A is for Apple … Adam … King Alfred … Abolitionist…

Alphabet Books: Some Variations on a Theme

The Pictured Alphabet, Front wrapper (Solomon King, ca. 1820) Cotsen new accession

The Pictured Alphabet (Solomon King, ca. 1820) Cotsen new accession

Language—and how learning about language can be presented in children’s books—was on my mind this past week, while cataloging three new ABC books here at the Cotsen Library. Before I began working with Cotsen books, I would have said that books about language or the alphabet–especially children’s books–would have been more or less “content neutral.” After all, what could be more straightforward than teaching letters of the alphabet, syllables, short words, and basic reading, right?  Wrong…as I’ve discovered–and enjoyed discovering.  Since letters, syllables, and words may seem to be just there on the page, it’s easy to overlook how language acts as a provider of meaning(s), in addition to being a container for meaning.

The anti-slavery alphabet, (Belfast, Anti-Slavery Society, 1849)  Cotsen new accession

The Anti-Slavery Alphabet, (Belfast, Anti-Slavery Society, 1849)
Cotsen new accession

But language is inherently charged with meaning, and its use full of cultural values and ideology, as various writers have observed. Language’s potential for both clarity or ambiguity can be used—or manipulated—by a writer or speaker.  Sometimes the way we use language is conscious and sometimes our use of language reflects our education, culture, and formative influences. Sometimes it’s both intended and unconscious.

In a book, meaning can also be shaped, extended, or modified by visual elements. This is particularly evident in children’s illustrated books, where the balance of text and illustrative elements can be more equal—or the visual can even take precedence over the text that it “accompanies.” Take early alphabet books, for instance. The New England Primer, the first primer (or ABC teacher and elementary reader) first issued in the United States in the 1670s, famously begins its alphabet rhymes with the verse:

In Adam's Fall... Detail (Cotsen 32844)

“In Adam’s Fall…” Detail
(Christopher Sower, 1764)
The New England Primer, (Cotsen 32844)

New England Primer,  First page of alphabet rhymes (Cotsen 32844)

New England Primer,
First page of alphabet rhymes (Cotsen 32844)

Accompanying this verse is a woodcut showing Adam and Eve standing under the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden, apparently just before eating the apple. Apart from the mnemonic aspect of the rhyme itself–making it easy to remember (and recite)—the illustration complements the cautionary nature of the text in a pretty vivid way that likely stayed in young reader’s minds.

Language is being presented as more or less inseparable from religion and moral teaching: A is for Adam, the original co-sinner, for the eating of the Apple. Other illustrative examples in the Primer include Job, Queen Esther, and the whale that swallowed Jonah—along with a cat, a dog, and an “idle fool” with a dunce cap, everyday object-examples presumably readily accessible to children at the time. This is consistent with Locke’s recommended use of familiar, everyday objects—and pictures of them—as learning aids for educating children and for fixing concepts more vividly in their minds.

A is for Apple Aunt Lely's Picture Alphabet (McLougliin Bros., [between 1863 and 1866]) Cotsen 4393

“A is for Apple…”
Aunt Lely’s Picture Alphabet
(McLougliin Bros., [bet. 1863 and 1866]) Cotsen 4393

I’ve always found it interesting that some later alphabet books replace Adam with Apple. For a reader in this Age of Irony, it’s hard not to find this a little ironic, but it’s hard to tell if this would have seemed so to a nineteenth-century reader.  Perhaps it was ironic to some readers, but not to others. It’s always dangerous—although tempting—to view the past through the filter of our implicit present-day values and attitudes or to make sweeping, “historicizing” generalizations about what “everyone thought” at the time from our vantage-pont long after the original audience’s reception.

