacked the money to take the book to a binder and have it bound to match their own personal library. Unfortunately, the cryptic inscription on its front free endpaper – ‘Nora Xmas 1919 from “46”‘ – meant that no supporting information from census records about the socioeconomic status of the giver or recipient could be used to support this theory.

YV_dustjacket

Illustrated dust jacket, from a copy for sale by James Cummins Booksellers.

It was not until I carried out further research on book history and antiquarian booksellers’ websites that I was able to solve this conundrum. These websites revealed that the volume was, in fact, originally issued with a dustjacket bearing a decorative illustration in grey and red. The copy in Special Collections clearly lacks this dustjacket, which offers some suggestion as to why the covers beneath are so uncharacteristically plain in appearance. Priced at 3 shillings and 6 pence (roughly £7.64), the book sat at the lower end of the market. Therefore, it is possible that all its ‘antiquarian’ features served to attract potential buyers who viewed the book in shops by making it look more valuable than it actually was.

Having resolved the mystery of the book’s uncharacteristic appearance, its frontispiece presented me with a new puzzle. It showed a photograph of a little girl with the caption ‘the author’. “The author?” I thought to myself. “How can that be?” Yet, as I dug into the story behind the book, it became apparent that yes indeed, the author was just a little girl: Daisy Ashford wrote The Young Visiters, or Mister Salteena’s Plan when she was just nine years old.

YV_frontispiece

The author was just nine years old when she wrote The Young Visiters.

The Young Visiters is a society novel that parodies upper-class society in late Victorian England. It tells the story of Alfred Salteena, “an elderly man of 42”, who strives to become a gentleman in order to win the love of Ethel Monticue. Despite his best efforts, Ethel ends up marrying Bernard Clark, a real gentleman, thus breaking Alfred’s heart.

YV_manuscript

A facsimile of the original manuscript.

The novel was written by nine-year-old Ashford in 1890 in a school exercise book. The book lay forgotten in a drawer for many years until 1917 when Ashford rediscovered it and lent it to her friend, Margaret Mackenzie, who was recovering from an illness. Mackenzie passed on the book to Frank Swinnerton who worked as a reader for the publishing house Chatto and Windus. Swinnerton was so enthusiastic about the book’s raw innocence and naiveté that the publishing house immediately agreed to publish it almost exactly as it had been written. After hearing about this child prodigy, J.M. Barrie put himself forward to write the book’s preface.

In early 1919, The Young Visiters was released, complete with its childish spelling mistakes, grammatical errors, single-paragraph chapters and, of course, a preface by the distinguished J.M. Barrie. All of these factors contributed to the book’s massive success. In no time at all, it became a bestseller, reprinted eighteen times in its first year alone. The New York Times described it as “one of the most humorous books in literature.”

YV_impressions

The novel was so successful that it was reprinted more than sixteen times and sold more than 111,000 copies in its first year.

In 1920, a stage play of the novel was written by Mrs George Norman and Margaret Mackenzie and first performed in London before transferring to New York shortly after. The play was praised strongly by critics, with Alexander Woolcott of The New York Times stating that “probably no novel was ever so reverently dramatized since the world began.” For some time, the book’s title even became a witty way in which to criticise other works of a naïve style. Edmund Wilson most famously referred to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s This Side of Paradise as “a classic in a class with The Young Visiters” in a bid to make fun of his childish writing style.

Over time, the book faded in popularity. This was largely due to a rumour that circulated, which claimed that it was an elaborate literary hoax and that J.M. Barrie himself was the real author. During the late 1960s, the book was rediscovered and a musical was produced by Michael Ashton and Ian Kellam. It resurfaced again in 1984 when a feature-length film starring Tracey Ullman and John Standing was released. In 2003, a television film version of the book starring Jim Broadbent, Lyndsey Marshal and Hugh Laurie was made by the BBC. However, The Young Visiters still remains widely unknown to even the most avid readers.

