Curator’s Choice: Mrs. Sherwood Corrects the Proofs of “The Oddingley Murder”

oddingley murder

Over her long career, Mary Martha Sherwood typically wrote for four or five hours each day.  Although she is best known for two of her novels for children–The History of Little Henry and His Bearer (1814) and The History of the Fairchild Family (1818)–she also produced penny pamphlets, adaptations of eighteenth-century children’s classics like Sarah Fielding’s The Governess, and textbooks for use in the school she and her husband ran for after their return from India in 1818.  Even with the income from the school, the Sherwood family was strapped for cash, so she turned out around a hundred tracts over the next twelve years to generate more money.

sherwood front

Frontispiece, Mrs. Sherwood and Her Books for Children, M. Nancy Cutt (London, Oxford University Press, 1974) Cotsen PR5449.S4 Z63

The Cotsen Children’s Library has a fascinating manuscript from this period of her life: the annotated proofs for a tract about a notorious murder that had taken place in the tiny village of Oddingley, Worcestershire on Midsummer’s Day 1806 that was not solved until 1830.

fullpage

Cotsen 40111

The lurid story was a quintessential English crime set in a beautiful, remote village seething with class resentment.  The cast of characters included a grasping vicar, a shady man of all work, some disgruntled farmers, and the dapper old soldier who was the local magistrate.  Add two brutal killings and a shallow grave in a ramshackle barn and voila, a perfect candidate for Masterpiece Mystery…

When the murdered murderer’s body was finally found, Mrs. Sherwood, a Worcestershire native herself, was moved to pick up her pen and write about this real-life crime.  The why is more complicated than it might first appear.  To a devout Evangelical Christian like Sherwood, the way in which the perpetrators of the crime were discovered after twenty-four years was a fulfillment of Isaiah XXIX.15, “ Woe unto them that seek deep to hide their counsel from the Lord, and their works are in the dark, and they say, “Who seeth us?  Who knoweth us?”

A personal connection to the sordid affair may also explain the urgency of driving home the lesson that “no man can conceal what Providence willeth to bring to the light.”  Her brother John Marten Butt was drawn into the case as Oddingley’s pastor: he had succeeded the murdered clergyman George Parker.   During his tenure in Oddingley, Butt had come came to realize that his parishioners had known the identity of the perpetrators all along and even worse, felt no remorse at their never having been brought to justice.  The villagers’ attitudes so profoundly disturbed Butt that he eventually left his post for another.

Mrs. Sherwood must have written the text almost immediately after the January trial.  On February 18, 1830, her publisher, Edward Houlston, mailed the proof of the tract now in the Cotsen collection to her in Worcester from Wellington, Salop (Shropshire), about forty five miles away.

Google Maps. (2015).

Google Maps. (2015).

To save time and money, he wrote her a letter, asking how many copies she wanted and if he might enclose copies in her parcel for delivery to the Worcester booksellers to save on postage.  In the closing, he asked if she could write six more tracts for the new series at her earliest convenience, adding that two would suffice at present.

Houlsten's letter to Sherwood

Mr. Houlston’s letter to Mrs. Sherwood

After making changes on pages 6, 7, 8, 10, 11, 16, and 18, Mrs. Sherwood wrote her reply to Houlston on the blank side of the sheet.

Page 6, with Mrs. Sherwood's corrections

Page 6, with Mrs. Sherwood’s corrections

Page 10 with Mrs. Sherwood's corrections

Page 10, with Mrs. Sherwood’s corrections

She said, “I had written a letter to you which I shall not send requesting you to be very quick in sending  ‘The Oddingley Murder’ as people know I have written it and are enquiring for it.”  She directed him to send her four copies of the French-language translation of Little Henry and His Bearer, six of “The Mourning Queen,” a dozen copies of “The Oddingley Murders” and an unspecified number of the new tract for the booksellers.  She closed (a bit tartly) with “I will write some tracts when I can find time—but time is a very scarce commodity.”

On back of proof, Mrs. Sherwood's response to Mr. Houlston.

On back of proof, Mrs. Sherwood’s response to Mr. Houlston.

