Surprenant_Pet Book Report #1: Helen by Maria Edgeworth

For my pet book, I chose the 1838 edition of Maria Edgeworth’s Helen. I have read a few brief excerpts of some of Edgeworth’s other works in my undergraduate classes, and I’ll admit that I chose the book out of a sense of familiarity, but also because I am interested in aspects of Edgeworth’s life. From what I know so far, her politics were relatively progressive for the time in which she lived. I have an interest in gender studies, and men and women with atypical viewpoints in any given time period always grab my attention.

This particular edition of Edgeworth’s novel had an interesting page of publication information because it does not make clear exactly where it was published and who published it. The page reads ” London: Richard Bently, New Burlington Street: Bell, Bradfute, Edinburgh, J. Cumming, Dublin.” This page suggests that it was published in both London and Dublin, and makes sense give Edgeworth’s connection to both countries (I did a quick Google search for some preliminary information).  Additionally, the front cover of the book refers to the title as Helen, whereas subsequent interior pages refer to the title as Helen: A Tale (on which an illegible mark of ownership is also written). Perhaps this is a stylistic choice of the editor, but it isn’t clear to me what the reasoning behind that choice would be. On the last page of text in book, there is another note, this time referring to the place of printing: LONDON: Printed by A. SPOTTISWOODE, New-Street Square. This leads me to believe that the book was produced in London, rather than Dublin as the early pages indicated.

The inside front cover pages have two illustrations, one on the left page and one on the right. Both depict a woman, and each are attributed to (possibly?) two artists,  and are followed up with what look like abbreviations:  J. Franklin pinxt and W. Greatbatch sculpt. However, the second attribution to Greatbatch has the abbreviation “sc” next to his name. Each illustration is captioned. The left illustration reads “Beauderc’s dog, Nelson, came bounding toward her, and the next moment, her master appeared, coming down a path from the wood,” and the right illustration reads “There is Helen in the Line walk.” I’m curious to know whether or not these illustrations are based off of  previously existing pieces of art, or if they were commissioned specifically for the publication of this particular edition of the novel. Do these images appear only in this edition? Or are they part of subsequent editions as well?

Regarding the physical attributes of the book, the outside edges of the paper were finished in a fading faux-marble finish. The interior of  the (cardboard?) covers were marbled as well, although they were in better condition than the pages. The spine of the book, as well as the outside edges of the cover were surrounded in gilded inlay and were stamped with decorative design. I’m wondering if this was an attempt to make the book appear more expensive and exclusive? The paper does not show any signs of chain lines, and the paper itself feels very pulpy. However, the pages have been sewn together, rather than glued, as evidenced by the  bumps in the spine and the loose strands of string coming through different page groups.

What struck me most about the book was not necessarily how it looked or felt, but rather what was printed inside it. Beginning on page 1, Chapter I, the bottom page has an uppercase “B,” and subsequent pages until page 7 continue “B2-B4.” Later pages also include similar letter/number combinations. My guess is that it may have to do with printing sequences and needing to keep the pages in order, but some of the number/letter combinations appear only on some pages, but not others. If the folding of pages comes into play, I’m assuming that may be one reason behind the code logic. At the moment, whatever code is placed at the bottom of some pages and not others seems to be the biggest mystery.

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