Quotable Quotes from Kingsley’s Water-Babies

Front board, Cotsen 15234

Front board of Cotsen 15234, with design of Tom the water baby enjoying aquatic sports.

 

A revered professor in the UCLA English Department used to say that when a person could rattle on confidently about a book (preferably some uncontested masterpiece like Hamlet or Ulysses) without having ever cracked it open, only then could the degree of  Ph.d be conferred.

Charles Kingsley’s The Water-Babies (1863) is one of those books I thought I could fake with impunity.   In fact, when asked to serve on the advisory board of the Grolier 100 Books Famous in Children’s Literature project I did not confess my ignorance, knowing that Brian Alderson would wrangle The Water-Babies entry as editor of the Oxford World Classics edition.   This month  I was finally obliged to fetch the book from the basement, where it had been languishing for some time, and read from cover to cover–without benefit of any pictures, either.

Page 17, Cotsen 39124

Page 17, Cotsen 39124. Tom was a chimney sweep before being transformed into a water baby. Here he stumbles into a village school, where he sees for the first time children working at their lessons.

I’m happy to say that The Water-Babies lived up to its reputation as one of the most peculiar children’s books ever written and some of the passages about the rearing and educating of children are worth sharing.  All quotations from the 1995 Oxford University Press paperback edited by Brian Alderson, of course.  If you have a tender stomach, Kingsley’s indelicate sense of humor may not be your cup of tea.

Here is the hideous and not entirely benign fairy Mrs. Be-Done-By-As-You-Did, who visits the water-babies on Fridays. When pleased with them, she gives “them all sorts of nice sea-things–sea-cakes, sea-apples, sea-oranges, sea-bullseyes, sea-toffee; and to the very best of all she gave sea-ices, made out of sea-cows’ cream, which never melt under water.”

[161] Tipped-in plate, Cotsen 15234

[161] Tipped-in plate of Mrs. Be-Done-By-As-You-Did by Jessie Willcox Smith, Cotsen 15234

The real business of the day is to “call up all who have ill-used little children, and serve them as they served the children….And first she called up all the doctors who give little children so much physic (they were most of them old ones; for all the young ones have learnt better, all but a few army surgeons, who still fancy that a baby’s inside is much like a Scotch grenadier’s), and she set them in a row; and very rueful they looked, for they knew what was coming.

And first she pulled all their teeth out; and then she bled them all round; and then she dosed them with calomel, and jalap, and salts and senna, and brimstone and treacle; and horrible faces they made; and then she gave them a great emetic of mustard and water, and no basons; and began all over again; and that was the way she spent the morning” (Chapter V, p. 109).

This second excerpt is less savage, unless you happen to be in the children’s book publishing business.  During his journey to the Other-end-of-Nowhere, the hero Tom visits a number of remarkable places.

“And first he went through Waste-paper-land, where all the stupid books lie in heaps, up hill and down dale, like leaves in a winter wood; and there he saw people digging and grubbing among them, to make worse books out of bad ones, and thrashing chaff to save the dust of it; and a very good trade they drove thereby, especially among children” (Chapter VIII, p. 157).

Last but not least is an excerpt from Tom’s sojourn in the Isle of the Tomtoddies:

“And when Tom came near it, he heard such a grumbling and grunting and growling and waiting and weeping and whining that he thought people must be wringing little pigs, or cropping puppies’ ears, or drowning kittens: but when he came nearer still, he began to hear words among the noise, which was the Tomtoddies’ song which they sing morning and evening, and all night too, to their great idol Examination–“I can’t learn my lesson: the examiner’s coming!”  And that was the only song they knew….

Then he looked round for the people of the island: but instead of men, women, and children, he found nothing but turnips and radishes, beet and mangold wurzel, without a single green leaf among them, and half of them burst and decayed with toadstools growing out of them.  Those which were left began crying to Tom, in half a dozen different languages at once, and all of them badly spoken, “I can’t learn my lesson,; do come help me!”  And one cried, “Can you show me how to extract this square-root?”  And another, “Can you tell me the distance between Lyra and Cmelopardalis?”  And another, “What is the latitude and longitutde of Snooksville, in Noman’s County, Oregon, US?” (Chapter VIII, p. 165)

Page 202, Tomtoddies vignette, Cotsen 34543

Harold Jones’s illustration of the Tomtoddies imploring Tom to stop and help them. Page 202, Cotsen 34543

This post may squelch most people’s desire to read Kingsley, but perhaps a few will be curious to dip into a story dubbed by its author as “all a fairy tale and only fun and pretense,” that was one of the great children’s best-sellers of all time.  It’s never too late for a Kingsley revival???

Page 15 vignette, Cotsen 15234

Tom talking to his friend the lobster as imagined by Jessie Willcox Smith. Page 15 vignette, Cotsen 15234

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Conference on Soviet Illustrated Books for Young Readers Friday-Saturday May 1-2 at Princeton

Cotsen is delighted to help spread the word about an international conference about Soviet illustrated children’s books!

“The Pedagogy of Images: Depicting Communism for Children”

A Symposium at Princeton University, May 2015.

Friday May 1st, Bobst Hall Room 105,  9:00am – 6:00pm.

Saturday May 2nd, Chancellor Green Room 103, 10:00am – 7:00pm.

Keynote: Dmitry Bykov, “The Golden Key to Blind Beauty: Reading the Russian Revolution Through Soviet Children’s Literature”. Friday May 1st, Aaron Burr Hall 219, 6:30pm.

The symposium will convene an international and interdisciplinary group of 16 scholars who work on Soviet-era Russian illustrated books for young readers.

Socialism always had major pedagogical ambitions: building a new society was also about promoting new forms of social imaginary and a new vocabulary of images. Lenin’s plan of monumental propaganda is well known and well researched. This symposium’s project is collaborative scholarly investigation of a less monumental but no less important and pervasive visual language developed by the socialist state for its children. Specifically, the participants will examine the interplay of text and image in illustrated books for young Soviet readers.

As a part of the general desire to translate state socialism into idioms and images accessible to the illiterate, alternatively literate, and pre-literate, children’s books visualized ideological norms and goals in a way that guaranteed easy legibility and direct appeal, without sacrificing the political identity of the message.  Relying on a process of dual-media rendering, illustrated books presented the propagandistic content as a simple narrative or verse, while also casting it in images. A vehicle of ideology, an object of affection, and a product of labor, the illustrated book for the young Soviet reader became an important cultural phenomenon, despite its perceived simplicity and often minimalist techniques. Major Soviet artists and writers contributed to this genre, creating a unique assemblage of sophisticated visual formats for the propaedeutics of state socialism.

Pedagogy_of_Images_Symposium_May_1_2_2015

In preparation for the symposium a selection of 47 books from the Cotsen Children’s Library underwent digital imaging, and the digital surrogates were mounted as a publicly accessible collection in the Princeton University Digital Library (“Soviet Era Books for Children and Youth 1918-1938”). The 47 books were selected from the Cotsen’s holdings of approximately 1,500 Soviet-era Russian imprints, almost 1,000 of which were published between the 1917 Revolution and the beginning of WWII. All of the selected imprints are very rare; a third of the editions included are held in only one other collection in North America, and more than a third are not held in any other North American collections.

Organizing Committee:

Thomas Keenan, Serguei Oushakine. Katherine Hill Reischl

To learn more about this momentous project (including the schedule of symposium speakers and the collaborative annotated catalogue) see the main site for The Pedagogy of Images.

(Just in case this is your first time visiting, here are the links for the interactive campus map and printable campus map).

		         До свидания!