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  • The Fairy Tale
  • Benjamin F. Fisher
Caroline Sumpter. The Victorian Press and the Fairy Tale. New York: Palgrave, 2008. xii + 254 pp. $75.00

In An Open Verdict (1878, Chapter 60), one of Mary Elizabeth Braddon's characters remarks: "'Romance is dead [and the] divine arts of printing and gunpowder have frightened away Robin Goodfellow and the fairies.'" Such thinking may account for the change in title of Mrs. Riddell's novella, Fairy Water (1873), to The Haunted House at Latchford, when it reappeared in a late-twentieth-century anthology of otherworldly fiction (1975). Although Braddon's character's lament over vanishing fairy tale substance is merely one of many similar comments by nineteenth-century writers, retrospect reveals that dissent from such thinking continued alive and well for many years thereafter. Sumpter's book highlights such continuance, though she demonstrates how fairy tale materials were modified to revive a Romantic feeling toward social improvements.

ELT readers may possibly find their most interesting reading of Sumpter in the two concluding chapters, which include information about such writers as Wilde, Laurence Housman (whose book illustrations are also taken into account), and, perhaps more surprisingly, [End Page 117] Robert Blatchford. Best remembered as an outspoken champion of causes such as labor (with its effects upon family life, especially that of women and, even more important, children), Blatchford adapted the fairy tale to use in deprecating evil outcomes of industrialization and thoughtless urbanization. Wilde's writings coded to gay readership have been well attended in recent years, but Housman's have often gone overshadowed by the poems of his more famous brother. Housman's efforts on behalf of sexuality and women's suffrage found ready vehicles in the fairy tale, as Sumpter convincingly presents them.

In the press the fairy tale, which may earlier have been aimed principally at juvenile readers, was transformed into very adult reading. Sumpter deftly shows how fairy-tale elements were adapted by writers for the weekly-daily press, as distinguished, say, from periodicals better known for more literary fare such as Cornhill, Temple Bar, Belgravia, or Blackwood's. Her book should draw the attention of those with interests in topics such as education, marriage and sexuality, with which the more overt issues of labor and urbanization were intimately connected. Critiques of writings by Pater, Wilde, or A. E. Housman in particular often focus on the educational experiences of these men, noteworthy because they influenced their subsequent lives and writings. Others such as Clemence and Laurence Housman (or, to cite several who are not included in Sumpter's book—Rhoda Broughton, Ella D'Arcy, and Netta Syrett) were certainly affected by concerns of labor and employment, as they may have borne upon their literary careers, when they composed their works. On these and other counts this book makes signal reading for specialists in ELT fields.

Benjamin F. Fisher
University of Mississippi
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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2715
Print ISSN
0013-8339
Pages
pp. 117-118
Launched on MUSE
2009-12-16
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Will Be Archived 2021
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