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

The History of Little Fanny – Make Your Own Paper Dolls


This gallery contains 19 photos.

The History of Little Fanny, Exemplified in a Series of Figures was offered in 1810 by the publisher S. and J. Fuller at their magnificent Temple of Fancy, a London emporium of artists’ supplies, instruction books on drawing and painting, … Continue reading

Happy Holidays!

New Year shown as a fashionable young man, beofre a depiction of the zodiac

In January 1823 the London Magazine published Charles Lamb‘s humorous three-page essay “Rejoicing Upon the New Year’s Coming of Age.” It imagined the feast given by the New Year, and attended by 365 guests: April’s Fool, May Day, Christmas, Lord Mayor’s Day, and all the rest. By 1824, Lamb had recast his work as a poem for children, and it was printed with six pages of engravings as The New Year’s Feast on His Coming of Age. In honor of the holidays, we are sharing the copy that come to the Library as part of the Ellery Yale Wood Collection of Children’s Books and Young Adult Literature. It begins:

The Old Year being dead, the young Lord, New Year’s Day,
Determined on giving, for once and away,
A treat to his friends; and that none might be slighted,
All the days in the year to the Feast were invited.

After some squabbling about whether the sad, depressing fast days should be included, Christmas Day prevails and they are invited. It turns out Christmas is not just being kind – he intends to get Ash Wednesday drunk and see what happens.

Twelfth Day (usually called Twelfth Night) is the epitome of style, and May Day and St. Valentine cozy up on a sofa.

New Year’s speech of welcome is rudely interrupted by November 5 (the anniversary of the discovery of the Gunpowder Plot, Bonfire Day), and the guests take it upon themselves to kick the malcontent out into the street.

April Fool, who appears in many of these engravings, serves as chief jester and master of ceremonies for the feast. He seats the distant solstices together at the table:

The twenty-first day of June, I remember,
He sat next the twenty-first day of December;
The former the latter contemptuously eyed,
Like a May-pole a[nd] marrow-bone placed side by side.

Fortunately for the modern reader, an appendix is provided “designed to assist the juvenile capacity in understanding the allusions in the Poem.” These notes explain, for example, why August the Twelfth and St. George’s Day quarrel over who is to propose the King’s health – George IV’s birthday had come to be celebrated not on his natal day, but on St. George’s feast day, April 23. Other notes are equally useful, explaining Quarter Days, Ember Days, Rogation Day, Septuagesima, and the Greek Kalends (which turn out not to exist).

Once Christmas has plied Ash Wednesday with wassail, both entertain the company with song.

Music and conversation follow, and after further revels, the guests depart for their homes. Watchmen (the Vigils) accompany those who needed assistance.

Another old Vigil, a stout-made patrol.
Called the Eve of St. Christopher’s, jolly old soul,
Perceiving Ash Wednesday inclining to roam,
Took him up on his shoulders and carried him home.

You can read the book for yourself (and find out what Christmas and Ash Wednesday sang, and who went scandalously home with whom) on the Internet Archive. We have digitized our handsome, hand-colored copy, and loaded it into this vast public library at The original essay is also available at

We wish you and yours the happiest of holidays and a very happy, healthy new year!

Eclipses! – from the Ellery Yale Wood Collection of Children’s Books and Young Adult Literature

I Have been very anxious about the Weather To-day, how it might chance to fall out, on Account of the Eclipse of the Sun that is to be this afternoon; but it is at present fine, and I hope the Clouds will forbear, and permit us the extraordinary Sight…

Diagram of solar and lunar eclipses from The Young Gentleman and Lady’s Philosophy

Thus begins the chapter on solar eclipses in The Young Gentleman and Lady’s Philosophy (second edition, London: 1772). The book is written in the form of  conversations between Cleonicus, home from College for the summer, and his sister, Euphrosyne, whose lively interest in the natural sciences (“philosophy”) is impeded by her lack of access to instruction on the topic. She has formed the plan of getting her brother to help her, and in a series of dialogues, Cleonicus introduces her to astronomy and physics, using sketches, models, and experiments. Although she frequently suggests that a new subject may be too difficult for her, her intelligence and his organized and factual instruction consistently produce firmly rooted understanding on which she builds. The work speaks strongly for women’s education, arguing that if they were given the opportunity to study the sciences, they could excel.