If nothing else, this change from Adam to Apple seemingly reflects an relatively increasing secularization in the mid-1800s, compared with the 1670s (nineteenth-century people were still generally religious, of course, but religion had been complemented, or diffused, by other spiritual and cultural influences).  Merely one of many ABC books using “A is for Apple” is McLoughlin Brothers’ Aunt Lely’s Picture Alphabet (New York, [between 1863 and 1866]).  McLoughlin Brothers, the preeminent American popular children’s book publisher of their time, was a master at providing books—and content—that people wanted to buy, so “marketability” must also have been at least a partial factor in the content they selected here.  Maybe fire and brimstone didn’t sell as well in the mid- and latter-1800s and early 1900s? Perhaps Apple was a little more “up-to-date” and familiar to children then too? Likely, some combination of all these factors factored into the text and illustration of this “A is for Apple” book.

From Apple to Apple Pie... Chromolithographed illustration from Aunt Lely's Picture Alphabet (McLougliin Bros., [between 1863 and 1866]) Cotsen 4393

From THE apple, to apples, to apple pie… Chromolithographed illustration from A, Apple Pie (Warne, & Co., [after 1885) Cotsen 31090

Apples are also nicely colorful objects, suited to the sort of chromolithographed color illustration that McLoughlin pioneered in the mid- late-1800s. So printing technology would seem to have played a part in this changeover too. Even though Aunt Lely’s Alphabet (pictured above) doesn’t have colored illustrations, many of McLouglin’s books did, and you can readily imagine how strikingly visual the large apple shown in Aunt Lely’s Alphabet would be if it was colored in bright red. (Chromolithographs are often notable for their extra-vivid, slightly surreal colors.)  Sometimes, the Apple even found its way onto an apple pie, as in Warne’s A is for Apple Pie, thus moving us all the way from a cautionary Garden of Eden to a veritable kitchen cook-book.

Three Recently-cataloged Alphabet Books

The Alphabet Ladder, Frontispiece pastedown (G. Martin , [bet. 1817 and 1839]), new accession

The Alphabet Ladder, Frontispiece pastedown (G. Martin, [bet. 1817 and 1839]), Cotsen new accession

The Alphabet Ladder, or Gift for the Nursery (London, after 1817) provides a relatively early example of a colored alphabet book; it dates from some time after 1817 (when its publisher George Martin began publishing) and features hand- or stencil-colored engravings.

The front wrapper of this sixteen-page book has a paper onlay depicting a Britannia-like Fame (name printed on her shield) standing atop a structure of alphabet letters—the alphabet ladder, perhaps?—and some fashionably-dressed children (the target audience for this not inexpensive one shilling book?); the frontispiece-like front pastedown provides a similar illustration, a striking visual presentation, I think.  (Compare the illustration shown on the right with the cover label shown at the bottom of this posting.)

The letter A is illustrated here by a (boy-like) King Alfred, instead of by Adam or an Apple, an interesting complement to the Bullfinch pictured below, a bird that would probably have been familiar to a child-reader at the time.

A is for King Alfred, The Alphabet Ladder,  (G. Martin , [bet. 1817 and 1839]), new accession

“A is for King Alfred,” The Alphabet Ladder, (G. Martin, [bet. 1817 and 1839]),
Cotsen new accession

English history is being used along with familiar objects perhaps to add a touch of history to visual examples making letters more vivid. Generally accepted as the first king of a united England, Alfred the Great would have a strong patriotic connotation to an English boy or girl, especially about this time, the era of the Napoleonic Wars, in which England and France of course figured large. So it’s not so very surprising that another illustrative colored engraving presents a sword-flourishing Frenchman, looking very much like Napoleon himself, complete with a bicorne hat tucked under his arm.  Parodic mockery of a vainglorious Napoleon was a staple of English satirists at the time and can be observed in a number of English children’s books.

Pictured above the Frenchman is a brightly-colored Egg Plum, another object familiar to children, as was the Bullfinch. This juxtaposition of historical personages and everyday items or animals may seem a bit strange to us now.