Shortly after the publication of The Young Visiters in 1919, a volume including some of Ashford’s other writings was released, the last of which, The Hangman’s Daughter, was written when she was fourteen. Ashford produced no other work in her lifetime. Instead, she led a quiet life in Reepham where she ran the King’s Arm Hotel with her husband James Devlin. Much speculation has taken place regarding why Ashford stopped writing. The most likely answer has been that she simply grew up.

Now largely forgotten, The Young Visiters was a record-breaking novel in its day, selling just as many copies as the better known My Man Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse and The Moon and Sixpence by W. Somerset Maugham, also released in the same year. Behind those unassuming covers of the little volume held in Special Collections lies a tale of genius and marvel, surprise and wonder, innocence and amusement. It just goes to show: you can never judge a book by its cover.

Guest post: Exploring historical gender inequality in prize and gift books

This guest post comes from Lauren O’Hagan, PhD candidate in the School of English, Communication and Philosophy, who is researching early 20th century book inscriptions and reading practices in Great Britain.


The World’s Your Oyster… Unless You’re a Girl:
Exploring Historical Gender Inequality in Prize and Gift Books

From the #metoo campaign to the gender pay gap, in recent months, the topic of gender inequality has seldom been out of the headlines. Since the early twentieth century, bolstered by the founding of the Women’s Social and Political Union, women in Britain have been fighting for equal rights and opportunities. While images of imprisoned suffragettes on hunger strike or members of the Women’s Liberation Movement burning bras are ingrained in our minds as early examples of the struggle against gender inequality, there is one form of historical discrimination that remains largely forgotten, despite the fact that it is still prevalent in our society today: the giving of books as gifts and prizes. The full extent of this highly gendered practice only became apparent to me through a delve into the Janet Powney Collection at Special Collections and Archives.

The Janet Powney Collection is made up of some eight-hundred children’s books, largely dating from the late-Victorian and Edwardian era. These books were predominantly given as gifts or awarded as prizes to children and, as such, most bear an inscription on their front endpaper.

The years 1880 to 1915 are generally considered to mark a key period in the development of a distinctive girls’ and boys’ culture in Britain. Nothing illustrated this distinction more obviously than books. As book production grew and new designs and modes of distribution developed, publishers began to recognise the commercial potential of identifying specialist readerships, particularly girls and boys. Taking advantage of the emerging ‘vanity trade’ in which buyers were strongly influenced by a book’s outer appearance over its internal content, publishers produced books whose images, typography and colours were heavily influenced by gender.

More than one hundred years later, these same marketing strategies can be observed in children’s books today, as seen in the photo below from Waterstones taken by the #LetToysBeToys campaign group.

Books are, of course, not the only objects to have become genderised. From a young age, advertisements (and indeed many parents) are still largely responsible for teaching children that dolls are for girls and cars are for boys. The breadth of this issue and the various debates it provokes have most recently been demonstrated by John Lewis’s decision to introduce gender neutral clothing lines for children. While many people praised the progressive move of John Lewis, arguing that “you don’t look at food and say it’s going to be eaten by a man or a woman, so why should it be any different for clothes?” others criticised the retailer for “bowing down to political correctness.” The mixed responses that this topic has generated indicates that, now more than ever, it is necessary to return to the past in a bid to improve the future.

Books as Gifts

What it meant to be a girl and a boy in Victorian and Edwardian Britain can be clearly seen through the inscriptions made in gift books within the Janet Powney Collection.

For girls, religious fiction was most frequently gifted, primarily by their mothers, grandparents and friends. Religious fiction emphasised traditional female qualities of sacrifice and obedience and encouraged girls to uphold the conventional role that had been pre-established for them in society: that of being a wife and a mother. In contrast, boys were chiefly given adventure fiction by their mothers, grandparents and friends. Adventure fiction promoted cultural expectations of masculinity, and focused heavily on the notions of imperialism, heroism and comradeship. For both boys and girls, it was the mother who inscribed the book; the father’s name was conspicuously absent. The Victorian scholar, Kate Flint, claims that the mother was generally considered the most appropriate person to choose a book for her children – a belief that still prevails today (please click through to request access to the article from the author).