Euphrosyne and Cleonicus are fortunate to have the opportunity to observe a total solar eclipse together, and following an explanation of why eclipses occur, he sets up two viewing stations –  a telescope with darkened lenses* and an adjacent room which acts as a camera obscura – a pinhole projector on a large scale. Here are highlights of their conversation during a solar eclipse:

Euphros. But see, the Time is at Hand for the Eclipse to begin — It wants 5 1/2 Minutes by my Watch.

Cleon. Well, we are prepared for it, happen as soon as it will; I have fixed the Telescope in a proper Position for viewing it; and thereby you will see it in me Heavens. I have also darkened the Chamber, wherein you will see the Eclipse in Miniature very perfectly; and have so ordered it that you only need to step out of one Room into another to see both.

Euphros. Dear Cleonicus, I am greatly obliged to you; but let me seat myself at the Telescope to observe the Beginning.

Cleon. Do so immediately; there is a Piece of dark Glass before the Eye-Glass in the Telescope, through which you may view the Sun without hurting your Eyes.

Euphros. Very good, Cleonicus; let me view him — I see his glorious Face, and the several Spots which beautify it — there is yet no Appearance of an Eclipse.

Cleon. In half a Minute you’ll see it.

Euphros. I do: — The Moon just touches him on the right Side and covers a very small Part — let me see it in the Chamber —

Cleon. Look in.

Euphros. ‘Tis just as I saw it at large in the Telescope; how beautiful it appears in that small Picture! But here it begins on the left Side, how is that?

Cleon. That is, because the Image of the Sun is inverted by the single Glass in the Scioptric Ball — See, there is a large Spot, which the Moon will presently hide, — view it in the Telescope —


Euphros.  I never observed an Eclipse with so much Pleasure and Exactness before — But see, methinks it begins to appear somewhat darkish, or else ’tis my Fancy —

Cleon. The Sun is now about two thirds Eclipsed, and the Day-light begins to be sensibly diminished, and will be so in a few Minutes.

Euphros. ‘Tis darker than it was — I’ll view the Sun again —- he appears horned like the Moon in her last Quarter;

Cleon. The Darkness increases very sensibly — the Air seems obscured, you will quickly see the Stars —

Euphros. The Stars! Will it be so dark as to make them visible?

Cleon. Visible! Yes, for a considerable Time; you will see Day converted into Night

Euphros. Bless me, you make me shudder at the Thought.

Cleon. It will be much darker by- and by in about three or four Minutes the Sun will be totally eclipsed —


Cleon. The Sun is now totally eclipsed.

Euphros. Look, see how the Beasts run under the Trees — what do the poor Creatures think!

Cleon. Think! They can’t tell what the Matter is, — they know ’tis something very extraordinary — There has been many a Night not so dark as it is now.

Euphros. That I am sure of — well ’tis very surprising —-

Cleon. So it is, to see the two great Lights of Heaven in a Manner both extinguished!


Euphros. The Eclipse, I see, is nearly at an End; I do assure you, Cleonicus, I never spent 2 1/4 Hours with more Pleasure and agreeable Surprize than now. — If you please, we will now go to drink Tea, and then I shall trouble you with a few more Questions about an Eclipse of the Moon.

Cleon. With all my Heart, my Euphrosyne; you know nothing gives me a greater Pleasure than to satisfy your Enquiries about natural Things.


The brother and sister at the telescope.

The book is part of the Ellery Yale Wood Collection of Children’s Books and Young Adult Literature. To see the original pages: Eclipses_from_The_Young_Gentleman_and_Ladys_Philosophy_1772a.

