Doll House Drama

Pam’s Pictorama Post: As I scrape through the remainder of the available adult fiction of Frances Hodgson Burnett I am beginning to turn to the juvenile works. The first I picked up was one I had never heard of called Racketty Packetty House. In researching it I discovered that while I may never have heard of it the book has not been moldering in obscurity – there are more editions than I can count available online – ancient, new and all between – and it would seem it has been continuously in print since its inception in 1906. It is what I think of as an early chapter book for children, too long for a single sitting, novella length.

As I have written in prior posts, our gal Frances was prolific beyond belief and she was clearly churning out her popular juveniles while writing the novels and keeping magazines supplied with stories. (And turning all of the above into plays and ultimately films! My posts on her at this point are too numerous to list and all could be found by searching my site with her name however they start here and I discuss the films a bit here.)

I guess I should warn anyone reading this as a review that there are what could be considered spoilers in it so you may want to come back when you are done reading the story.

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The book contains the ingredients of a children’s classic – anthropomorphic dolls and animals (I especially like that the family pets bring gifts and apologize for their youthful indiscretions of chewing on body parts and a mouse gentleman brings an offering of wood shavings for dinner one evening) with a princess and a few fairies thrown in for good measure. I read the electronic version (I downloaded it on something called Google Play) and was deprived of illustrations which impacted my experience of it. I think good illustrations could really help sell it and looking around online after the fact I believe this is true. (There are also some quite hideously illustrated volumes, with all due respect, mostly of more recent vintage.) I believe the illustrations I am sharing are from the original publication or at least a contemporaneous one in Hodgson Burnett’s lifetime. If the early editions were less expensive and I had more bookcase space I would want to pick one up.

 

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Ridiklis whose leg was chewed off by the dog and cat in their unbridled youth – friends now and they bring offerings such as string to the doll family.

 

The story is of two dollhouses in a nursery, a dilapidated old one and a shiny new one, the story told from the perspective of a watchful fairy as one is cast aside and shoved in the corner while the other takes center stage and the lives of the doll families within. The new dolls are snooty and look down their noses at the old, ragged dolls – these poor dolls however are jolly and know how to have a good time despite their indigence. The beautiful Lady Patsy doll shows up on the scene and she and Peter Piper (antic ringleader of the poor dolls) and she fall in love.

Funny how all Hodgson Burnett’s tropes are remade for this kid’s story! The poor but worthy (and jolly despite their poverty) find love and are ultimately elevated, financially, socially, in the end. (As I read online reviews this seems to be the primary gripe about her as an author – if you want realism you have gone to the wrong woman I say! I wrote about some of those tropes here and here.) Interesting to me is that she makes the human child owner of said dolls decidedly unlikable – she is a selfish nasty bit of business. Frances Hodgson Burnett did not shy away from portraying unpleasant children.

However, the real reason I decided to write about this story today is that I cannot help but feel that this story planted the seeds for two other significant children’s stories. One I have written about previously and is called The Doll’s House by Rumer Godden. (That post can be found here.) Godden’s book, a similar chapter book for about the same age group, is a classic in its own right. There is a striking similarity in the lives of the dolls and the in-fighting and rivalry between them. That book has a horrific fire in it and the image remained stamped on my memory for years! (Another hugely prolific author, she wrote the book the film Black Narcissus was based on.) The threat of fire hangs heavily over this story as the Racketty Packetty home is perpetually being threatened with being burned as trash and is only saved on several occasions by the hard working fairies.

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This leads me to the second and more famous story I am fairly certain found genesis in this book, The Velveteen Rabbit. Several key elements make me feel that Margery Williams had this story in the back of her mind when she published it in 1922. First there is the old much-beloved toy versus the new toy/s story-line which is integral to both books. Then there is the rather specific plot device of scarlet fever – in the case of the velveteen rabbit it is how the rabbit meets his corporeal end after helping to nurse the boy through the illness, and in this volume it is the wealthy dolls which all fall ill with it after the irresponsible child in charge gives them all scarlet fever and does not trouble herself to make them recover. They are in turn nursed by the poor dolls and become friends after that. Margery Williams throws in a fairy at the end to help out as well.

