At MLA 2011, Jeffrey Todd Knight brought together a traditional literature panel (along with Shannon Miller [Temple U] and Ellie Lipkin [UCLA]) that dealt with the history of the book and the “stuff,” as one participant gleefully exclaimed at the start of the panel. Like other panels that I attended/participated in, I tweeted during our session. However, at this early gathering, I was the only one tweeting, after of course asking permission of my fellow presenters. They agreed; I hash-tagged; the panel was invigorating; the backchannel (mostly listeners on their way home) made wild, typographical gestures of excitement about the content. (My typing seemed very loud, though.)
Below are my remarks presented on this panel; they are a conglomeration of various ideas about 19th-century literary annuals, Modernism, and history of the book in 1820s and 1920s England — much of this is culled from a chapter in my my long-standing book (traditional) project. I post the talk here at the urging of Amanda French’s article, “Challenging the Presentation Paradigm,” and with an effort to provide the slides, the gorgeous books that were part of this show n’tell.
Since this was a conference presentation, it lacks a bibliography and in-text references. Much of the introductory material for this paper is taken from my published articles and digital archive, though; please see these article for full citations and references:
- “Borrowing, Altering and Perfecting the Literary Annual Form – or What It is Not: Emblems, Almanacs, Pocket-books, Albums, Scrapbooks and Gifts Books.” The Poetess Archive Journal 1.1 (2007).
- “Feminizing the Textual Body: Women and their Literary Annuals in Nineteenth-Century Britain.” Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America 99.4 (Dec. 2005): 573-622.
- “Forget Me Not: A Hypertextual Archive of Ackermann’s Nineteenth-Century Literary Annual.” Listed in MLA International Bibliography. Metadata incorporated into The Poetess Archive Database. Gen. Ed. Laura Mandell. <www.orgs.muohio.edu/anthologies/FMN/>. Dec. 2005- [ongoing]
“The polite history of our time”: Modernist Reclamation of 19th-Century Trash
MLA 2011 Panel: Writing and/as Curatorship: The History of the Book
I’ve been working on an archival project that historicizes the first decade of an early 19th-century literary genre.
Inspired by intercontinental literary forms and created by a successful art publisher, Rudoloph Ackermann, the literary annual first appeared in London in 1822 and was claimed by a myriad of publishers to represent the best of British ingenuity – even though the material form, the printing process and the editorial methods were really borrowed from French and German pocket-books, albums and emblems. [See “Borrowing, Altering and Perfecting the Literary Annual Form – or What It is Not: Emblems, Almanacs, Pocket-books, Albums, Scrapbooks and Gifts Books.”] Originally, literary annuals were to replace the conduct books of the late 18th Century but the editors’ and publishers’ claims don’t match that intention.
In my larger work, I argue that the British 19th-century literary annual in its textual production is best seen as a female body, its male producers struggling to make it both proper and sexually alluring, its female authors and readers attempting to render it their own feminine ideal. At first, reviewers enjoyed the annuals, offering long excerpts and recommending particular annuals to their readers. Within 5 years, though reviewers began to write with disgust about the genre – primarily with objections to the aesthetic.
Laura Mandell points out that “two myths pervade the study of this immensely important and influential body of writing. One is that canonical writers shunned this work, refusing to publish in well-paying annuals and choosing instead to create great, high art; the other is that poetess poetry is ‘bad’ writing.” Both myths rely on the production of aesthetics, and it was the reviewers who produced this demarcation about literary annuals – at first praising as possessing “a tone of romance, which, set off as it has been by poetry of a very high order, can have no other possible tendency than to purify the imagination and the heart” (Nov. 1826 Monthly Review 274). Lest we become mired wholly in the aesthetic reception of the annuals’ contents, it’s important to note the materiality and the genesis of this particular genre in order to understand its eventual “trashing” and imminent resurrection.
Published in the German magazine The Free Speaker in 1815, the short story “Mimili” sold an unprecedented 9000 copies in 3 years (Cambridge History of German Literature 265) and inspired a genre of sentimental prose that capped the German Enlightenment. Based on the success of “Mimili,” the author H. Clauren began publishing an annual publication, Vergissmeinnichttranslated as forget me not, and named after the flower given to the young man by Mimili.
In November 1822, Rudolph Ackermann, a German immigrant and very successful lithography and periodical publisher, borrowed and translated this German form and title for the first literary annual, the Forget Me Not
By wrapping beauty, literature, landscape art, and portraits into an alluring package, for 12 shillings editors and publishers filled the 1820s with this popular and best-selling genre.
Originally published in paper boards, the annuals were usually whisked away to be re-bound in beautiful leather covers.
By 1828, publishers employed the latest innovations in binding and switched to silk to amplify the value of the material object.
Each annual typically offered a confined space for dedication.
Early annuals offered practical information similar to the Stationer’s Company’s almanac, but that would soon disappear in favor of more literary and visual content.
Engravings were cast from popular paintings but rarely garnered fame for the engraver who was deemed a mere copyist and denied entrance into the Royal Academy.