*It is not safe to look through a telescope at a solar eclipse without specialized equipment. Please follow NASA’s recommendations for viewing at

Marianne Hansen, Curator of Rare Books and Manuscripts




A May Day Story – from The Ellery Yale Wood Collection of Books for Young Readers

In 1809 the publisher J. Aldis of London printed a little picture book that invited many famous literary characters to a May Day birthday party. The birthday girl was Goody Two Shoes, who first appeared in 1765, a virtuous, hardworking girl who rose from poverty to comfortable respectability. In this, later, work she took advantage of her wealth to give a ball. The guests included a recent star in the juvenile literature firmament: Old Mother Hubbard and her dog (from a nursery rhyme published in 1805). Dick Whittington (a real Lord Mayor of London in the fifteenth century whose wildly revised and inaccurate history was popular by the 1700’s) and his cat appear hand in hand with Little Red Riding Hood. A monkey in a fancy hat provides a slap at Napoleon, a hot topic during the Peninsular War. Pompey the Little, the canine subject of a roman a clef from 1751, offered acrobatic entertainment. Little Tommy Tucker (first published 1744), of course, sang for his supper. The feast and dancing commenced.

And a wonderful time was had by all!

Goody Two Shoe’s Birth Day, on the First Day of May. London: J. Aldis, No. 9 Pavement, Moorfields. March 1, 1809.

A scan of the entire book is available on the Internet Archive at

Marianne Hansen, Curator of Rare Books and Manuscripts

A Tale as Old as Time – from The Ellery Yale Wood Collection of Children’s Books and Young Adult Literature

The fairy tale Beauty and the Beast has received attention recently with Disney’s release of a live action version of the film. Like any adaptation, the film is not exactly the same as its predecessors. However, the differences between Disney’s animated and live action films are not as noticeable when compared to older versions of the story like the circa 1875 version pictured below. As further indication of Beauty and the Beast’s long history, even this version describes itself as “An Old Tale New-Told.”

Eleanor Vere Boyle’s illustrated book Beauty and the Beast not only recounts the well-known plot, but also includes elements that are reminiscent of other fairy tales. One of the most obvious is that in this version, Beauty has two sisters, and her attractiveness and sweet disposition are catalysts for their envy. The girls’ mother died, and though Beauty’s father loves her very much, for most of the story he is oblivious to the sisters’ animosity toward Beauty. Although there are an additional two brothers added to the mix, the general family dynamic resembles Cinderella’s experience.

Check out the illustrations below for more comparisons to other fairy tales and a unique depiction of the Beast!

This image shows Beauty as a young girl with “her new scarlet cloak, to wrap her friend the old watch dog in!” This action is included to demonstrate her good character. Her cloak reminded me of Little Red Riding Hood.

In this scene, Beauty’s father enters the Beast’s garden intending to take a white rose back for Beauty. Stealing a plant for a loved one (and facing consequences for doing so) calls to mind the story of Rapunzel. This image is the first glimpse the reader gets of the Beast.

Each night when they dine, the Beast asks Beauty to marry him. Though she resists, she is slowly falling in love with him.

When Beauty returns home to visit her family, we encounter this scene in which Beauty’s sisters weep because even in her exile, their sister has returned dressed more finely then they, courtesy of the Beast. The ravens later overhear the sisters plotting Beauty’s death. Although the birds are portrayed neither as good nor evil, I thought of a few Snow White movies that feature ravens alongside the villain like “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” (1937) and the more recent “Snow White and the Huntsman.”

After Beauty professes her love for him, the Beast is transformed back into his princely self. Like Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty ballet, the rest of the castle “wakes up” as well, including the Beast’s mother, the Queen.

Isabel Gellert, Class of 2019

To Increase Your Delight – Sampling the Ellery Yale Wood Collection of Children’s Books and Young Adult Literature

Our first exhibition of the books in the Ellery Yale Wood collection opened today – To Increase Your Delight is showing in the Coombe Suite on the 2nd floor of Canaday Library through December, open during normal library hours. There was no shortage of wonderful books to show, and in fact the problem was the opposite one: how to begin to introduce a collection of something like 10,000 books in a very modest exhibition. I did, finally, choose twenty-two volumes to represent the whole – approximately two tenths of one percent of the books – and in spite of their number they give a taste of the riches we are still uncovering.