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From The Velveteen Rabbit, original illustration by William Nicholson

 

Unlike these two latter stories, Hodgson Burnett stops short of the indelible horror of the toys being burned as is the denouement of the other two books. (An image of the celluloid doll catching fire in the Godden book may have inspired my overall fear of the frailty of celluloid which I once penned a post about here. I didn’t read The Velveteen Rabbit until I was an adult but am quite sure it also would have scarred me for life.) Instead her toys are rescued by a visiting princess – a very Burnett ending indeed.

3 Little Kittens

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Pam’s Pictorama Post: This wonderful little tidbit was a gift from my friend Eileen Travell – and it is a perfect addition to the Pictorama library of cat literature, toys, phots and collectibles. I read that the original poem is an English nursery rhyme with roots in British folk lore. The poem as it is generally known today is attributed to Eliza Lee Cabot Follen, an American writer (1787–1860), first published in 1843, but finding its way to the Mother Goose canon over time. This edition is of the poem updated further and modernized for the 1923 publication by Ruth Kauffman. On the inside flap of this copy there is an undated inscription by an earlier owner, Alma Richarde, in uneven but very legible print.

Not much can be found about Ruth Kauffman beyond this volume – although it should be said that must have been a wildly popular book as many copies are available on the internet today. It would appear that Ms. Kauffman was married to Reginald Wright Kauffman, author and journalist; his work generally pertaining to social causes of the day. As for Ruth, her slim volume of The Three Little Kittens Who Lost Their Mittens seems to be what she is remembered for today. I could find nothing else attributed to her – or an author with her name spelled this way.

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Her 1923 version of the Kitten Mitten story has the mama cat warning her kits of the great, big world. Of streets and motor-cars, of wayward baseballs and of stones that make a cat see stars. Mama cat further tells them to keep themselves and the “clothes” tidy – their wardrobe consisting of little jackets, shoes and of course mittens, in this case mits that matched each Kitten’s hair. I’ve never been sure why kittens needed mittens, nor for that matter why small children needed them beyond winter weather protection – and these seem to be indoor/outdoor mittens. (Meanwhile, cat mittens turns up some alarming images of contemporary be-mittened cats. No idea why anyone would do that to a cat.) Cookie as a tuxedo has permanent, nice, bright white mittens – those are the kind I like best on kittens.

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Although she doesn’t appear to even rate a Wikipedia entry, the illustrator Margaret Campbell Hoopes’s has illustrated books which appear to do brisk business on antiquarian book sites. Born in 1893 (d. 1956) she studied at the Philadelphia School of Industrial Arts and she and her Florence sister achieved success as illustrators of their day. Their combined work seems to be best known for something called the Alice & Jerry readers of the 1930’s – these have escaped my notice until now. However, in addition to my slim volume, I find illustrated editions of Peter Rabbit, A Child’s Garden of Verses, and many copies of something called I Don’t Want to Go to Bed. (There’s a handsome Puss ‘n Boots that maybe I need to own.) I found a fellow blogger searching for information about Margaret and her sister back in 2008. There needs to be more information on these gifted illustrators.

I do love her illustrations in this book. The cats are just the right combination of anthropomorphic and true feline. The three kittens, Tortoise-shell, Silver-fur and White, are sent out to play while Mama has to bake a pie, and cook some mice that I have caught, So you must just amuse yourselves, but – wear the mits I bought. Out they go and there they skipped about and sang, and bit their tails in play, and turned the cutest somersaults; you know a kitten’s way.

 

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Lastly of note is the owner of the interesting shop where Eileen found and purchase this nifty little book. Sally Brillon, along with her husband Joe, is the owner of 1786 Wilson Homestead (1117 Chamberlin Mill Road, Salem, NY; their website which can be found here) and the photos of the Hutchinson’s shop in a barn intrigued me before I knew Eileen had procured this book for me. In addition to books and antiques, until recently she also taught cooking on a hearth, something for those with a fireplace and the inclination.

