School Days in Children’s Books…

One of the interesting aspects about cataloging children’s books is that you get to see quite an amazing variety of materials–”children’s books” includes fiction, stories, poetry, history, as well as books about history, science, technology, nature, animals, birds, insects, not to mention illustrated books of all shapes and sizes, and books meant to educate children, “juveniles” and what we would now term “young adults”.  Some scholars don’t really consider instructional books and materials to be children’s “literature” per se, but these non-classroom educational books and materials constitute an important part of the Cotsen collection too–along with certain kinds of  games, and ephemera… The list goes on and on…

When cataloging, I often encounter a dizzying array of material on a semi-random basis, since books are generally cataloged in the order that they’ve been acquired by a curator or collector.  The sheer variety is part of the fun.  But sometimes, I serendipitously encounter books on similar subjects that seem to complement each other or to suggest connections that wouldn’t have occurred to me if only looking at one alone.  Just this week, I saw several  educational books about teaching children that also pictured children themselves in the accompanying illustrations.  Let’s take a look…

Frontispiece : The Boys' School

Frontispiece: The Boys’ School, or Traits of Character in Early Life / by Miss Sandham (London: John Souter, 1821?) Cotsen acc. no. 6100564

The engraved frontispiece of The Boys’ School, or Traits of Character in Early Life (undated but published about 1821) shows a well-appointed (and generally quite orderly!) school-room–notice all the books and several globes on the shelves in the background.  A well-dressed boy expounds an astronomical problem to a smiling master sitting at his desk in front of a small class.  Note the compass the boy holds, the telescope, and the other astronomy, navigation, or  time-keeping paraphernalia in the foreground too.  Looking at the illustration, it’s not clear to me how much attention the other boys are paying to the recitation though, but at least they’re in their seats!  Generally, a scene of enlightened decorum is effectively presented.

The frontispiece pretty much speaks for itself, but the text it accompanies tells us that this is a private school for a “limited number of boys,” and that Mr. Morton, the master was “good-natured” with a “steadiness of temper.”

It’s worth pointing out that, while the process of education is depicted in the frontispiece, the real object of this book is the moral education of its readers, as the author makes clear in her preface. The main character is one of the “children of affliction”–an orphan named William Falkner of small size and weak body–who is at first ridiculed by other students for his “personal defects” at the school, but who shows his mental and moral strength in the course of the story via his accomplishments.  In many respects, this presentation is characteristic of English “moral tales” for children of its era.

Moving back in time, Elementary Dialogues for the Improvement of Youth (published in 1790 as the first English version, of Joachim Campe’s Kleine Seelenlehre für Kinder) is presented in the form of a dialogue between a tutor and his students.  While generally benevolent, the tutor employs some educational techniques not exactly in accord with current practices today.  At one point, for instance, he appears at the beginning of the day “with a knotted handkerchief in his hand; and without speaking, strikes each of the boys with it.”  This isn’t as punishment for misbehavior though, but to demonstrate cause and effect to the boys in a way they’ll remember.

"the poor blockhead at his wit's end

“The poor blockhead at his wit’s end”: Elementary Dialogues for the Improvement of Youth / by J.H. Campe (London: Hookham and Carpenter, 1792) Cotsen acc. no. 6334569

One of the illustrations depicts what I first thought was a studious boy in a library or study–maybe a model scholar?.  There’s no caption to key a response, but notice the books, including one open on the desk before the boy. Take a look for yourself and see what you think!

Yet the accompanying text tells a different story.  The tutor’s narrative describes the boy as a “poor blockhead at his wit’s end.”  Unable to do a merchant’s apprenticeship text in writing and arithmetic, the boy “struck his forehead to correct himself for want of diligence … having profited little by education and…lost his time in running about and at play.”

As the text makes explicit, the tutor first shows this illustration to his students–as he does with the fifteen others presented in the book–and then elicits responses from them as he explains the context–which is immediately apparent to the boys in this case, who “read” the illustration more correctly than I did!  Perhaps the moral here–at least for catalogers–is that you can’t tell a story by looking at one picture!

In some books, the illustrations make visible in graphical terms what the author is trying to describe in the text–they play a secondary or supporting role.  In other books, such as toybooks by Caldecott, the illustrations ironically comment upon, or even undercut, the text; they can even become the primary narrative element.  (And, to be honest, in some children’s books, there’s little relation between text and illustration; the illustrations are essentially decorative.)  In Elementary Dialogues, text and illustration work together, the pictures intended to “make sensible” to children the “ideas” that the author wants to present.  This method is meant to leave “the pleasure of discovering [the ideas] to the children,” and is consistent with the theories that Locke presented for using illustrations and objects for children’s education.

Having had all this moral and conceptual education, it’s time for a break, don’t you agree?

And so apparently do the students shown in the engraved frontispiece of Christmas Holidays: a Poem Written for the Amusement & Instruction of All Good Masters & Misses in the Known World by Tommy Tell-Truth, B.A., published circa 1767 (some titles are too good to shorten!).

Frontispiece: Christmas Holidays

Frontispiece: Christmas Holidays: a Poem (London: H. Roberts & H. Turpin [ca. 1767] (Cotsen acc. no. 6143802

Here we see an eighteenth-century English class on the verge of their Christmas break.   A benevolent-looking master gives out a prize, or treat, to one student, perhaps a star pupil? The rest of the students look like they’re about to explode with delight.  (Remember that feeling yourself when in school?) One boy skates out of the picture at lower right, school-bag and hat in hand; other students stand and cheer (Huzza!) or chatter amongst themselves–a sense of festive jollity prevails over order or decorum. Compare this scene with that depicted in the 1820′s Boy’s School frontispiece above, in particular the number of students, their clothing and the general classroom decor.  (We’ve moved from the world of Jane Austen back to the world of Tom Jones, or so it seems to me.)

Detail of frontispiece:  (Cotsen acc. no. 6143802)

Detail of frontispiece: Christmas Holidays (Cotsen acc. no. 6143802)

Of particular interest to me are the boys shown on the left side of the engraving.  In the foreground, one boy stuffs his school-bag (his back completely turned to the master) while another sprawls on the floor, holding his stomach in laughter while clutching a paper, perhaps his term grades?  Meanwhile, two boys feed the fire with what appears to be the master’s birch rod and disciplinary paddle.  The whole scene is one of blissful abandon and festive misrule, not inappropriate considering that another engraving in the book, titled “Twelfth Night,” depicts the festivity of a group of carousing adults, some apparently in their cups.

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)