blogBFThe collection has hundreds of volumes of fairy tales and folk tales. We are showing a spectacular Sleeping Beauty (1876) illustrated by Walter Crane, an Ainu story (Ho-Limlim: A Rabbit Tale from Japan, 1990) illustrated by the modern woodcut artist Keizaburō Tejima, and an 1871 collection of fairy tales illustrated by Gustave Doré.blogCraneFantasy literature is very well represented in the collection from its beginnings in the nineteenth century right through The Hobbit, Harry Potter, and Philip Pullman’s work. The exhibition includes first editions of Mary Poppins (1934) and The Amber Spyglass (2000), and a beautifully illustrated French Alice in Wonderland from 1935.blogaliceOther young adult novels featured are The Sword in the Stone, by T.H. White,

blogSwordand Tennis Shoes, by Noel Streatfeild, (both 1938); Frances Hodgson Burnett’s first version of A Little Princess (1888); blogCreweRosemary’s Sutcliff’s The Armourer’s House (1951),  representing the important genre of historical novels; and one of the more than eighty novels written by Mrs Molesworth, a successful (although now little known) nineteenth-century author, The Trio in the Square (1898).

The collection includes many educational books, aimed at both the intellectual and the moral improvement of their young readers. We are showing Papa’s Gift for a Good Child (1850), blogPapaan ABC; an 1820 pamphlet on learning to read music; and the 1876 The Young Lady’s Book: A Manual of Amusements, Exercises, Studies, and Pursuits, with chapters on everything from cooking, sewing, and drawing to heraldry, stamp collecting, and archery. Attempts to make children better behaved are represented by Amy Catherine Walton’s religious novel Audrey, or, Children of Light (1897) blogAudrey and by The Daisy, or, Cautionary Stories in Verse: Adapted to the Ideas of Children from Four to Eight Years Old (1807). blogGiddySix Stories for the Nursery: In Words of One and Two Syllables crosses the mind/morals divide by trying to teach reading and manners simultaneously.

Nonsense verse is the last category we managed to fit in, with two early editions of Dame Trot and her Comical Cat (both between 1800 and 1810), and The New Butterfly’s Ball (1849), which begins:

From a sweet fairy grove, by the side of a pool,
Beneath a green willow, majestic and cool;
The Herald went forth, in most beautiful weather,
With trumpet, to summon the party together.
Saying “Little folks all,
Attend to my call,
The Butterfly gives an invite to a ball.
To increase your delight
She adds an invite
To an elegant supper, to finish the night.”

blogButterflyWe cannot offer you an elegant supper, but we do hope you will drop by to look at the books – and that you will be increasingly delighted.

– Marianne Hansen, Curator of Rare Books and Manuscripts

Prizes Richly Deserved – The Ellery Yale Wood Collection of Children’s Books and Young Adult Literature

Many of the Wood Collection books from the turn of the twentieth century are prize books (also referred to as reward books or premiums). Prize books were presented to children by schools, Sunday schools and religious associations as rewards for attendance, good behavior, or academic achievement. Prize books typically have an inscription or bookplate with the student’s name and the name of the awarding institution, along with the reason for the prize. MaudFlorenceNellie_Bookplate_01 Books awarded during the boom in popularity of prize books might also have more elaborate bindings and gilt edges.

PrizeBooks2aThe practice of giving children books as a reward has a long history, but the emergence of the prize book market and the significant role that these books played in the children’s book publishing industry have their roots in England’s Elementary Education Act of 1870. This Act introduced compulsory education for all children and the development of school boards to oversee children’s education in areas where new schools would be needed. CycleofLife_BookPlate_01

As the responsibility for children’s education shifted away from the church, concerns (expressed by religious and secular leaders alike) about popular juvenile fiction and the lack of appropriate models of behavior grew. The books that children received as prizes naturally reflected the values of the awarding institutions. Thus, books emphasizing the importance of hard work, temperance, and dedication to family values were typical prizes. Even when awarded by Sunday schools or other religious organizations, most prize books were not overtly religious, but encouraged piety and morality couched in social expectations for acceptable and respectable behavior.

