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Under the Window and Afternoon Tea: "Twirling the Same Blade of Grass"

From: The Lion and the Unicorn
Volume 17, Number 1, June 1993
pp. 45-56 | 10.1353/uni.0.0311

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In An American Childhood, Annie Dillard recalls that, as a child, "I no more expected anyone on earth to have read a book I had read than I expected someone else to have twirled the same blade of grass" (358). Perhaps writers feel the same about their creations-that they would no more expect anyone else to have written a book that was the same as theirs. Would this have been close to Kate Greenaway's thoughts as she saw the rash of imitations appear shortly after the successful publishing of her first book? Writing to her friend, Frederick Locker, Kate Greenaway lamented, "I really feel cross as I look at the shop windows and see the imitation books. It feels so queer, somehow, to see your ideas taken by someone else and put forth as theirs" (Spielmann, 87).

Under the Window, written and illustrated by Kate Greenaway, designed and printed by Edmund Evans, was published by Routledge in the fall of 1879. The book was a co-creation of Greenaway and Evans. Evans, described by Brian Alderson as "the country's foremost engraver and woodblock printer" (248), was first shown the manuscript by Kate's father, a colleague in the engraving business. The notebook contained, as Evans recalls in his Reminiscences, "miscellaneous odd drawings with nonsense verses written to them." To this "commercial impresario," in Harvey Darton's words, who would make the careers of Walter Crane and Randolph Caldecott, here was the making of "a telling children's book" (61).

Greenaway and Evans agreed on the title, Under the Window, from the first line of the first verse. Taking advice from Routledge, Evans arranged for Frederick Locker to edit the verse, for, as Evans notes, "They did not quite understand the quaintness—quite in keeping with the illustrations, which were certainly original" (61). And then Evans set about the delicate process of transposing the images onto paper:

I photographed these original drawings onto wood and engraved them as nearly "facsimile" as possible, then transferred wet impressions to plain blocks of wood—"Transfers" to engrave the several colour blocks on, red,


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Book cover from Under the Window by Kate Greenaway, engraved by Edmund Evans (London: George Routledge & Sons, 1879). Procession of flower-bearing children in Greenaway-styled clothing. Title framed like window.

flesh tint, blue yellow. This was a costly matter but it reproduced the character very well indeed of the original drawings.

(61)

Evans then arranged for Routledge to print 20,000 copies, despite their reservations. Evans guessed right, as the first edition sold out immediately, with existing copies selling at a premium. The Athenaeum praised Evans's color printing and Kate's first-rate designs; the book was "sure to be accepted by all, big and little, artistic and 'aesthetic,' lay and simple."

Such broad appeal inspired a following. The commercial reception of literature—in terms of sales and successors—reveals the juncture of a book and its audience at a particular historical moment. Louis James links the many plagiarisms and imitations of Dickens's early novels to the features popular audiences enjoyed most. In exploring Henry James and the mass market, Marcia Jacobson views popular literature as books whose conventions "dramatize the shared assumptions of writer and reader" (7). These assumptions comprise the interpretive framework or cultural norms that help to reflect and construct the way literary works are written and received.

The Greenaway Vogue, as it was known, demonstrates the confluence of art and commerce in late-Victorian England and America. Imitations, piracies, and spin-offs document not only Greenaway's popularity but the state of the marketplace. An absence of copyright protection in America encouraged publishers to issue Greenaway titles in pirated editions, or with verses slightly altered, with the words "After Kate Greenaway" on the cover. McLoughlin Brothers, New York, took the greatest liberties, issuing a pirated copy, a miniature, and five variants in a toybook series, with pictures and rhymes grouped around the following characters: "The Proud Girl," "The Tea Party," "The Three Little Girls," "Tommy Toddy-high," and "The Three Little Sailors." Such marketing ploys reflect what Brian Alderson calls, in Darton's Children's Books in...