Visiting the Boston Public Library, I found that there were a number of Maria Edgeworth’s works housed in the rare books collection. Having gained an increased knowledge about Edgeworth as an author, I decided to take a look at her children’s literature to compare to her last work and my pet book, Helen. Of the materials I looked at, I have chosen to focus on the 1850 edition of Miss Edgeworth’s Stories for Children: Gary Owen and Poor Bob and the undated edition of The Parent’s Assistant. Before seeing the texts, I assumed that these were two different works. However, upon opening them and flipping through the pages, I discovered that they were two different ways of presenting the same material. This matter of presentation is what I have been drawn to over the past few weeks of our coursework. Edgeworth’s novels propose the importance of marketing and knowing one’s audience. From what I have observed, it appears that it was necessary to craft a persona of Edgeworth as an all-knowing dispenser of motherly advice. This persona appears to have been ingrained in her earlier works, and later translated into the texts she produced for an adult audience. By keeping the marketing and packaging of Edgeworth’s works, the public receives a consistent image of an author whose works they have come to enjoy. While Edgeworth may have grown as a writer in terms of the type of work she produced, it appears that her public persona followed her through to the end of her career.
Beginning with Miss Edgeworth’s Stories for Children, the physical appearance of the book is thin, but ornate as far as the orange/red and blue/black designs on the covers are concerned. Only containing two stories, it initially seems that Edgeworth produced only two stories for this particular volume. However, one could purchase more of Edgeworth’s works as evidenced by the back page that includes a section titled “Miss Edgeworth’s Publications.” These additional publications appear in several volumes and continuations. The publisher of these collections, Simpkin, Marshall, and Co., present their volumes in a way that entices consumers to buy more. They offer only a small portion of Edgeworth’s works. They even go so far as to split up her longer stories into different continuations that must be purchased. This seems especially odd, given that these are stories and not novels. The length suggests that they could be read in one sitting, yet the publisher relies on her popularity to bring in readers so that the stories can be physically split up. The notion of accessibility becomes important here as well. The stories may be split up so that parents will have to buy more copies, but the large, bold text makes reading easier and perhaps more accessible to children. To allow children to interact with the book, the stories are also broken up into chapters, which may allow children to access the stories in smaller increments that play well with young attention spans. The various physical attributes of the book conjures a variety of questions about the motives of the publisher, but also speaks to Edgeworth’s established popularity.
The lasting appeal of Edgeworth’s novels is evident based off of the marginalia found within the first few pages of the book. The 1850 edition of Miss Edgeworth’s Stories for Children is an original copy. It is inscribed to “H.J. Wood, with Aunt Harriet’s Love, 1852.” I believe that it is safe to assume that this inscription suggests a gift to a child. Edgeworth’s popularity appears to be felt by adults and children alike, and the ornamentation of her books further lends them to become cherished gifts. In addition to this original notation, ownership was later passed down to an Alice Pearse who acquired the book on July 9, 1946. The marks of ownership present in this copy imply that the book was of enough shared importance to be passed down and around through generations, or simply given as a gift. While there may not be any relation between H.J Wood and Alice Pearse, it later became evident to me that Alice Pearse had a specific interest in Maria Edgeworth’s novels through her multiple donations to the Boston Public Library.
In addition to Miss Edgeworth’s Stories for Children, Pearse also donated the first of the three volumes of The Parent’s Assistant. In this text, there are several of Edgeworth’s stories collected, not just two. On the title page, the volume is presented as “BY MARIA EDGEWORTH: Author of Practical Education, Moral Tales, Early Lessons, &c.” To present the inside title page in a large, striking font further suggests Edgeworth’s enduring popularity. She becomes akin to a celebrity’s name listed on a modern marquee surrounded in lights. In this fashion, Edgeworth becomes the sage that parents believe that they need. Edgeworth includes a length preface “ADDRESSED TO PARENTS” that suggest the ways in which the stories found in the upcoming pages will be useful and important to the raising of their children. Edgeworth, in an obtuse way, becomes almost like the modern parenting experts of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Such as status may not be something that she asked for, but the presentation of her work cemented her place as a trusted partner in child rearing. Further her celebrity status is the way that this book appears on the shelf. The front cover is an engraved piece of art depicting a general scene of family life. The bound edge of the book appears as red leather, but feels more like a different type of heavy paper or cardstock. The title is worked with gold inlay, giving it the appearance of something that is important and meant to be cherished. This copy is interesting in that the publishers Munroe and Francis make a note to readers in the back of the books that reads “many Juvenile books, among which are the following, ornamented with cuts:” yet this copy has only the front piece of art as its imagery.
The idea of imagery is one that may be expanded on with the appearance of Edgeworth’s works. Both Miss Edgeworth’s Stories for Children and The Parent’s Assistant include imagery to varying degrees, but their actual physical appearance creates another image, one that suggests importance and veneration. Considering the appearances of the books as images themselves, they are directed both at children and parents, and function in different ways to tell the same stories. From an economic perspective, the publishers have created editions that children want and parents need. They look good on the shelf, but they are also accessible to the children who will come to know the stories within their covers.
In Edgeworth’s career, she moved from children’s literature into the emerging novel form. As I have noted from general web inquiries, her final novel, Helen, was a conscious effort to advance herself as a writer away from moral sentiments into the realm of realism. Published in 1834, Helen was Edgeworth’s last novel. The edition that I have chosen as my pet book follows the trend of publishing Edgeworth’s material in a volume that appears to be much more ornate than the actual material within the pages may be. It includes engraved images, marbled inside covers, gilded inlay, and decorative stamped edges. The narrative that seems to emerge from these elements in context of the additional two Edgeworth materials that I observed appears to be that a persona was created and meant to be kept intact. Edgeworth established herself as a popular writer, and to stray away from the conventional works that had made her famous could have proven detrimental to sales.
Presenting Edgeworth as a literary celebrity through the ornate appearance of her books, her publishers were able, at the very least, preserve the public’s perception of the type of work they would be reading when picking up Helen for the first time. Miss Edgeworth’s Stories for Children and The Parent’s Assistant established the type of work the public could expect from Edgeworth. It would have been a reasonable concern of her publishers that any work she produced that did not meet the expectations of her audience would not do well. With Helen not being a typical Edgeworth novel, placing it within ornate packaging helps to secure a certain degree of sales and preserves the public’s perception of a popular author. By keeping the presentation of Edgeworth’s works as something to be cherished, collected, and consulted, Edgeworth’s publishers crafted a literary persona that fell in line with the values of her public and with the economic needs of those who disseminated her materials into the masses.