LIT 4334: The Golden Age of Children's Literature

English Moors and Magic Gardens: The Importance of Place in The Secret Garden

sg1Two of the books we have read recently, Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens and Five Children and It, are both lesser-known works today, especially when compared to some of the other novels we have read this semester. While the character of Peter Pan is well known, Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens was overshadowed by the more popular Peter and Wendy. While Five Children and It has endured as a classic in England, it is recognized far less in the U.S. While there are certainly several reasons for the lower status of both of these books, one reason that has been suggested by several people in the class is the specificity of the place or the culture in which the books are set. Peter Pan takes place in Kensington Gardens, a distinct landmark that would have been unfamiliar to American readers. Likewise, Five Children and It is grounded in British country life and a culture that may have seemed strange to American children.

Upon learning from the group presentation on Tuesday that The Secret Garden faded in popularity after its initial publication, I immediately wondered if the same problem of location could be at fault in this case. After all, the book seems to be tied closely to its English setting. Most significant are the frequent descriptions of the remarkable landscape of the moor. The moor is so present in the story that reviewer R. A. Whay remarked that “it might be the moor, the Yorkshire moor…that is to be accepted as the protagonist” (Whay 269). American readers were likely not familiar with this landscape or the “cool and warm and sweet” (Burnett 108) wind off of the moor that has such a powerful effect on Mary and Colin.

sg2After reading Anne Lundin’s essay on the reception of the book, however, it does not seem that the specific setting of the story had any significant effect on its popularity or lack thereof. This led me to wonder why the specificity of the location did not have the negative effect on The Secret Garden that it had on other books, and I think that the answer lies in the garden itself. The secret garden is a hidden, magical sort of place that is disconnected from the rest of the gardens and from Misselthwaite Manor. The garden is not tied to a specific time or place, and when Mary, Dickon, and Colin are in the garden it is as if they have left the outside world and entered an entirely separate place. The garden exists as an equivalent to Wonderland or Neverland, a mystical world into which all readers can imagine themselves. The “mythic imagery of a restored garden, of something submerged awaiting discovery” (Lundin 287) can appeal to everyone, thus outweighing any negative effect that the specific location may have.

All quotes from:
Burnett, Frances H, and Gretchen Gerzina. The Secret Garden: Authoritative Text, Backgrounds and Contexts, Burnett in the Press, Criticism. New York: W.W. Norton, 2006. Print.

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Paper Thoughts: Arthur Rackham and Children’s Book Illustration

rackham1For my final paper I am focusing, unsurprisingly, on children’s book illustration. More specifically, I am planning to write about Arthur Rackham (1867-1939), a prolific early-twentieth century British illustrator. While Rackham illustrated a vast number of books, I intend to focus on his illustrations for Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens and examine how these illustrations are representative of major themes in children’s book illustration during the Golden Age. (I realize that this is still somewhat vague, most of my research so far has been limited to biographical information while I wait for a couple of books on the history of children’s book illustration to arrive.)

Rackham was commissioned to illustrate Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens in 1905, completing fifty full-page color illustrations for the text. His illustrations were praised by both Barrie and critics, and the book was the most popular gift-book for Christmas in 1906. Rackham’s Alice in Wonderland, published in time for Christmas in 1907 after the book’s original copyright expired, was one of the first re-illustrated versions to be released since the publication of the original with John Tenniel’s iconic illustrations. Interestingly, several other re-illustrated versions were released at the same time, but Rackham’s was the only to endure.

rackham5One specific area that interests me is the production and reception of deluxe limited editions of illustrated books during this period. Many of Rackham’s books were published in these sorts of editions and were extremely popular as Christmas gifts, as I mentioned in the previous paragraph. However, I am finding in my research that such lavish editions, while popular, also attracted criticism when it came to children’s books. For example, the illustrations for Peter Pan were printed, as was customary, on thick paper and protected by tissue fly-leaves (some of the books that we looked at on our visit to the Baldwin were printed in this manner). Critics attacked this practice, however, claiming that such fine books were more suited for “the drawing-room rather than the nursery” (Hudson 66). They argue that in creating such luxurious editions, the books were turned into art objects more easily admired by adults than enjoyed and used by children. I plan to try and locate the full original responses by critics that are cited in the books I have read, and I hope to further explore this debate and its implications for Rackham’s work and Golden Age children’s illustration.

A gallery of Rackham’s Peter Pan illustrations can be found here.
A Rackham edition of Alice in Wonderland can be viewed here.

Hamilton, James. Arthur Rackham: A Life with Illustration. London: Pavilion, 1990.
Hudson, Derek. Arthur Rackham: His Life and Work. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1960.

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W. W. Denslow and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

William Wallace Denslow was an American illustrator and cartoonist who is today best known for his children’s illustrations, particularly his illustrations for L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

oz 1Denslow was born in Philadelphia on May 25, 1856. He studied briefly as a teenager at the National Academy of Design and the Cooper Union Institute, both in New York, but he was largely self-taught as an artist. His earliest works appeared in magazines such as Hearth and Home and the children’s magazine St. Nicholas. In the late 1870s and early 1880s he traveled around the United States working as an artist and newspaper reporter. In 1888 he began working at the Chicago Herald, but he lost the job as a result of his heavy drinking. He then lived in Denver and San Francisco before returning to Chicago for the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893, after which he remained in the city. He worked as a poster artist as well as designing books and bookplates, and he became the first professional artist employed by the Chicago-based Roycroft Press.