F is for Frenchman, The Alphabet Ladder,  Cotsen new accession

“F is for Frenchman…”
The Alphabet Ladder,
Cotsen new accession

But such combinations are not all the unusual in children’s ABCs, and it was also quite common for a publisher to “update” a book with some “new” or topical illustrations or textual content. A quick and dirty way to provide a “revised edition” perhaps and encourage some new sales? And what better way to entice a young reader than blatantly patriotic and relevant contemporary examples in wartime?  Offhand, I’d say that The Alphabet Ladder—and it’s illustrative examples—would appeal more to a boy that a girl; apart from the warlike soldiers, almost all of the children pictured inside the book are boys—adding an interesting gendered aspect to the  presentation of the actual alphabet, which is belied by the cover and frontispiece featuring two boys and two girls.

We find a similar juxtaposition of commonplace illustrative examples and patriotic ones in another new Cotsen title: Solomon King’s: The Pictured Alphabet (New York, ca. 1820). K is for Kite, another familiar object to a child then, but N is for…Napoleon, somewhat surprisingly perhaps in an American book of the time.

K is for Kite, N is for Napoleon, The Pictured Alphabet, (Solomon King, 1820) Cotsen new accession

K is for Kite, N is for Napoleon,
The Pictured Alphabet
, (Solomon King, ca. 1820)
Cotsen new accession

Another pair of facing illustrative wood-engravings shows a Dunce to illustrate the letter D and a Guard the letter G, the latter looking distinctly English (and I think grenadier guards were generally a European type of soldier).

D is for Dunce, G is for Guard, The Pictured Alphabet, (Solomon King, ca. 1820) Cotsen new accession

D is for Dunce, G is for Guard,
The Pictured Alphabet
,
Cotsen new accession

Yet another pair of illustrations shows a tankard—Quenching thirst, I guess—to illustrate the letter Q, which faces the letter T’s Trumpet, here having been affixed with the letters “US,” adding both a topical and patriotic military touch to the American publication.  (And while a tankard was more of an all-purpose drinking cup in 1820 then than it is now, the association with beer and ale must have been apparent when this book was published.  Imagine a children’s alphabet featuring anything like a beer mug now!)

Q is for Quench, T is for Trumpet The Pictured Alphabet, (Solomon King, ca. 1820) Cotsen new accession

Q is for Quench, T is for Trumpet,
The Pictured Alphabet,
Cotsen new accession

Some of these combinations suggest that the printing blocks may have either come from Europe, or been adaptations of European ones; 1820 is relatively early in American printing and publishing development, with type and book-printing blocks still often being imported from Europe rather than being manufactured domestically. King’s book is a fairly simple production—even a somewhat primitive one—small in size (just 3 ½ inches tall) with simple illustrations and no text other than the alphabet letters themselves; after all, it is a one penny book, as the publisher’s advertisement on the lower wrapper tells us. (In contrast, the relatively deluxe Alphabet Ladder has a cover price of a full English shilling for the “coloured” version.)  But The Pictured Alphabet is also quite a rare book now, no copy other than Cotsen’s being found in OCLC’s combined libraries catalog.  Sometimes, cheap books in wrappers must have been used and then discarded once their condition deteriorated—unlike more expensive books, which were often more likely to be retained.

And they sighed by reason of their bondage... The Anti-Slavery Alphabet,  Cotsen new accession

“And they sighed by reason of their bondage…”
Title page vignette The Anti-Slavery Alphabet, (Belfast, Anti-Slavery Society, 1849)
Cotsen new accession

"For indeed, I was stolen out of the land," The Anti-Slavery Alphabet, (Belfast, Anti-Slavery Society, 1849)  Cotsen new accession

“For indeed, I was stolen out of the land,”
Vignette on title page verso
The Anti-Slavery Alphabet, (Belfast, Anti-Slavery Society, 1849)
Cotsen new accession

Another intentionally topical alphabet book—and one with a clearly moral didactic goal—is the Anti-Slavery Society’s: The Anti-Slavery Alphabet (Belfast, 1849). Apart from the very title and didactic approach of the text, there’s a striking wood-engraved title-page vignette depicting a slave sale, and another illustration on the verso side depicting a slave telling a seated white man and woman: “For indeed I was stolen out of the land.”