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Sally in her shop.

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Andrew, did you buy the top hat?

Should the winds of chance take me to Salem, New York, I will be anxious to stop in and spend a few hours digging around. Who knows what cat related gems must lurk in those piles.

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Joyful kittens at the end of the book!

Frances Hodgson Burnett, an Excellent Read

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Kim drew Little Saint Elizabeth into this illustration in his Alias the Cat!

 

Pam’s Pictorama Post: In some ways it is crazy to think I can tackle this subject in a blog post so I will start by saying, this is a warning shot over the bow – I am just skimming the top of very deep water indeed today with an expectation of subsequent entries.

As the author of childhood favorites such as A Little Princess, The Secret Garden and Little Lord Fauntleroy we all know Frances Hodgson Burnett and the classic films (and many remakes) made from her stories. I read them as an adult and especially loved The Secret Garden. As much as I liked the film, the book had much more flavor and depth.

I had not however given these stories or her much thought in years however when Kim stumbled on and purchased Little Saint Elizabeth a beautifully illustrated volume of stories, ostensibly for children although the title story is a bit gruesome and had a similar, appalling ending to Anderson’s Little Match Girl. We found it at the now mostly eradicated flea market on 24th Street here in Manhattan. He purchased it for very little and we considered it quite the score.

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From the story Little Saint Elizabeth

 

Somehow it did not inspire further digging at the time and it wasn’t until a few months ago, while whining one night in bed about a delay in receiving my next volume of the Judy Bolton series to arrive (future post about that series pending there), that Kim suggested I poke around Burnett’s adult fiction. (May I just take a moment out to say, you really do want to marry someone who is going to make helpful, smart suggestions like this. I do think it is the very best part of being married and no one thinks to tell you that. Choose wisely I say!)

Thanks to Project Gutenberg this could be accomplished with great alacrity, at the speed of a download. For those of you who have yet to be introduced to it, this is a magnificent site it is free downloadable books and stories, generally focused on early works which are out of copyright. This leads to access to many of the more obscure and hard to find works of early authors which would be prohibitively expense to purchase to read, even if you could find them. I read many of Edna Ferber’s short stories from these downloads.

While in general I might say I prefer to read with a book in my hand, about half my reading is done with these downloads these days. (To be fair, another swath is audio books I listen to at the gym – much contemporary fiction is consumed that way.) A great advantage is that I can pull out my phone and read a bit while on line somewhere or on the subway – it is always with me. My Frances Hodgson Burnett mania has been hell on my reading of the New York Times lately, but the news isn’t all that great these days anyways. And as a result I have had a more contented summer commute than most during horrendous subway delays and waits.

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Photo portrait of Burnett from the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery collection

 

Born in England in 1850, she evidently always wrote, even as a child. Her own financial fortunes seemed to wax and wane dramatically from childhood through adulthood much like the story lines of her fiction. Born into affluence her father dies when she is young and the family slowly spirals into poverty which ultimately forces a move to Tennessee to live with an uncle, who in turn becomes impoverished. Burnett begins publishing magazine stories to some success when she is 18, in order to help support her family and she quickly becomes a writing and publishing machine. She eventually marries and has two sons. She is living in Washington with her family when in 1879, on a visit to Boston, she meets Louisa May Alcott and Mary Mapes Dodge, editor of St. Nicholas magazine, and that is when she starts to write children’s fiction. This is of course where her fame will live on.

Meanwhile, an interesting aspect of Burnett’s adult fiction for me is she is another entrant in a long line of women who write about the then modern woman of the day. Pictorama readers may remember my posts about the serial books Grace Harlowe and The Automobile Girls and The Moving Picture Girls (which can be read here) as well as my more recent one, mentioned above, about Edna Ferber, Fervent for Ferber (you can find it here).