The sheet was folded up for a second time and mailed to Houlston on February the 20th.  Presumably it retraveled those forty-five miles to Wellington within twenty-four hours.  The speed of the British postal service during the nineteenth century is well known, but this corrected proof is testimony to its efficiency.  Of course, the service then was slow compared to what we have come to take for granted via the Internet, but this annotated proof is a vivid reminder that Mrs. Sherwood could never have written as much as she did without a superb communications infrastructure.

Mr. Houlton's address.

Mr. Houlton’s address.

And thanks to our paper conservator, Ted Stanley, for restoring the proof of this tract, which was found in rather parlous condition in the Wall of Books some months ago.

 

 

Grimm, an artist’s book and more

 

cases3

Cotsen unprocessed items 6903746 & 6903748 respectively

Above are two recently purchased acquisitions. The larger object, featured here with its brown cloth silk-screened slip case, stamped title piece, and twine ties, is the artist’s book Grimm, created by Mikhail Magaril and Victor Bogorad (New York: Summer Garden Editions, 2012). The work consists of twelve pasted together 23 x 14.5 inch folio leaves (in this way each full-page spread is in fact one large single sheet). Nine of these are solely devoted to a different Grimm tale or theme. Every page is Illustrated throughout by Magaril’s iconic ink blots, printed in letterpress, and silk screened in both black and brown; the work is truly unique (it is actually the first of only ten copies).

We are fortunate to have this very haunting, and very Russian, interpretation of the Grimm fairy tales and their more nefarious aspects. As the artists explain in the book’s afterword, this work is a reflection upon the artists’ childhood experiences of the Grimm world, which they read, and the real world in the USSR, which they lived: “Life there [the USSR] had much in common with the world of Grimm fairy tales. . . The nightmarish regime badly affected the psyche of children and caused the impressionable young minds to see something sinister in every ink blot” (folio page 11). As you can see for yourself, the book is a truly harrowing and fantastical homage to the Brothers Grimm.

cover

Cover

Endpapers

Endpapers

Title page, spread 1

Title page, spread 1

Spread 2

Spread 2

Der Kleine Däumling (The Little Thumbling), spread 3

Der Kleine Däumling (The Little Thumbling), spread 3

The Brother's Grimm have been included interacting with the fairy tales themselves throughout the work.

The Brother’s Grimm have been included interacting with the fairy tales themselves throughout the work.

Silkscreened image and text of Frau Trude (Mother Trude) notice the brothers again, spread 4

Silkscreened image and text of Frau Trude (Mother Trude) notice the brothers again, spread 4

Spread 5

Spread 5

Spread 8

Spread 8

Hansel und Gretel, spread 10

Hansel und Gretel, spread 10

 

Close up juxtaposition of the two sets of siblings found above.

Close up juxtaposition of the two sets of siblings found above.

Jovial portraits of the artists, Bogorad and Magaril respectively, spread 11

Jovial portraits of the artists, Bogorad and Magaril respectively, spread 11

Authors' signatures and copy number, spread 12

Authors’ signatures and copy number, spread 12

The small black cloth box with linen ties (you thought I forgot didn’t you?) is a related treasure to the already prized first item. The title and key to the contents is supplied by the henna inked calligraphic top card:

Sketches for the book Grimm by Mikhail Magaril

Sketches for the book Grimm by Mikhail Magaril

Once opened, one is greeted by a grand total of 87 (15 x 10.5 cm) unnumbered deckle edged cards. Though 27 cards are blank, the remaining 60 cards include a vast array of draft illustrations for Grimm by Magaril.  The illustrations, executed exclusively in blue and black ink, have been cut out and pasted onto the decorative cards.  Below is a small sampling, notice that some of the proofs were not featured in the final product:

Examples, two of which feature two cards bound together.

Examples, two of which feature two cards bound together.

This large collection of small cards grants us unique access into the creation of the book Grimm. By viewing these proofs, we are offered a little window with which to view the draft processes and production choices of a very talented contemporary artist: Mikhail Magaril.

Not quite the final illustration

Not quite the final illustration

For more work by Magaril held at Princeton, check out this blog post by our colleague Julie Mellby, the curator of Graphic Arts: Mikhail Magaril