Even without the caption text beneath them, these two illustrations make their meaning clear. These illustrations are the only ones in this twelve-page book, somewhat unusual for the time perhaps, and the gathering of printed pages comes within plain paper wrappers with no text, advertising, or illustration on them. Perhaps this is a function of cost? Or perhaps the publisher like the Anti-Slavery Society didn’t think that such “marketing” aspects were appropriate (or needed) for a book presumably sold or given away by/to people of strong conviction? These conjectures are just a couple of the possible explanations.

A is for Abolitionist... The Anti-Slavery Alphabet, (Belfast, Anti-Slavery Society, 1849)  Cotsen new accession

A is for Abolitionist…
The Anti-Slavery Alphabet,
Cotsen new accession

But the four-line alphabet rhymes for each alphabet letter speak compellingly to the book’s underlying moral purpose: to teach children about the evils of slavery and move them to moral awareness, in part by making them aware of their own potential complicity for enjoying sweet treats made from slave-produced sugar. Apart from the A,B,C rhymes pictured at right, some other verses read:

I is the Infant, from the arms
Of its fond mother torn,
And, at a public auction, sold
With horses, cows, and corn.

S is the Sugar, that the slave
Is toiling hard to make,
To put in your pie and tea,
Your candy, and your cake.

U is for Upper Canada,
Where the poor slave has found
Rest after all his wanderings
For it is British ground!

Why “Upper Canada” and “British ground”?  While this book may seem directed at American audiences, it was printed in Belfast, Ireland. Escaped slaves often tried to reach Canada, via the Underground Railroad and other means, because slavery had been outlawed in most of the British Empire by the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833.  Canada was then part of the British Empire, and Upper Canada was the area what we now know as Southern Ontario, bordering New York State (Lower Canada being Quebec).

So, looking at this batch of three new Cotsen alphabet books, I think we can understand some of the many, wide-ranging “educational” goals that ABC books subserved, teaching language mechanics being just one.

Three Recently-cataloged Cotsen Library Alphabet Books Cotsen new accessions

Three Recently-cataloged Cotsen Library Alphabet Books
Cotsen new accessions

House of Cards? Or, the Case of the Queen of Hearts and Her Tarts…

‘You’re nothing but a pack of cards!’  –Alice

Queen of Hearts

“the Queen turned crimson with fury… Off with her head!”
(Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. MacMillan & Co., 1866. 1st ed. CTSN 27693)

Alice’s assertion, at the end of the climactic confrontation with the Queen of Hearts in the trial scene in Alice in Wonderland, dramatically brings the proceedings to an close…  But it also highlights one of the many sources of humor in the book: Alice’s nemesis in the court—the Queen of Hearts – is indeed nothing but a playing card animated by Lewis Carroll’s imagination into a comically malevolent personality, whose favorite utterance seems to be “Off with her/his head”!  Tenniel’s classic illustrations seems to perfectly complement Carroll’s presentation of the Queen.
And remember, Alice is not even the accused in the trial!  She’s merely called as witness in the trial of the Knave of Heart for stealing the tarts, as per the nursery rhyme, which Carroll incorporates into his story, as an indictment read by the White Rabbit:

The Queen of Hearts
She made some tarts,
All on a summer’s day;
The Knave of Hearts
He stole the tarts,
And took them clean away.

The Queen is depicted as a comical stereotype, a despotic harridan brought to life, a “blind and aimless Fury,” as Carroll himself once described her.1 The King and Knave (the latter more familiar to us now perhaps as the “Jack”) are similarly depicted as individualized “three dimensional” comic personalities, and it seems as though the other royal members of the court—the “face cards”—are too.