The fact that the same split into religious fiction for girls and adventure fiction for boys can also be observed when friends gave each other books as presents indicates that the purchaser of the gift was typically an adult, i.e. the child’s parent, and so, it was their views on gender appropriacy that were given overriding priority. The book historian, Jonathan Rose, claims that girls’ books only sold well because they were chosen as presents by adults, and, in fact, many Victorian and Edwardian girls preferred adventure fiction and often read their brothers’ copies surreptitiously. Adventure fiction was discouraged for girls, as it was deemed harmful to their ‘fragile’ minds and risked diminishing their value as females.

Despite these gender stereotypes that were largely influenced by the giver’s concept of what was suitable for the receiver, the collection has one notable exception: in all examples of Aunts giving books to Nieces, the books belong to the adventure fiction genre. While this suggests that the modern-day concept of the ‘cool aunt’, in fact, has its origins in the late-nineteenth century, this theory falls apart slightly when noting that nephews continued to receive adventure fiction, with no examples of religious fiction given. This gives weight to the widely asserted claim by the scholar, Barry Thorne, that it is more acceptable for girls to associate with masculinity than boys with the lesser valued and ‘contaminating’ femininity.

Many of the above points are still relevant in today’s society. While religious fiction has largely disappeared from bookshops with the increase in secularisation, it has come to be replaced by the romance genre – perhaps a reflection of the growing acceptance of girls’ sexuality, yet still stereotypical in its own way. Boys’ fiction, on the other hand, continues to be dominated by adventure and fantasy novels. Despite the fact that a recent survey demonstrates that comedy is now the favourite genre of most boys and girls in the UK, with David Walliams and Jeff Kinney being cited as the favourite authors of both genders, when it comes to gift-giving, many family members and friends still resort to stereotypical genres and authors. Equally, while it is now widely acceptable for girls to receive Harry Potter or Hunger Games books as gifts, for example, very few boys are the recipients of books by Jacqueline Wilson or Jill Murphy. Although the Representation Project is attempting to challenge and overcome gender stereotypes by encouraging parents to buy books for children based on their individual personalities and interests instead of defaulting to gender-specific gift options, these findings show that there is still clearly a long way to go.

Books as Prizes

Throughout the Victorian and Edwardian era, awarding books as prizes was standard practice for most schools, Sunday schools and other institutions across Britain and its Empire. While these books were typically awarded in recognition of an outstanding achievement or contribution, they also served a secondary function of moral education and they were often used by educational and religious institutions as tools to disseminate approved fiction. Writing in 1888 in favour of prize books, the literary critic, Edward Salmon, argued:

“The young mind is a virgin soil, and whether weeds or rare flowers and beautiful trees are to spring up in it will, of course, depend upon the character of the seeds sown. You cannot scatter literary tares and reap mental corn. A good book is the consecrated essence of a holy genius, bringing new light to the brain and cultivating the heart for the inception of noble motives.”

The prize books in the Janet Powney collection generally reflect similar trends to the gift books, although there is some variation according to awarding institution. For example, within Sunday schools and faith schools, both boys and girls were most likely to receive religious fiction. As the prize book movement was largely aimed at bringing respectability to working-class children, religious fiction was considered the most suitable type of book to provide appropriate models of behaviour to boys and girls. More importantly, however, educators saw religious fiction as a ‘safe’ and ‘reliable’ book genre that advocated conventional masculine and feminine roles. These gender differences are explicitly reflected in the titles of prize books: ‘sacrifice’, ‘obedience’ and ‘barriers’ most frequently occur in girls’ titles, while ‘winning’, ‘voyage’ and ‘victory’ feature most regularly in boys’ titles. These words demonstrate that girls were expected to live a contained life with limited opportunities and within local boundaries, but boys had the freedom to explore the global picture and the choice to do as they wish.

