Transformations of Images and Texts – The Orphan Girl

Dean & Co. was an early and prolific publisher of toy and movable books for children: pop-ups, pantomime books, “peepshow” or tunnel books. Their first line of novelty books was the series Dame Wonder’s Transformations, books with a hole cut in each page through which the face of the main character appears, surrounded by the events of the story.Cover fo the book: Dame Wonder's Transformations. The Orphan Girl. The Orphan Girl, published between 1843 and 1845, is a charming example of this technology.

Face of the orphan girl showing through the hole through all five pages

The orphan girl’s face showing through all the pages of the book.

The story is told in the first person by the “orphan girl”, who appears to be in her mid-to late teens at the beginning of the book. She is left alone, although in possession of a cottage, and she calls upon God to keep her from sin and to supply her needs. The orphan girl kneels in prayer at a table, hands restin on a large book. Tree branches without leaves are seen through the window.As a result of her earnest piety, her garden provides abundant bouquets which she sells to the wealthy. The orphan girl sells a bunch of flowers to a well-dressed lady. A fashionable coach appears in the background.In addition, her domestic fowl and sheep increase prodigiously, bees swarm to her home, and her fruit trees and vines bear heavily. The orphan girl stands otudoor, surrounded by a variety of domestic birds. A yong boy and girl stand nearby. Sheep are on the hill in the background.She occasionally teaches a neighbor’s child to read, apparently as a leisure activity. The orphan girl sits sewing wiht a youn g girl next to her holding an open bookSuddenly, her brother returns from India, having made a fortune, and provides the means for the two of them to live comfortably in the cottage. The brother, dressed in naval uniform embraces his sister at the cottage. A ship in full sail appears in the background.In the last scene, supplied abundantly herself, she gives bread and drink to an impoverished neighbor.The orphan girl gives food to a neighbor woman with two childre. The brother sits nearby under a trellis.The narrative is related to the most famous children’s book of the eighteenth century, Little Goody Two-Shoes, although in The Orphan Girl, the account is condensed to an extreme. The original, first published in 1765, tells the story of a sister and brother whose parent die when the children are small. They are separated, and the story follows the sister who lives at first in extreme poverty in the country, gradually gaining the respect and trust of her fellow villagers. By the time she is in her early teens she supports herself by going house to house daily, teaching younger children to read. When the schoolmistress retires, she is chosen to replace her. Her competence and kindness induce a local gentleman first to employ, then to woo her. Their wedding is enlivened by the return of her now wealthy brother, and she lives afterward as a model of prudence, piety, and effective charity. The Libraries do not, unfortunately, have an early copy of the book, but you can read it on the Internet Archive.

Of course, if you reduce a story from 100 plus pages to a bare six images you must simplify the narrative. Goody Two-Shoes appeared in dozens of later, shorter versions, many of which suggest that the reader was expected already to know the story. But the differences in these two accounts give us an opportunity to reflect on the lessons conveyed by books to their young readers. The “orphan girl” is devout and trusts God, and she is rewarded for her faith and piety by prosperity, without any effort beyond prayer. Although Goody Two-Shoes also conveyed numerous religious messages, it featured a protagonist who made her way in the world though dogged hard work, good nature, and intelligence. Both are historically acceptable role models – but what a difference in the influences the two might have on a young female reader.

Detail showing the orphan girl teaching a little girl.The Orphan Girl. London: Dean & Co., 35 Threadneedle Street, 1843-1845

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