Tuesday, July 3, 2012

"Emma" Illustrated and Other News

by Debra Brown

Yes, Emma by Jane Austen was illustrated. I'm certain that you are blown away by the news. Just how do I know this deep dark secret?

One morning I was chatting by email with renowned author M.M. Bennetts complaining because she has the unfair advantage of living in the midst of English history while I am here, between five and six thousand miles from London, myself. I could not get maps.google.com to give me the exact mileage on that and had to get out my tape measure.

I also live a few centuries from my eras of chief interest, and that fact is continually rubbed in by modern architecture around me. The bridge over the river leading out of town was, however, built for horses and a carriage of which I am made acutely aware after every university ball game. Claim to fame: Craig Robinson, brother of First Lady Michelle Obama, is the basketball coach in my cozy and beautiful, modern little city.

While you can see an old wagon-train wagon some miles from here, and rusted pitchers that were once brought out west within it, there is no centuries-old castle, no museum protecting centuries-old parchments, no crumbling public records to research medieval England or Scotland or Wales. Well, of course, I have my computer.

After hitting Send on my complaint to M.M., the doorbell rang. Ugh. I almost did not answer it. I am, after all, an author and therefore do not get dressed- though I am grateful not to be strapped into a corset when I do.

Begrudgingly I put down the laptop and went to the door to send someone away. "I need your signature," declared the mailman. Hmmm. I signed a modern little gadget and accepted a box. Scotland? Who do I know in Scotland? Well, thanks to Twitter and FB I do know a few marvelous writers but not anyone who has my address.

I did feel better, though, since a package from Scotland had to be a good thing. It was shaped like a large book, but too light-weight. I shook it, of course, and something lightly clunked around (I'll never do that again) because it would take me at least a minute to get a knife and cut open the wrapper.

Inside the box was another box- a beautiful dusty-blue box with a silver metallic background for the words "A Day to Remember". Huh? Why do packages take so long to open? Does time slow down and hold you back? I opened the blue box and, to be sure, "it" was wrapped in tissue.

I lifted it in slow motion; I think it took forty-five minutes. I unfolded the tissue off the rather flat light-weight thing slowly, and at last there it was. Now my mind went into rapid-fire status: Oh yes! Some-weeks-ago-someone-emailed-me-via-the-blog-and-wanted-to-send-me-historical-newspapers! My jaw dropped. I fell into history!

Inside the tissue were three old papers. I mean old. The newest was from December 11,1896: The Daily Graphic, Enlarged to TWENTY PAGES. One Penny. But I needed new spectacles to read the miniscule print. That took a few weeks, and I still had to use a magnifying glass.The print is really small.

Hugh Thomson; Austenonly.com
Inside this paper I found the great news that Emma was being illustrated by Hugh Thomson. For your enlightenment it reads:

Mrs. Elton appears at church

One of the few books to which Mr. Hugh Thomson's name appears as illustrator this year is Jane Austen's 'Emma,' in Messrs. Macmillan's series of illustrated standard novels; for the rest he has left the field rather severely to his many imitators. But his hand has lost none of its cunning, and one has only to turn over the pages of this book to see how great is the distance still between the master and his followers. Mr. Austin Dobson gives the edition the additional gain of an excellent historical introduction from his pen, tracing the story of the novel in the day in January, 1816, when, like its predecessors 'Sense and Sensibility,' 'Pride and Prejudice,' and 'Mansfield Park,' it was anonymously put forth. Says Mr. Dobson: 'In writing to the Prince's librarian, Mr. J. S. Clarke, on the subject of the presentation copy which was to reach his Royal Highness three days before anyone else (it has been inscribed by invitation to that distinguished patron of Art and Letters, the Prince Regent), Miss Austen sets forth her own ideas of the new book-the last, as a matter of fact, which she was destined to behold in type. 'My greatest anxiety at present is that this fourth work should not disgrace what was good in the others. But on this point I will do myself the justice to declare that, whatever be my wishes for its success, I am strongly haunted with the idea that to those readers who have preferred "Pride and Prejudice" it will appear inferior in wit, and to those who have preferred "Mansfield Park," inferior in good sense.'" When it appeared the Quarterly aptly enough said that the merits of the author consisted in the neatness and point of the narrative and the quiet comedy of the dialogue, but the qualities of "Emma" are undoubtedly qualities which grow with acquaintance. Qualified approval may be the first verdict, later the qualifications have a tendency to withdraw from insistence. "I am going to take a heroine whom no one but myself will much like," said Jane Austen herself at the outset, but despite thus handicapping herself, so skilfully and subtly is the character of Emma Woodhouse developed that the reader is insinuatingly drawn into loving her. "Emma" shows to perfection the writer's methods, her genius, and her limitations. The quotation from a letter by Charlotte Bronte with which Mr. Dobson concludes is, as he says, unjust to Miss Austen, but it is most interesting as setting forth the view of many. The authoress of "Jane Eyre" thought Miss Austen bloodless and lacking fire: so she is to a great extent, but a catholic taste can appreciate many manners, while they are none of them superficial, and superficial, pace Charlotte Bronte, is just what Miss Austen is not. Our illustration shows the incident described by Emma, when explaining to her father how she had always intended Mr. Weston to marry Miss Taylor. "Ever since the day (about four years ago) that Miss Taylor and I met with him in Broadway Lane, when, because it began to mizzle, he dashed away with so much gallantry and borrowed two umbrellas for us from Farmer Mitchell's, I made up my mind on the subject. I planned the match from that hour." ("Emma," by Jane Austen, Illustrated by Hugh Thomson. Macmillan and Co.)

Well, that is the incredible news. 116 years ago. Almost. Wow. The news article comes complete with an illustration labeled "Two Umbrellas for Us." By the famous Mr. Thomson. (See more about him HERE.)

This newspaper is smooth, though yellowing. No problem. It is smooth because it is made of new-fangled paper made from wood. The other two papers are both from 1819, thus made of the more common and textured rag paper. The London Times. Price, 7d. Stamped, even. The front and back are want ads, birth, marriage and death announcements and the price of stocks. (I say, buy!) Inside there are lovely articles. Not a picture to be found.

I will share more earth-shaking news with you from these great newspapers soon, abandoning my series on the Monarchy for a little longer. But let me tell you where you, too, can obtain such fascinating bits of history. They are sold HERE at Historic Newspapers packaged beautifully as gifts for special occasions, and they come from all over the world. Imagine the amazing things you can read about first-hand, hot off the press. A history teaching resource pack is also available.

Many thanks to Thomas Walker of Historical Newspapers for the gift newspapers, some almost two hundred years old, I received.

Debra Brown is the author of The Companion of Lady Holmeshire- now undergoing revision and available again by August 1, 2012.


  1. Debra,the "old news" about an illustrated "Emma" reminds me of a "new" illustrated version of "Vanity Fair" I borrowed from my University library more than forty years ago.

    The "new" version was beautifully illustrated and published in 1911. I recall the illustrator's notes referring to the first edition of V.F., illustrated by Thackeray, who was a good caricaturist. Thackeray chose to portray his own characters in modern (Victorian) dress because he thought Regency fashions were ugly! The 1911 illustrator disagreed with Thackeray, and comparing the early 20th century artist's lovely period illustrations to the artist's relatively crude anachronistic caricatures, I would have to give props to the artist.

  2. Interesting, Gary. It is too bad when someone does things in an anachronistic way, especially on purpose. I think history is a bit fragile and should be protected. Such things are basically misinformation and can "change history" for people who live a few hundred years more down the road.

    I just saw where a publisher put Eleanor of Acquitaine in an Elizabethan dress on a book cover and another where I believe the author was saying that the publisher changed the race of her protagonist via the book cover. I think these things are highly irresponsible.

    That said, mistakes can be made and I am guilty myself.

  3. Ha ha ha! I remember when this happened! Lovely to read it written up!


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.