Gardeners

“Why, they’re only a pack of cards, after all.  I needn’t be afraid of them!”

But  Carroll’s text describes the number cards as animated playing cards—“oblong and flat” who fall face down at the approach of the Queen—and Tenniel correspondingly pictures the gardeners like the cards they’re comprised of, essentially animated walking-and-talking sandwich-boards with heads, legs, and arms attached.

As such, I think they serve to foreground the more important characters: the Queen, King, Jack, Alice, etc.  They really are the sort of “cardboard-cutout” characters that literary critics tend to mock! They also serve to remind readers of something we’re always implicitly aware of—that all these “characters” are playing cards brought to life—and this is another reason why their antics seem so comical.  The inanimate, animated—objects and animals brought to life and imbued with human qualities, even if satiric ones. This provided a tried and true literary device in children’s literature long before Carroll.

lLice & the cards

“the whole pack rose up into the air, and came flying down upon her…”

Yet when Alice blurts out: “You’re nothing but a pack of cards!”, the whole house of cards comes tumbling down.  The court deconstructs back into a pack of cards, raining down on Alice’ head, a moment of humor which is, however, not without some anxiety, as Tenniel brilliantly depicts.  Amid the confusion, the non-playing card Wonderland characters in court—animals comprising the erstwhile jury—are pictured as fully reverted back into unfrocked frogs, mice, and birds.  And a storm of cards swirls toward Alice, whose face shows clearly that she is not amused, all set against a darkly cross-hatched backdrop calling to mind an ominous storm (a Kansas tornado perhaps?).

Again, this depiction seems to perfectly match Carroll’s language, and perhaps extends it, thereby deepening the presentation of a funny, yet scary scene, one final vision before the sometimes-nightmarish midsummer-night’s dream finally yields back to bucolic daytime reality:

At this the whole pack rose up into the air, and came flying down upon her: she gave a little scream, half of fright and half of anger, and tried to beat them off, and found herself lying on the bank, with her head in the lap of her sister, who was gently brushing away some dead leaves that had fluttered down from the trees upon her face.

A “scream, half of fright,” flying objects around Alice’s head and face which she “tries to beat off”… This could be right out of Poe—or Hitchcock.  (The Birds, anyone?).  The sudden deconstruction of the Queen and her court back into a pack of cards that briefly assails Alice before falling onto the floor like dead leaves fluttering down is a terrifically dramatic moment.  But in a flash, it’s all over and she’s back on the calm riverbank—all’s well.

Queen of Hearts

Queen of Hearts, as conceptualized by the Salzburg Marionette Theatre
(reproduced with permission)

The visual aspect of the this reverse-metamorphosis was dramatically realized in a production of Alice in Wonderland that I saw not long ago by the Salzburg Marionette Theatre (where the Queen was presented as an overt caricature of Queen Victoria, something Carroll wouldn’t have done but which was a funny adaptation for a modern audience).  All the cards, as all the characters were “brought to life” on-stage by marionettes, adding a nicely surreal effect to the comical, ever-so-slightly-nightmarish fantasy.

When puppet Alice uttered the line, “You’re nothing but a pack of cards!”, the whole pack exploded, and Alice was deluged by a literal rain of playing cards falling on her and all over the stage—a perfect dramatization of Tenniel’s drawing, yet I think one more dramatic than a still illustration could possibly provide, no matter how striking.  It’s one thing to read a description, even a vivid one, or to see an image, even one as evocative as Tenniel’s, but it’s quite another to see actual kinetic movement and tumbling items cascading down before your eyes. The effect isn’t “better”—it’s just more inescapable and dramatic to a modern viewer—at least this one.