Despite supposedly having no religious affiliation, board schools also favoured religious fiction as prizes for girls; in contrast, boys were awarded adventure fiction. In some cases, boys were also given history and biography books, which tended to emphasise the view that to be British was to be a conqueror, an imperialist and a civilising force. This fits with the argument of historian, Stephen Heathorn, that the Victorian and Edwardian elementary classroom served as a workshop of reformulated English nationalism.

Although most prize books awarded by clubs were directly liked to their ethos (i.e. Bible classes distributed Bibles, Choirs presented music books etc.), many clubs still showed gender bias in their choices. For example, both religious and secular clubs awarded books to boys that focused on temperance and the criticism of other vices, such smoking, gambling and pleasure-seeking. These books also placed great attention on the importance of chastity and the concept of chivalry as a means of self-control. These issues were highlighted, as educators feared a supposedly causal link between boys’ crimes and reading matter that influenced them. Boys’ books also focused on the importance of saving money and owning a house, which fit with the traditional view of ‘man as economic provider’.

The girls’ book given by both religious and secular clubs, on the other hand, focused heavily on the notion that moving out of one’s social station was against God’s will and often warned girls of the dangers of switching religious allegiances. As the ‘weaker’ sex, girls were considered more likely to become ‘corrupted’, particularly by Catholicism, which was believed to be strongly linked to the forces of social and political reaction, moral decadence and foreign treachery at this time.

While such stark gender inequalities may not be as apparent today in prize-giving practices, they still prevail in some institutions, albeit covertly. Sunday schools throughout Britain still promote the awarding of ‘boy’ and ‘girl’ books. Seemingly innocent titles, such as ’10 Boys Who Changed the World’ or ’10 Girls Who Changed the World’, in fact, reveal that the boys are all involved in dynamic actions as sailors, smugglers or gangsters, while the girls are confined to lowly positions as slumdogs and orphans, or have physical and mental impairments.

Even within non-religious institutions, such as state schools, prize books remain gendered with neutral stories, such as ‘Cinderella’ and ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’, creeping into volumes labelled as Favourite Fairy Tales for Girls and Favourite Stories for Boys respectively. Although book titles no longer appear to use stereotypical adjectives to define boys and girls, just like in Victorian and Edwardian Britain, they remain ladened with gendered words: witches, fairies and unicorns dominate girls’ books, while dinosaurs, castles and football are exclusive to boys’ books. Recently, the National Union of Teachers carried out a Breaking the Mould Project to encourage nursery and primary classrooms to challenge traditional gender stereotypes through books. They recommended awarding books, such as Anne Fine’s Bill’s New Frock or Robert Munsch’s Paper Bag Princess to engage with the range of ways in which children can be stereotyped. Given the complexity of this topic, it is unsurprising that many schools have now opted to award book tokens instead of books to avoid the difficult act of choosing.

A child’s home and educative experience has a direct effect on his or her short-term and long-term achievements and is responsible for shaping his or her pathway in life. For this reason, it is important to engage with historical artefacts, such as the books in the Janet Powney collection, to learn from negative representations of gender. By using the gift and prize books to map particular attitudes to and constructions of gender, we can correct any potentially harmful behaviours that still remain in our society and strive towards living in a country with gender equality for all.

Guest post: CUROP Research Project – Early Welsh language children’s literature

ChildLitThis guest post comes from Bethan Morgan, undergraduate in the School of Welsh, on her CUROP (Cardiff Undergraduate Research Opportunities Programme) project. Bethan has been working with Dr Siwan Rosser to create a bibliographic database of Welsh-language children’s books published before 1900.