In my mind there is a fascinating timeline that can be drawn from, let’s say, Louisa May Alcott (1832-1888) and her world of women which by necessity revolved mostly around caring for men and their families, to Burnett – women’s fortunes were still largely dependent on men and marriage, but there is an increasing sense of independence and control of their own destiny. The more independent American woman is frequently brought into contrast with her European (generally British) counterparts, causing all sorts of consternation. After Burnett the truly modern woman slowly emerges – driving cars, working for a living, controlling her own financial destiny – ultimately Edna Ferber’s women sit firmly astride both worlds, working, running businesses and finding their own success. I do hope Burnett and Ferber had a chance to meet, and I am glad Hodgson Burnett lives long enough to have a peek at that world for women. In another universe I believe I am writing a PhD thesis on this.

Even when Hodgson Burnett is writing about men, she is writing about women. I will expand on this theory when I return to this topic and write a bit more about some of the books. For though now I think I have chattered on enough for one Sunday!

 

 

Waxing and Wain-ing, Part 2

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Back cover of Merry Times, Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

Pam’s Pictorama: I pick up today with my tale of Louis Wain acquisition which was what the universe presented to me while I was on my recent business trip to London. For those of you who read London Fog, Chapter 1 and London Fog: Chapter 2 you know that I was slogging my way through London, trying to maximize my limited free time there, frequenting some old collecting haunts. Maddeningly much was closed due to the inclement weather and I was feeling quite out of luck. However, bookseller Natalie Kay Thatcher ultimately made the trip in and did open late that morning. Marchpane, the bookstore in question, is devoted to antiquarian children’s books. There was a time when I pursued that interest more vigorously, but always just following my nose to what I like (cats generally) and I have never learned much about the ways of old books – what makes them desirable or valuable. A recent gift (highlighted in Good Cats and Bad Cats) lead me back to buying books (Lady Pussy-Cat’s Ball and The Robbers Squeak) and I was intrigued with the idea of what I might dig up at Marchpane on this wintery morning.

Yesterday’s readers know I had purchased my first-ever Louis Wain item in the form of an engraving taken from a broadsheet publication earlier in that morning. So when Natalie pulled out Merry Times illustrated by Louis Wain I realized that perhaps Louis Wain was going to be the theme for this trip. I believe she also had a Louis Wain Annual, but I quickly realized I was all about Merry Times. Like all Louis Wain items, it was intimidatingly expensive even for holiday Pam with pent-up toy money to burn in her pocket, but before I get into that let’s take a romp through Merry Times and see what was getting under my skin.

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The most interesting part of this book for me is the positively whack-a-doodle story first in the book, The Holiday Home, which is a bizarrely bleak tale (considering that I believe this volume is meant for children) about homeless cats at holiday time and an anthropomorphic wealthy cat who is out collecting funds for the poor cats. Sadly it points out the truth that people will frequently just leave a cat behind after a vacation some place, or move house without taking the pet – my mother was in the animal rescue end of things for years and as hard as it is to believe it frequently happens. This story, and others in the book, are a mix of anthropomorphic cats with regular cats and dogs. The human cats are the more take charge and the catty cats and dogs are either children or just animals. Most of the stories are jollier than this one, but others still have some dark overtones. Wain’s drawings are just starting to get stranger, but haven’t really achieved their later more pop-eyed appearance.

Meanwhile, I realize I have neglected to share some of the facts about this publication. While it was illustrated by Louis Wain, the writing is credited to Dorothy Black, Grace C. Floyd, Norman Gale & others. There is no copyright year marked and some quick research turns up that this is not the first printing from 1917, as originally noted by the seller, but a later 1925 reprint which notably has additional text and illustrations. Inscribed in wonderful childish writing on the inside cover in scratchy pencil is From Dorothy To Derick with love and kisses for a happy Xmas XXXXXX.

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Frontispiece for Merry Times, Pams-Pictorama.com collection. Evidently this is a key difference between the earlier and later editions of the book.

 

I am sharing a few of my other favorite illustrations from the book below. Sorry, I was not able to scan these – the spine of the book is too fragile. You will have to make due with photos taken on Kim’s desk. And for those of you careful readers who are still wondering why I have gone all these years, collecting cat items and until now never flipped for a Louis Wain item, I am afraid you will have to wait for the final installment of this story next week!

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