Queen and the Knave

The Queen & the Knave (The Queen of Hearts and her Damson Tarts. Dean & Son, between 1857 & 1865. CTSN item #6040014)

I was recently reminded of that staging—and of course Carroll’s story—while cataloging a “toybook” version of the story about the Queen of Hearts and her tarts: The Queen of Hearts and the Damson Tarts, published sometime between 1857 and 1865 in London by Dean & Son.  (Coincidentally—or maybe not—Carroll’s Alice was first published in 1865.  Hmmm…)  This illustrated eight-page paperback (somewhat like a comic book in format) begins with the first stanza of the “Queen of Hearts” nursery rhyme and then elaborates the story through the combination of text and illustration that characterizes the toybook format.  (Damson by the way, is a type of sweet plum, popular for jam-making in the 19th century—I didn’t know that either and had to look it up.)  Note the toybook depiction of the Queen. Here, she appears quite benevolent, and even slightly dishy, in contrast to either of the other versions we’ve looked at so far.

The Queen "sent out her cards about to every King and Queen, / Who were in the pack, in red or black, and always to be seen."

The Queen “sent out her cards about to every King and Queen, / Who were in the pack, in red or black, and always to be seen.”

The Queen makes her tarts “to feast a chosen few” and sends “her cards” out to invite all the other kings and queens to a noble feast—a play on words reinforced by the accompanying illustration.  (Remember, in those days people sent out invitation cards and left calling cards when visiting.)  As in Tenniel’s later rendition, we see the combination of “three-dimensional” royalty and “sandwich-board” card-like courtiers.  But for the most part, the characters are pictured as being “3D,” even though they retain the trappings and symbolic accoutrements of playing cards—the Knave’s poleaxe, for instance.  Otherwise,  what’s he otherwise doing with that in the court, especially as a suspected thief and a defendant?

I wonder if perhaps Carroll or Tenniel saw this depiction—or one like it—or if this playing card/realized character distinction was part of the received idea for this basic story that was then taken and reconceptualized.  The nursery rhyme characters are, after all, based on playing cards: the King and Queen of Hearts, etc.

Dean & Son - Knave and cat

“Your Majesty… Your cat it must sure be.”

Note the thievish Knave lurking in the background behind the oblivious Queen in the first illustration.  He’s depicted as a pretty disreputable—dare I say, knavish-looking—character in this version.  He’s the thief—as readers, we know that from the rhyme—but when called upon to produce the tarts (which he has already eaten in this version, as we later read/see), what does he do? He blames the King’s cat!

“Your majesty,” said he, [the Knave]
I think I know who is the foe,
Your cat it sure must be:
He looked at me quite guiltily
And ran away full speed…”

And the accompanying illustration shows the cat of course high-tailing it away—imagine a cat doing that when in trouble!  The King doesn’t buy the Knave’s lame excuse—“Oh Knave for shame!… Do cats eat damson tarts?”—and he rages before the court.

"To hide his sin, his mouth and chin / To wipe, he did forget"

“To hide his sin, his mouth and chin / To wipe, he did forget”

The Knave is eventually indicted by his own jam-stained chin, and the King commands that he confess on “bended knee.”  (Unlike the nursery rhyme version, there are no tarts for the knave to bring back in this telling.)  But remember that friendly-looking Queen?  She has other, distantly non-merciful, ideas: “Oh sire…He surely ought to die.”

In this version, the King rules, not the Queen who railroads the proceedings in Alice, and he opts for “mercy”—the Knave is to be beaten, as per the nursery rhyme. The text states this, but there’s no corresponding illustration of the actual beating, only one of the cowering Knave.  The effect is to lighten the cautionary tone considerably, I think–illustration predominates over the text in terms of imparting overall meaning to us.  Then, with justice dispensed, the king decides that a party is in order:

The King's Ball

“The company felt such delight, they danced til it was morning quite.”

The King did then for music call,–said he, “We now will have a Ball.”
The company felt such delight, the danced till it was morning quite.