Denslow was a well-respected artist, but he did not gain widespread popularity until working with Baum on The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. The pair had first worked together on Baum’s Father Goose: His Book in 1899. Baum and Denslow jointly held the copyrights for the works on which they collaborated, but they argued over royalty shares from the 1902 stage version of The Wizard of Oz, for which Baum wrote the script and Denslow designed the sets and costumes. After this argument, Baum refused to work with Denslow on any further projects.

oz 2Denslow moved to New York in 1899 and continued illustrating books and working on comic strips, including comics that featured characters from his collaborations with Baum (but without Baum’s permission). He also created Billy Bounce, one of the earliest comic strips to feature a protagonist with superpowers. Using the royalties from both the print and stage versions of Oz, Denslow purchased an island off the coast of Bermuda and crowned himself King Denslow I. However, in the early years of the new century, Denslow began drinking heavily and had difficulty finding stable employment, working as a designer for various advertising agencies. He died in New York on March 29, 1915, of pneumonia that he caught after getting drunk while celebrating the sale of a full-color cover to Life magazine.

oz 3


Denslow’s Oz illustrations consist of 24 full color plates and numerous monochromatic illustrations in which the color mirrors the location of the story, such as the green coloring of the Emerald City illustrations or the blue of those set in Munchkin land. The Oz books have been illustrated by a variety of artists since Denslow. The first to follow Denslow was John R. Neill, who illustrated the remaining books by Baum in the series. Subsequent illustrators have remained closer to Neill’s illustrations than to Denslow’s, up until the work of Donald Abbott, whose illustrations from the 1990s have revived interest in Denslow’s classic illustrations.


Sources: (all images from this site)

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz can be viewed in full here.
Several of Denslow’s other works can be viewed in the Baldwin’s digital collection.

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John Tenniel and the World of Alice in Wonderland

giant aliceLewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland has inspired vast numbers of illustrations over the years. Illustrations by various artists, such as Peter Newell and Arthur Rackham, can be seen in the essay we read for this week by Roni Natov. Also featured among these images are illustrations by John Tenniel, who worked closely with Carroll and whose illustrations accompanied the novel upon its original publication .

alice and queen



John Tenniel was born in London in February 1820. He studied at the Royal Academy, but as an illustrator and cartoonist he was primarily self-taught. He exhibited (and sold) a painting at the Society of British Artists at the age of 16, and he later exhibited at the Royal Academy as well. He worked on illustrations for several books, including Thomas James’s Aesop’s Fables and Charles Dickens’s The Haunted Man. Tenniel is also well-known for his cartoon work for Punch, a Victorian humor magazine begun in 1841. He contributed many illustrations to the magazine, becoming chief artist in 1846 and keeping the position until his retirement in 1901. In 1864, Tenniel agreed to work with Carroll on the illustrations for Alice in Wonderland, creating 42 wood engravings to accompany the story. Tenniel was knighted in 1893, and he died nine years later in February 1914.

white rabbitTenniel’s illustrations provide a detailed mirror of the events in Carroll’s text. The first illustration of the story, depicting the White Rabbit, helps to ease the reader into Alice’s fantasy world as seamlessly as Carroll accomplishes this transition in the text. In the story, Alice notices a “white rabbit with pink eyes” who becomes remarkable not when he speaks but when he takes a watch from his waistcoat-pocket. Tenniel’s illustration likewise combines elements of the natural and familiar to create a new and unusual scene. The rabbit is depicted naturalistically and is placed in a realistic field of grass and dandelions. His clothes and pocket-watch are familiar objects as well. However, the combination of these elements, in addition to his upright posture and human hands (a feature shared by many of the animals in the illustrations), creates something unexpected and signals the entrance into a world of fantasy. As the story continues, Tenniel’s illustrations capture the nonsense and peculiarity of the world that Alice travels through, reflecting Carroll’s story and creating an enduring appeal for readers today.

For more information on John Tenniel and his work, visit the links on this page.
For a gallery of all the Alice illustrations, visit this page.

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Arthur Hughes and The Princess and the Goblin

Figure 1

Figure 1


As an Art History major, I am always drawn to the illustrations in books at least as much as the stories themselves. So, naturally, I was intrigued by the Arthur Hughes illustrations in my copy of The Princess and the Goblin, and I was curious to learn more about this artist.

Figure 2

Figure 2







Arthur Hughes was born in London on January 27th, 1832. He began studying art in 1846 at Somerset House, and shortly after he entered the Royal Academy where he became friends with some of the leaders of a group known as the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, including John Everett Millais, William Holman Hunt, and Dante Gabriel Rossetti. The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood is known for their use of intense colors and extremely precise attention to detail as well as their frequent portrayal of historical subjects, especially those drawn from medieval times and Arthurian legend. Hughes’s paintings, such as one of his best-known works April Love, clearly demonstrate the influence of the Pre-Raphaelite circle, and he remains closely associated with them today, although he was not an official member of the Brotherhood.