Often engravings were commissioned like this one.
…and then well-known poets were asked to render an accompanying poem, work for hire – eventually much to the poet’s dismay. But let me stress this: EVERYONE contributed to the annuals, even if they despised the genre. [See List of Prominent Contributors, Forget Me Not Archive.]
With a large audience almost immediately clamoring for more literary annuals, Ackermann and his editor, Frederic Shoberl, created a second Forget Me Not for 1824 and found themselves competing with Friendship’s Offering and The Graces. By 1828, 15 English literary annual titles had joined the market only to vie for an audience against 30 more titles by 1830. The trade in annuals had become so popular that various titles emerged with hopes and promises of continuing a yearly publication. But with titles like Olive Branch and Zoölogical Keepsake appearing and vanishing in a single year, more often than not, that promise was broken. Many factors led to the success or demise of a particular title – external appearance, engraving quality, literary contents, popular authors, editorial arrangement, marketing and reviews. This last element provided an introduction and public face to each annual by recommending, denouncing or simply excerpting its contents.
Even with all of this popular success, the critical condescension surrounding the literary annual would haunt the genre well into the 19th century.
After finally sputtering out in England in 1857, the literary annual re-appeared as an homage to Rudolph Ackermann during the 1930s – even after Charles Tallent-Batement condescendingly recommends annuals and poetess poetry as the cakes of literature.
In 1930, editor Dorothy Wellesley introduced a 7 shilling 6 pence imitation, with visual reminiscences of the Forget Me Not,The Annual, Being a Selection from the Forget-Me-Nots, Keepsakes and Other Annuals of the Nineteenth Century, with an introduction by Vita Sackville-West, was published in London by Cobden-Sanderson and in a form only slightly larger than the first annuals.
The volume is wrapped in green paper boards and laid out like the originals – including inscription and List of Embellishments pages. The volume includes selections primarily from the Forget Me Not and the Keepsakebut also includes those from the popular Friendship’s Offering, Talisman, Amulet and Bijou. The volume contains ten engravings (including an inscription page, frontispiece engraving and vignette title page) and 75 contributions by various authors, including Mary Shelley, Wordsworth, Hogg, Southey, Hood, Landon, Blessington, Coleridge, Tennyson and Scott. The “new” volume pays homage to the Forget Me Not by using the 1830 volume’s cover image on its back board.
In the Introduction, Sackville-West reminds readers of Ackermann’s introduction and influence over the annual’s creation and congratulated him (belatedly, of course) for his ingenuity: “The form was compact, the binding dainty . . . [Ackermann] had hit the public taste exactly” (iv). Using Ackermann’s flower metaphor, Sackville-West offers a bouquet to her readers at the same time that she compels them to remember its history:
A perusal of the present representative selection, this nosegay picked from the flowerbeds of many publishers over a period of many years, will surely convince the reader that the enterprise was marked out for a roaring trade. We may read, today, indeed, in a spirit tinged by an amusement and a curiosity lacking in our grandparents; our absorption may, today, have become tainted with something of an antiquarian interest. We smile, where our grandparents saw no reason for a smile. We gain as much as we lose. Still, be it for one reason or another, we continue to find these contributions irresistible. (iv-v)
In essence, Sackville-West obeys the original request to “forget me not” by re-creating the production and reception history of not only the contents but of the physical literary annual form.
Though reception of these “new” annuals is not clear, Sackville-West reminds readers of the eventual disdain suffered by the original annuals and shames readers into disavowing those sentiments in the new and modern twentieth century.
Though the volume imitates (instead of mimicking) Ackermann’s Forget Me Not (and others), its form is less opulent: the paper is a lesser quality; the printing is murky and faded; and the engravings are printed directly to the page instead of being printed on India paper and tipped in (as well as being smaller in size). In addition, this volume technically qualifies as an anthology and not an annual.
Later in 1930, Cobden-Sanderson again publishes an homage, The New Forget-Me-Not, A Calendar, updating the entries with illustrations by Rex Whistler. In 1931, The New Keepsake appeared, buoyed by the publisher’s two previous successes.
The New Forget-Me-Not, A Calendar (1930), advertised on the back flyleaf of The Annual, borrows the early annual form and includes “useful information” and polite literature in the volume:
Modelled upon its illustrious Victorian predecessor, the New Forget-Me-Not pays a tribute to the swarm of nineteenth-century Annuals which so prettily pleased our ancestors, and tells for our benefit the polite history of our times. Forty eminent persons have each contributed an original chapter on the leading events, social, sporting and artistic, which fill the English year. The practical side of the calendar is not neglected, and space is provided for a record of the engagements and incidents of each day.