The story thus concludes with an all-nighter celebration, rather than pandemonium, as  “Queen of Hearts episode” in Alice.  The accompanying illustration, labeled “the King’s Grand Ball,” perfectly captures this festive-comic resolution–excluding the Knave though, if you look closely.

Having let the knave eat the stolen tarts, this version also does away with his repentance—and, of course, with his restitution of the stolen goods; the lines above take the place of the last three lines of the nursery rhyme, which have mysteriously disappeared:

The Knave of Hearts
Brought back the tarts,
And vowed he’d steal no more.

So with the same basic story line, we’ve seen essentially three different resolutions, if we factor in the combined effect of text and illustration: 1) restitution and repentance; 2) beating of the malefactor; 3) dancing and celebration.

First page of New Story of the Queen of Hearts -- leaf laid down to front wrapper (New Story of Queen of Hearts. Dean  & Co., between 1847-1854. CTSN 1738)

First page of the New Story of the Queen of Hearts — leaf laid down to front wrapper (Dean & Co., between 1847-1854. CTSN 1738)

An apparently earlier toybook version of the Queen of Hearts story, published between 1847-1854 by Dean & Co., features most of the same illustrations (omitting the smaller insets), and essentially the same text (the Queen is “troubled” instead of “ireful,” etc.).  Titled New Story of the Queen of Hearts, it provides a variation of the ending with the Knave being beaten.  The last illustration in this version shows the cowering Knave before his beating, and the last lines of text are here:

…mercy shall guide my will,
So let the thief be beaten.”

The lines ending the Damson Tarts have been deleted altogether and the illustration showing the festive dancing scene has been moved—somewhat incoherently, in terms of the accompanying text, or even the plot itself—to the front pastedown, above the beginning of the text: “The Queen of Hearts once made some tarts…”  But when is this dancing celebration supposed to take place?  And what’s its cause in this retelling?  Things don’t really add up logically, but illogical or inconsistent plotting doesn’t really destroy delightful aspects of a children’s story as long as it’s indeed entertaining–and perhaps also instructive in a cautionary way.

As first, I was tempted to think that the New Story might be a one-time publication variation, or even a book whose leaves were rebound, a not-infrequent occurrence in old toy books—cheaply-bound, inexpensive items, often “read to death” by child readers.  But book in hand, I can see that this toybook is still intact, as issued—the first, unnumbered leaf and leaf number eight are laid down to the original wrappers, which are still attached to each other along the spine edge.

Queen of Hearts, French version

La Reine de Coeur, et Les Tartes Volees ([Dean & Son?, ca 1850?] CTSN 150467)

And another toybook variation—an undated French-language version probably dating from about 1850, possibly published by Dean too—essentially duplicates not only the New Story’s version of the story but also the page layout and design, the decorative bordered boxes into which caption title text is set, and also provides a text that’s a pretty close French translation—almost word-for-word.  Again, the text ends with the Knave being beaten:

Le Roi…dit…
Main la merci encore guidera ma volunte,
Ansi, que le voleur soit battu.

It’s hard to know why both books end this way—with the Knave being punished with a beating—instead of with the restitution and repentance from the nursery rhyme version.  Perhaps the toy book maker simply didn’t plan well and ran out of space in the preset eight-page format?  (This sometimes happens.)  Or, more likely, perhaps, the message for children was intended to be one frightening them away from theft by playing up the consequences, both in language and illustration?  There may well be other explanations too.  Beatings, or similar punishments, were quite common features in stories about bad children, as shocking as this seems to us now in a story aimed at children readers.