Figure 3

Figure 3

In addition to his paintings, Hughes is also known for his numerous book illustrations, such as those that appear in The Princess and the Goblin. In fact, he frequently collaborated with George MacDonald, contributing illustrations that appeared alongside MacDonald’s stories in the journal Good Words for the Young. These illustrations, like his paintings, demonstrate a Pre-Raphaelite influence that can be seen, for example, in the beautiful and idealized depiction of Irene’s great-grandmother (fig. 1) and in the cheerful springtime setting of the illustration of Irene on a hillside among flowers and lambs (fig. 2). Also notable in his illustrations is the tight focus that brings the viewer directly into the action of the scene and the moment of the story, as seen in figures 3 and 4.

Figure 4

Figure 4


Hughes died in London on December 22nd, 1915, leaving behind numerous paintings and illustrations such as those that still enrich The Princess and the Goblin today.

Arthur Hughes on The Victorian Web (see also link “Hughes as an Illustrator”)
Arthur Hughes on Wikipedia
Pre-Raphaelites on Wikipedia
Hilton, Tom. The Pre-Raphaelites. London: Thames & Hudson, Ltd., 1970.
Illustrations: Macdonald, George. The Princess and the Goblin. New York: Puffin Books, 1996.

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“The Swan Maiden”: Not So Happily Ever After

swanIn her introduction to the “Beauty and the Beast” tales, Maria Tatar notes that these stories are unique because they intertwine “two developmental trajectories” (25), Beauty’s struggles and Beast’s transformation. The dual nature of these tales results in a variety of interpretations, many of which are significantly different from the popular story we know today. The tale “The Swan Maiden” (72-73) grabbed my attention precisely for this reason.

In “The Swan Maiden,” a young man discovers three swans who, when they remove their “feathery attire” (72), transform into beautiful young women. The man falls in love with the youngest and is advised by his mother to steal her swan feathers while she is bathing. The woman is unable to transform back into a swan and must marry the man. They live “lovingly and contentedly” (73) until one evening the young man reveals the swan feathers. His wife immediately transforms back into a swan and escapes through an open window, and the young man dies of grief within a year.

Perhaps the most striking difference between this tale and many of the others in the Beauty and the Beast category is that while the others serve to reassure young girls about married life, particularly in arranged marriages, this tale accomplishes almost the exact opposite. The couple in the story is married for seven supposedly happy years, yet the young woman escapes from married life without any hesitation as soon as an opportunity presents itself. This tale hints at the “secretly oppressive nature of marriage” (31), painting a portrait that was likely more realistic than the ones presented in other versions of the tale.

swan princessWhile reading this tale, I was also reminded of the animated film The Swan Princess which is based on the ballet Swan Lake. However, after re-familiarizing myself with the plot of the ballet, I realized that the main similarity to “The Swan Maiden” is really only in the animal into which the woman transforms. In fact, the plot of Swan Lake seems to have more in common with the familiar “Beauty and the Beast” story: the man falls in love with a women cursed to live as an animal, they fight to overcome the curse, and they are united by love in the end (albeit with varying degrees of success—in the ballet they usually die together, but in the film they are happily married). I did some searching for the origins of the Swan Lake story, and according to this page its most likely origins are in a German tale called “The Stolen Veil” and a Russian folktale called “The White Duck.” I was not able to find anything tying the tale of “The Swan Maiden” to the plot of Swan Lake, but I find it fascinating that the link of the swan led me to a different story that nevertheless falls into the same basic tale type, thus emphasizing the variety that is possible within a single basic story.

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Hi, my name is Bethany Gugliemino. I am a third year Art History major with a minor in English. I am from Niceville, Florida, but my dad used to be in the Air Force so growing up I lived in several different places, including Japan, Texas, and Illinois. I graduate in December, and I then plan to pursue a Master’s in Art History and eventually work in an art museum. My dream job would be to work in the Victoria & Albert Museum or the Tate Britain in London.

I am taking this class to finish my minor, but I also chose it because I have never taken a class in children’s literature and it seemed like a topic I would enjoy. I am particularly interested in the “Golden Age” aspect of this class and in examining why and how certain books are designated as “classics.” When I think of children’s literature I generally come up with two different categories, picture books and child-oriented chapter books. I tend to associate the term more with chapter books for children because I remember reading chapter books much more than I remember reading picture books.

There are two books on the reading list that I am especially excited about. The first is The Secret Garden because it has always been one of my favorite books and it is responsible for my fascination with sprawling, mysterious houses and rambling, overgrown gardens. The second is The Princess and the Goblin. This was one of the first chapter books I read as a child, but I had forgotten about it entirely until I stumbled upon a copy at the FOL book sale last year and I am looking forward to finally re-reading it. I also find it entertaining that when I first read it, I thought of it not as a children’s book but as my first “grown-up book.”

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