A Field Guide to Fairies

Lucy Crane, The Baby’s Bouquet: A Fresh Bunch of Old Rhymes and Tunes. Illustrated by Walter Crane. London: George Routledge & Sons 1878 (Cotsen 21153).

Identifying the fairy in this famous illustration isn’t hard.   This next example isn’t difficult  either…

The fairy Cri-Cri. Fairy Tales, Consisting of Seven Delightful Stories. London: T. Hughes, 1829. (Cotsen 33142).

Don’t be too quick to say there aren’t any fairies in this lovely drawing by William Blake….

Oberon, Titania and Puck with Fairies Dancing c.1786 William Blake 1757-1827 Presented by Alfred A. de Pass in memory of his wife Ethel 1910 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/N02686

Did Blake forget to draw the wings on the dancing fairies????   That’s a good question to which I don’t have a definitive answer.  But I think probably not, because eighteenth-century illustrations of fairies rarely have them (I confess I have not done a survey of illustrated editions of Pope’s Rape of the Lock).

Here is the plate illustrating “Peau d’ane” in an edition of Perrault’s Contes from 1798.  The girl with the donkey’s skin thrown over the blue dress must be the heroine, so the fairy has to be the lady in the rose gown with the billowing yellow scarf sitting in a cloud.  When goddesses appear to mortals, they frequently descend in clouds–but fairies?  Yes, they can, to quote Rose Fyleman..

“Peau d’ane,” in Charles Perrault, Contes des fees. Paris: Chez Devaux, 1798 (Cotsen 60006).

Of course fairies can disguise themselves to test mortals.  In Perrault’s “La fee,”  the girl  sent to the well by her cruel stepmother to draw water for the family pauses to give the poor old woman a drink, when she ought to hurry back home with the full pitcher. The reader can’t tell from this picture what the fairy looks like when she is not undercover as an old woman.  Nor does she reveal her true self later in the tale.

“The Fairy,” Charles Perrault, Histories, or Tales of Passed Times. Third edition, corrected. London: R. Montagu, and J. Pote at Eton, 1742 (Cotsen 25143).

Incidentally, this copy was owned by a Mary Fearman in the 1740s.  She tried to protect her property from the light-fingered by writing a book curse on the rear endpaper…

Cotsen 25143

The last item in this identification guide is one of my favorite books in Cotsen.  The frontispiece seems to be a very early picture of tiny wingless fairies dancing in a ring before their king and queen, who are the size of human beings.  The fairies are all wearing brimmed hats with steeple crowns–the kind of hat that witches wear.  Or Mother Goose…

d’Aulnoy, Mme. History of the Tales of the Fairies, newly done from the French. London: Eben. Tracy, 1716 (Cotsen 25203).

This translation of a selection of Mme d’Aulnoy’s fairy tales seems to have been someone’s prize possession, perhaps the George Jones who wrote his name in the back of the book.  George (or someone else) tried to copy a portion of the frontispiece on its blank side.

Cotsen 25203.

He also left traces at the very end of the  book.   The drawing on the top might be his take on a scene in Mme d’ Aulnoy”s “The Blue Bird.”

Cotsen 25203

Why did the appearance of fairies change so drastically over time?   Was it the influence of Victorian ballet and theatre productions, where fairies had gauzy wings attached to the shoulders of their costumes?  Perhaps some enterprising fairy tale scholar will concentrate on exploring the history of fairy wings…

Curator’s Choice: The Flapper’s Magazette Edited by Miss Vivie Wivie

Flapper-OctoberAccording to Ellen Welles Page, brains, not beauty, defined the flapper.  In her “A Flapper’s Appeal to Parents” in the December 6, 1922 Outlook Magazine, she asked, “I wonder if it ever occurred to any of you that it required brains to become and remain a successful flapper?  Indeed it does!  It requires an enormous amount of cleverness and energy to keep going at the proper pace.  It requires self-knowledge and self-analysis.  We must know our capabilities and limitations.  We must be constantly on the alert.  Attainment of flapperhood is a big and serious undertaking!”