Caldecott, The Queen of Hearts

Randolph Caldecott, The Queen of Hearts (Warne & Co., ca. 1890?. CTSN 13172)

The story of the Queen of Hearts and her tarts was popular fodder for other illustrated children’s versions too.  One of the best known is Caldecott’s The Queen of Hearts, first published by Routledge in 1881, and later reissued by Warne (which is the copy the Cotsen Library has).  This book offers an interesting interplay of the text and interpretative illustrations, as well as an example of how book design can affect meaning in an illustrated book.  Caldecott reproduces the classic nursery rhyme text verbatim, but his own illustrations and overall page design both shape—and indeed, modify—a reader’s reception of this text.  Caldecott provides his characteristically gently satiric take on a “story,” via visual elements.

Caldecott's Queen (The Queen of Hearts. Warne & Co., ca. 1890. CTSN 13172)

Caldecott’s Queen of Hearts

His cover design sets the tone: against a background of playing card on the ground, a comically wild archer of Diamonds (perhaps a youth?) apparently shoots at Hearts balloons, while a foppish attendant of the Queen of Hearts protests.  The Queen is depicted partly within a bordered a frame making her look like a two-dimensional playing card—she’s both within the scene and outside it, an interesting narrative ploy.  Is she a person? A playing card?  Or both at once?

Caldecott presents a fairly glamouous Queen, like Dean’s earlier toybook version—and very much unlike Tenniel’s. Apparently, she’s quite a reader too—reading cook books, if you look closely—Caldecott’s creative invention, and perhaps his wry “educational” message to young readers?

Caught in the act...by the cat!

The Knave caught in the act…by the cat!

The Knave’s thievery is also depicted with Caldecott’s gently satiric humor—the Knave is another real court dandy, shown caught “in the act” in Caldecott’s depiction.  But how is he discovered this time?  Take a look!  The cat is witness, and Caldecott’s illustrations show the loyal cat ratting out the Knave…no doubt strictly in the interests of justice!

While adding no new text, Caldecott thus creates a much-enhanced role for the King’s cat via illustration, a role he expands even further with the line drawings accompanying the color wood-engravings in this book.  The cat—which is not mentioned at all in the nursery rhyme and which is merely the Knave’s absurd object of blame in Damson Hearts—is turned into the eyes and ears of the King and an active agent of justice, as you can see in the composite view below of Caldecott’s line-drawings on four separate pagesno text is really needed!

Caldecott's cat

Caldecott’s cat: Adding to the “story” with graphic elements.

"And [the King of Hearts] beat the Knave full sore..."

“And  beat the Knave full sore…”
Here, for illustrative purposes, the punishment of the Knave, barely noticeable in the background of the scene as Caldecott presents it, has been magnified and added below the dancing scene.

Following the nursery rhyme text, Caldecott shows the Knave being beaten by the King of Hearts—but here the act takes place in the background, with color illustration shifting the focus to the rest of the royals happily dancing the night away.  (Note: the Queen of Hearts is dancing with the King of Clubs, while her consort administers punishment.) Illustration reinterprets the text, lightens the tone considerably, and adds a festive slant.  Celebration is foregrounded, while punishment and severity are pushed into the background.

The Knave brings back the tarts, but Caldecott shows him giving them to celebrating little royal children of all four suits, not feasting adults as in Damson Tarts.  So restitution is made—and crowned children get a treat, an ending with obvious appeal to child readers! (“Plumb-cake for ever, Huzza!,” as John Newbery put it.)

Interestingly, Caldecott also depicts liveried court-servants and heralds as playing-card, sandwich-board wearers—but unlike Tenniel, he provides them with bodies underneath.  This certainly seems like some sort of visual allusion to Carroll’s work and Tenniel’s illustrations to me, which wouldn’t be a too surprising, since Alice in Wonderland was still hugely popular in the 1880s and 1890s, as it remains to this day.

Knave of Hearts & Children

The Knave of Hearts,
Brought back those tarts.

cards...

Caldecott’s take on the playing card heralds…now granted bodies.

1.Quotation from an article by Carroll, “Alice on Stage,” quoted by Martin Gardner in The Annotated Alice (Clarkson N. Potter, Inc., 1960, p. 109)