Building on last year’s successful CUROP project to create a database of 19th-century periodicals for children, this project seeks to create a new resource for enhanced research on the history of children’s publishing in Wales. At present, no bibliography exists for pre-1900 publications, and library catalogue descriptions are often incomplete and inconsistent, impeding investigations into this important aspect of cultural history.

The project involved searching the University Library’s extensive Special Collections, as well as information from the on-line catalogue of the National Library of Wales, and amassing (through EndNote) relevant bibliographic material. The books were sorted into different categories within EndNote according to their genres, e.g. poetry, music, stories, textbooks, prayer books, and sermons. The resulting database, incorporating the previous CUROP periodical database, will be published online after the project, to be used in research and teaching here and to advance the study of this topic in general.

Bethan notes: “It was fascinating reading the pre-1900 collection of children’s books, because they are so different in comparison with contemporary children’s books. It was hard to believe at times that I was reading children’s literature, because of the serious / dark themes found in many of them, such as sin, death and disasters. The project is very worthwhile, and of value in developing knowledge of Cardiff University’s collection of children’s literature.”

It will also be an invaluable resource for Siwan Rosser during her 2015-16 Research Leave to produce a monograph on Welsh children’s literature. Furthermore, this database will lead to a joint project with Special Collections and Archives to create an online collection of early children’s books, as part of our programme to digitise library and archives to support research and teaching.

View Bethan’s post in full on Siwan Rosser’s Llenyddiaeth Plant blog.

Llenyddiaeth Plant / Children’s Literature: SCOLAR and CUROP (Re-Blog)

Mae Dr Siwan Rosser, a’i myfyriwr Catrin, o Ysgol y Gymraeg, yn trafod manylion prosiect CUROP dros yr haf, a oedd yn seiliedig ar gasgliadau SCOLAR o lenyddiaeth plant dros y ddau gan mlynedd diwethaf…
“Diben y prosiect cylchgronau oedd creu cofnod manwl o sampl o gylchgronau plant cynnar a gwella’n gwybodaeth o gynnwys ac ansawdd y cylchgronau hyn”.

Dwy Ganrif o Lenyddiaeth Plant

Dr Siwan Rosser and her student, Catrin, from the School of Welsh, discuss the details of their CUROP project over the summer, which was based on the SCOLAR collections of children’s literature over the last two centuries…
“The aim of the project was to create a detailed record of a sample early journals for children, and improve our knowledge of the contents and quality of these journals”.

Athraw i Blentyn,  1837

Athraw i Blentyn, 1837

Cardiff Children’s Literature Festival

1SwissFrom the 19th to the 24th March the Cardiff Children’s Literature Festival will be taking place in the city, at a variety of locations, and featuring authors and illustrators.  A whole variety of events will be happening, for children, schools, and even adults! You can keep up with their activities by following @CDFKidsLitFest on Twitter.  Cardiff University is contributing to the festival, and hosting some of the events, and in SCOLAR we are putting on an exhibition celebrating the history of children’s literature, from the 17th century up to the 20th century.  We are looking at the chronological development of children’s literature by highlighting several themes.

3GreenawayBooks for children were initially for educational purposes, which then developed into moral instructions too.  Children were taught how to behave, and were given frightening examples of what might happen to them if they didn’t.  The prevailing religiosity of the 18th and 19th centuries gradually waned until by the end of the 19th C. children were being regarded with a more sentimental outlook.  More illustrative works began to emerge, some portraying idealised images of children, whilst others were aiming to capture their attention.  Reading was no longer just for instruction, but for entertainment too, as fairy tales became popular.  With an increase in fiction, the gender divide became markably apparent, as works were specifically aimed at either boys or girls.

Dawntreader1Children’s fiction became more adventurous, and elements of fantasy were increasingly included, much of it owing a debt to British myths and legends that were popular at the time.  In the twentieth century fantasy literature took on a life of its own, and is now one of the most popular genres in children’s fiction.