This message didn’t just appeal to young ladies, but to little girls as well.   Below Pauline Z. is avidly reading Flapper Experience (Flapper under a new title)

little flapper

If Pauline were a regular reader, she would have been solicited regularly to enter mail-in beauty contests, a serious undertaking that required brains, self-knowledge, and self-analysis to chose the right photo.  The editors of the magazine would not go so far as to say that aspirants for the title of “most typical flapper in America” should rock “bobbed hair; powder and rouge on the face;…lip stick; ‘plucked eyebrows;’ low-cut sleeveless bodice; absence of corset; little under-clothing, often only a ‘teddy-bear;’ high skirts, and ‘roll-your-own-stockings.”  But they did say that an enterprising girl with a great look just might “win a nice little wad of pin money and get a real opportunity in the movies.”

flapper beauty contest 2 flapper beauty contest

One English girl in the 1920s set her sights higher than that!  She used her brains to write, illustrate, and hand-letter one issue of a manuscript magazine that simultaneously imitated and sent up magazines like Flapper for thoroughly modern Millies.

flappers_magazette_cover

Our editor could mimic Flapper’s fashionably breezy and girly style when she wanted her sister-readers’ opinion of the magazine’s title.  But in the next sentence she could turn bossy because it was time to solicit entries for that exciting new contest!

flapper's magazette_editors_chat

To fill out the double page spread where “Editor’s Chat” appeared, she devised an unillustrated advertisement for an imaginary beauty product.  The reader has to flip back to page 8 to see the wonders it could work on dark hair.  It’s the girl’s obvious pleasure in talking back to contemporary images of female beauty that reminds me of today’s girl zines.

flapper's magazette_editors_chat_2 flappers magazette_girl_in_purple

The editor of The Flapper’s Magazette  didn’t leave behind many clues as to her identity, besides some potshots about a sister with gentleman callers that suggest she could have been someone’s pesky younger sibling.  Most of the illustrations she signed  “V. F.” or “V. F. F.,” but the one on the third page she wrote out her last name “Furniss.”   The address of the editorial offices: “Messrs, Vivie, Wivie, Den Offices, Teddington” suggests that her first name might have been “Vivien.”  While it’s true that children’s manuscript magazines often are collaborative projects, “Vivie, Wivie” seems just as likely to be a silly play on a two-syllable given name, as a disguise for two children.  The address may also be a clue that Miss V. F. Furniss lived in Teddington in London’s Richmond upon Thames district.

flapper's_magazette_heads_contest

Mail-in contests certainly made an impression on our editor.  She invites her readers to vie for fine prizes (no specifics given) by submitting heads constructed from the  noses, eyebrows, Betty-Boop eyes, and bee-stung lips to be cut out of pages 10 and 15.

flapper's_magazette_heads_contest_pieces_1 flapper's_ magazette_heads_contest_pieces_2

Contestants might have wished that there were a bigger selection of hairstyles, hats, and collars.  As you can see from the picture below of Clara Bow and friends, it would have been difficult to come up with a really smart head from what Vivie Wivie provided!

clara_bow_girls

The other contest sponsored by The Flapper’s Magazette was literary.  All contestants had to do was to complete a limerick about  It-Girl, Clara Bow, whose portrait appears on the facing page.

flapper's_magazette_limerick_contest

Look closely at “Clara Bow” and you’ll see a long braid draped over her arm.  I’d always assumed it was a row of buttons down the sleeve.  But in going through the manuscript this time to write about it, I realized that couldn’t be right and that V. F. Furniss may not have been drawing accurate pictures of fashionable girls.

flapper's magazette_clara_bow clara bow 2

But could flappers have long hair?  According to some very informative blogs and You-Tube videos about hair styles of the Roaring Twenties and how to recreate them, it’s a myth that all flappers had bobs.  Movie star Mary Pickford’s long luscious golden ringlets were also quite stylish.  But even if a girl’s parents  stormed that she would cut her hair over their dead bodies, the unfortunate fair had options.  It was possible with a little ingenuity and hair pins to achieve the look of short, curly hair, as you can see from this delightful video, based on an actual 1920s hairstyling manual.

My guess is that V. F. Furniss was too young to get permission to chop off her hair, but old enough to be interested in figuring out how she would present herself in the future.  While most of the girls she drew in The Flapper’s Magazette had bobs, at least three of them, including “The Charming Flapper,” had hair tucked under in faux bobs with long braids down the back.  Were her illustrations a safe way to experiment with different looks without taking the plunge?  While attracted to modern short styles, was she a little bit scared at the prospect  herself as a votary of fashion, sacrificing her long tresses on the goddess’ altar?

Maybe some day I’ll have some time to try and track down V. F. Furniss, girl journalist and cultural commentator…

If you find child authors interesting,  you might like to read the picture letters of Marcus French.  In the Roaring Twenties, this little New Yorker wrote about trick-or-treating, a Thanksgiving celebration, and his travails with algebra