HerGreatAmbition_HerGreatAmbition_05Though rarely the main focus of the narrative, much of the appropriate behavior modeled in prize books reinforced traditional gender roles. Portrayals of boys and men were complicated in that they had to reinforce some traditional male characteristics while disregarding others – boys behaving appropriately in these books would be hard working and relatively independent, but not adventurous like the heroes in popular fiction.HerGreatAmbition_TrueUnderTrial_04Representation of girls and women was often outdated, stubbornly disregarding changes in women’s roles in society. Even as more women, regardless of marital status, worked outside the home, prize books persisted in the narrow portrayals of women as wives and mothers, planted firmly within the domestic realm.

DorothysStepmother_JoansVictory_04Preservation of the status quo was also encouraged with regard to class. For many recipients, prize books were the only ones (other than the Bible) present in their homes. Books were chosen by middle-class boards and teachers, and provided to their working-class students as models of acceptable behavior. Social striving was actively discouraged in many stories and the protagonists held up as model characters were praised for knowing their place in society.

Class distinctions played a pivotal role in the development and prevalence of prize books as a sort of genre as well. While schoolchildren of any class might receive a book as a reward for good conduct or achievement in a certain subject, upper- and middle-class students were more likely to be presented with books chosen specifically with their interests in mind. Meanwhile, working-class students typically received books that were pre-approved by committee and ordered in bulk from a publisher’s list of suggested reward books.

As the practice of awarding these prize books to schoolchildren gained popularity, publishers capitalized on it, searching lists for appropriate titles and producing inexpensive, decorated prize editions. While earlier books (especially those published and presented before the Education Act) had inscriptions or bookplates noting the reward, GiftBookofPoetry_Inscription_01prize editions had special bindings, gilt edges, and other decorations to make them stand out and appeal to children.

These decorated editions looked fancy, but were often printed in a compressed format on thin, low-quality paper, which kept costs low for publishers and for schools. Institutions could then purchase these books in bulk and award them as-is, or with the addition of an inscription or bookplate with the student’s name, the awarding institution, and the reason for the prize to personalize them for the recipient.


In addition to creating prize and reward series with books already in their catalog, publishers commissioned works for the explicit purpose of promoting them as prize books. These commissioned works were not necessarily held in high literary regard, but as the demand for “suitably moral,” wholesome books persisted, so did publishers. In driving the demand for specific kinds of fiction, prize books played an important role in the development of children’s literature by dictating both content and business models.

StarlightStories_CherrySeries_03Though special prize editions of books have mostly gone out of style, the practice of rewarding students for academic achievements with books persists. After all, a book is a fitting prize for a student who has shown diligence in her studies and a thirst for knowledge. What better way to encourage further academic achievement than to present a student with something that facilitates it?

– Rayna Andrews (BMC 2011), Project Coordinator

Unpacking Mrs. Molesworth: Rediscovering a Forgotten Author

By Cassidy Gruber Baruth

This summer, my coworkers and I unpacked over 630 boxes of primarily children’s books that were donated to Bryn Mawr by alum Ellery Yale Wood. I knew a few of the older authors–Lewis Carroll, Enid Blyton, and Louisa May Alcott–but the vast majority were unfamiliar. Dozens of authors, although prolific and beloved during their era, didn’t stand the test of time. Mrs. Molesworth was one such writer, a woman who wrote so extensively that we joked half of our ‘M’ section was comprised of her books. I became curious about her, an author who produced dozens of books over her lifetime and whom Edward Salmon, a critic for the periodical The Nineteenth Century, deemed “the best story-teller for children England has yet known,” but who is unknown today.


Mary Louisa Molesworth (nee Stewart) was born in Rotterdam in 1839. She moved from the Netherlands to England when she was still a child and lived in Manchester for the duration of her childhood. As a child, there were signs of the writer she would become. She devoured books and loved listening to the fairy stories of her grandmother. She began to repeat these fairy stories to other children, gradually inventing new tales. She enjoyed playing make-believe, but preferred shells over dolls, as they provided a blank, faceless canvas onto which she could project her stories.