Charlotte Guest’s English translation of the Mabinogion in 1838 contributed to the fascination with Arthurian myths, as she brought the tales to a new readership.  Translations of works into Welsh or English also provide a interesting look at what we want children to be reading.

We have gathered items from SCOLAR’s collections, including the Children’s Literature Collection which can be seen in part in the glass cases at the entrance to SCOLAR, and from the modern children’s literature collection held in the main part of the library.  Items from the modern collection are also being utilised in a display on level 1 of the library (ASSL), where readers can vote for their favourite children’s novel.

The exhibition is available for viewing March-May 2013, and details of the items displayed are available on our webpages.

Resource guide for women’s history launched for International Women’s Day

brazilSpecial Collections and Archives is marking International Women’s Day 2013 with the launch of its latest resource guide on women’s history and gender studies. The guide covers sources from the 16th-21st centuries, including:

  • Bibliographies and reference works on British women’s history and writing;
  • Biographies of the lives of women;
  • Gendered children’s literature and comics;
  • Conduct, etiquette and advice manuals;
  • Broadsides and ballads relating to women as both victims and perpetrators of crime;
  • Memoirs, diaries and autobiographies of women;
  • Sources relating to women teachers, and girl’s eduction;
  • Journals, magazines and ballads on fashion and dress;
  • histmedHistorical works on women’s health and medical treatment, including the history of midwifery, gynaecology and obstetrics; the history of nursing as a profession; and reports of the Medical Officer for Cardiff, including data on maternity and child welfare;
  • A range of material relating to women’s lives around the world, including newspapers from Indian women’s organisations, Spanish Civil War sources related to women, sources relating to women in Australia, European Union and United Nations reports on women, and papers of female slavery abolitionists;
  • A wide range of women’s journals and magazines, from society pages to radical suffragette publications;
  • Literary works by women, including the papers of Ann Griffiths (poet), Joan Reeder (journalist), Maria Edgeworth (novelist), Felicia Hemans (poet), Mary Tighe (poet), and Lady Sidney Morgan (novelist). Information on female applicants to the Royal Literary Fund, and women writers published by Longmans;
  • Musical scores and archives from Morfydd Llwyn Owen (1891-1918), Grace Williams (1906-1977), and Nancy Storace (1765-1817);
  • Press cuttings from late 20th century Welsh newspapers on women’s issues;
  • girlgraduatePolitical papers from the British Labour Party and Newport Labour Party on women’s issues; papers of the Labour MPs Ellen Wilkinson and Marion Phillips; the diary of social reformer Beatrice Webb; archives of the Women’s Labour League, journals by Sylvia Pankhurst, and a range of suffragette magazines;
  • Books by and archives belonging to female travellers;
  • Papers relating to the history of female students at Cardiff University and its predecessors;
  • Sources on witchcraft and those accused of its practice (commonly women), in Europe and America;
  • Sources on women’s societies

Lunchtime workshops: women’s history and gender studies

Special Collections and Archives’ series of lunchtime workshops continues in December with sessions on women’s history and gender studies sources. The workshops are intended to raise awareness of the breadth of material available to support research in this area, and as a general introduction to using Special Collections and Archives.

The second workshop on women’s history sources will be led by Assistant Archivist, Alison Harvey. Topics will include: biography; children’s literature; conduct/advice manuals; crime; diaries and autobiographies; education; fashion; health and medicine; international affairs; journals and magazines; literature and journalism; music; newspapers; politics, suffrage and the labour movement; travel; University history; witchcraft; and women’s societies.

Workshops will be held in Special Collections and Archives, on the lower ground floor of the Arts and Social Studies Library, Corbett Road, Cardiff. The women’s history workshop is scheduled for 12-1pm on Thursday 6 December, and will be repeated at 1-2pm on Friday 7 December.

Workshops are open to all, but places are limited, so if you would like to attend either session, please email HarveyAE@cf.ac.uk, stating your preferred time.