This volume touts original pieces as opposed to Wellesley’s anthology-volume, is illustrated by the well-known Rex Whistler and published by the same publishers, Cobden-Sanderson. However, this ad layers contemporary history over Ackermann’s creation and claims the invention for the twentieth century. Though this is a marketing ploy, “what’s old is new again,” it bridges the public’s memory between 1823 and 1930. Ackermann’s was polite literature, and this volume represents “the polite history of our time.” In the New Forget Me Not‘s Preface, the publisher juxtaposes the new annual with its original:
Thinking of these tinted niceties . . . we have been at some pains to produce for our times this New Forget-Me-Not. The times are more hurried, sentiment is less freely confessed – we grant such variations. Our almanack is intended to answer modern feelings, and – here we have varied the Forget-Me-Not constitution – by providing a daily register, we have accepted the new pace of our old friend the Year. (vii-viii)
With its weekly calendar pages and ample writing space on each page, this six-shilling annual begs for completion by its owners, much like the first few Friendship’s Offering volumes (1824 and 1825). (Ackermann never included a diary in his Forget Me Nots.) The hurried lifestyle and lack of sentiment indicative of the early twentieth century are the only differences (between the volumes and the periods) cited by the editor. Indeed, the contents are structured in 4 areas: winter, spring, summer, autumn – replicating the original 1823 Forget Me Not format. A format, I might add, that Ackermann dropped immediately in the 1824 volume. The contents of Sackville-West’s version is filled with contemporary topics: cinema, war, Madame Tussaud’s. Max Beerbohm contributes a piece on “Punting” that ends in murder in a decidedly Modernist fashion.
The following year, The New Keepsake was published, buoyed by the success of the two previous ventures:
Encouraged by the reception of “The New Forget-Me-Not” and “The Annual,” works in which the view was expressed that the world is not in too great a hurry to enjoy a yearly feast of elegance and feeling, literary and artistic – that, indeed, like those other hastening mortals the Early Victorians, we all stand in need of the ingenious refreshments of the parterre and the sundial – encouraged, we say, by the welcome given to the two books named, we bring out our “New Keepsake.” (iv-v)
But, this volume excises the calendar, citing that it “introduced a menace of duty and punctuality not harmonious with an intention of pleasant escape” (v). Apparently, twentieth-century consumers and readers did not relish the new pace mirrored in The New Forget-Me-Not.
Interestingly, the alteration of content follows the evolution of the original annuals with the exception that the images are almost completely excised from the volume. The external format, however, does not parallel the unusual materials used to bind 19th-century annuals. The editor of the New Keepsake acknowledges that this volume could never equal the original Keepsake in its red watered silk binding and its pages full of poetry, prose, travel scenes and beautiful images from England’s most prized authors and artisans.
All of these new annuals resurrect the physical format and capitalize on a successful genre from a prior century. The first volume imitates the nineteenth-century annuals in physical form with content from the originals; the second volume publishes contemporary authors with a strict theme of the seasons; the third volume eschews restrictions on content and publishes the best writings of contemporary authors – much the same as the original annuals. These volumes invoke an historical memory of the annuals themselves. Though reception of these “new” annuals is not clear, Sackville-West reminds readers of the eventual disdain suffered by the original annuals:
But we may be permitted to wonder whether some severer spirits expressed, within the privacy of their homes, that disapproval of which Leigh Hunt gives us but an inkling [in his article, “Pocket-books and Keepsakes” in the 1828 Keepsake? Were there some who deplored the lucky-dip character of the Annual, and resented the inclusion of their literary mentors among a lot of parcels smothered in bran? Did some fastidious scholar sniff audibly while his lady fluttered the pages and sighed with delight as she discovered some unknown gem by Lord Tennyson, suitably illustrated by a dry-print engraving? History is silent. And possibly, our shot at a venture is a shot without a mark. It was, after all, a day when the lady ruled in the boudoir–if in the boudoir only–and Mr. Ackermann foresaw that the path of literature might remuneratively be made easy. (ix-x)
Sackville-West nods to the marketing and commodification of a literary form as well as to both the popular and literary reception of annuals. By recording reception of the genre, she hopes to avoid the same outcome (disdain from the educated reader) – a marketing ploy used during the rise of the annual in the nineteenth century. While Sackville-West, Wellesley, Whistler and publishers Cobden-Sanderson use the business plan forwarded by Ackermann (right down to acknowledging their predecessors and the prior year’s success), they inadvertently add to the palimpsest, already begun by Ackermann, in their use of a literary format. The twentieth-century producers of the “new” annuals re-create, write over and simultaneously erase a genre to re-build it with bibliographic and linguistic traces of the original.
The longevity of the original annuals was not repeated with these re-instituted volumes. The targeted audience for these volumes went beyond the ladies who ruled drawing rooms, especially considering the progress of the women’s movement by 1929. Cobden-Sanderson produced only the three volumes before abandoning the experiment. Indeed, these publications could have been instigated by the sporadic scholarly interest in the nineteenth-century annual being published during the first 35 years of the twentieth century. Or, the authors included in two of the “new” annuals, of the Bloomsbury Group, could have insisted on the new product. Those questions have yet to be answered, though.
Modernism, Trash & Literary Annuals by Katherine D. Harris is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.