She married Major R. Molesworth in 1861 and had four daughters. By 1869 she had begun writing a book when scarlet fever struck her family, killing her eldest daughter. The tragedy spurred her to finish and publish the book Lover and Husband, written under the pseudonym Ennis Graham. Her adult novels were given firmly lukewarm praise, acknowledging the grace and quality of her writing, but finding the final product lackluster. One critic called Lover and Husband, “written with good taste, naturally and simply; the conversations are easy, the characters, if not profoundly studied, are life-like…” Sir Noel Paton, a friend of Molesworth’s, thought her adult novels were written “indifferently,” but encouraged her to try writing children’s literature. Molesworth already had a supply of children’s stories at hand: she had continued the storytelling tradition of her grandmother, inventing new bedtime stories for her own children.

Her first children’s book, a collection of short stories entitled Tell Me a Story, was a resounding success, and a second book quickly followed, and then a third, and a fourth. The qualities which dragged her down as an adult novelist – her simple, easy-going manner of writing – proved valuable to her as a children’s author. Her characters and stories were simple enough for children to follow, but still fresh and engaging. Molesworth wrote with a joy that sprang through the page, using italics, exclamations, and colloquial speech to emote childish joy and delight. She often invented words or wrote in a slangy manner in order to imitate a child’s speech. As Jane Darcy expresses in ‘Works not Realized: The Work of Louisa Molesworth,’ Molesworth wasn’t interested in moralizing or lecturing, as previous authors of children’s fiction had been; rather, she wrote in a child-like voice about topics that children cared about. Her interest and compassion for children comes across, even to a 21st century reader. As I skimmed her novels, I was struck by the energy of her characters and the vibrancy of her prose. Some of what she wrote is indubitably quaint and outdated, but I was unexpectedly impressed by how approachable her stories remain.


Molesworth was part of a new generation of children’s writers who wrote during the age of literary realism, a movement that moved away from romantic and idealized forms of literature and instead promoted more life-like characters and settings. She constantly drew on her own life experiences for inspiration, writing her children into stories such as ‘Goodnight, Winny’; featuring Holland in one of her most famous books, The Cuckoo Clock; and depicting aspects of her own childhood in the story ‘My Pink Pet.’

Molesworth’s stories dealt with children and growing up: their interests, trip-ups, relationships, and triumphs. Carrots, one of her most popular books, is the growing-up story of a little boy nicknamed Carrots and his older sister, Floss. The novel is a sweet vignette of growing up, making mistakes, and moving forward as Carrots accidentally steals a coin from his nurse and must learn to make amends. Another book, The Cuckoo Clock, similarly deals with themes of mistakes, forgiveness, and friendship after a young girl ruins her aunt’s cuckoo clock in a fit of anger, later discovering that the cuckoo inside is actually a magical creature who wants to be her friend. Although the children in Molesworth’s stories are far from perfect, the tone she takes is patient and understanding, not moralizing or condescending. It is understood that making mistakes is a natural part of growing up, and she gives them the freedom to explore and reflect.


Although Molesworth wrote for children, the quality of her writing and characters were recognized by some of the finest writers of the day. The poet Algernon Charles Swinburne commended Molesworth’s abilities, stating:

It seems to me not at all easier to draw a life-like child than to draw a life-like man or woman. Shakespeare and Webster were the only two men of their age who could do it with perfect delicacy and success . . . . Our own age is more fortunate, on this single score at least, having a larger and far nobler proportion of women writers: among whom, since the death of George Eliot, there is none left whose touch is so exquisite and masterly, whose love is so thoroughly according to knowledge, whose bright and sweet invention is so fruitful, so truthful, or so delightful as Mrs. Molesworth’s.”

One of the greatest lessons I have learned from this job, and from Mrs. Molesworth especially, is that there is a story behind everything. It is a joy to unearth the person behind the title page, and discover their contributions, however big or small they may be. Mary Louisa Molesworth left behind over 100 novels and stories for both adults and children after her death in 1921. She has been largely forgotten, but her influence lives on. Her style inspired writers such as E. Nesbit, author of Five Children and It, and Frances Hodgson Burnett, author of The Secret Garden and A Little Princess. Due in no small part to Molesworth’s many stories, realistic fiction proved a wildly popular children’s genre and remains so to this day.

Cassidy Gruber Baruth (BMC 2019) has been working this summer in Special Collections. Among many other tasks, she has unpacked, cleaned, sorted and inventoried books from the Ellery Yale Wood Collection.