DIGITAL EXHIBITION Beauty Bound as 19th-Century British Propaganda: From London to Bengal

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Beauty Bound as 19th-Century British Propaganda: From London to Bengal


Introduction to the 19th-century British Literary Annual


By November 1822, the British reading public had already voraciously consumed both Walter Scott’s expensive novels and Rudolf Ackermann’s exquisite lithographs. The next decade, referred to by some scholars as dormant and unproductive, is in fact bursting with Forget Me Nots, Friendship’s Offerings, Keepsakes, and Literary Souvenirs. The literary annual—with its poetry, short stories, dramatic scenes, sheet music, travel accounts, political statements, historical renderings, classical references, descriptions of Europe, war accounts, artwork, portraits, lavish bindings, and bevy of famous authors—introduced a literary and visual genre that would be both scorned and embraced by England and beyond.

Literary annuals are early nineteenth-century British texts published yearly in England from 1822 to 1860, intended primarily for a middle-class audience and therefore moderately priced (between twelve shillings and three pounds). Initially published in duodecimo or octavo sizes, the decoratively bound volumes exuded a feminine delicacy that attracted a primarily female readership. Initially published in diminutive, decoratively bound volumes filled with engravings of popularly recognized artwork and “sentimental” poetry and prose, the annuals attracted a primarily middle-class female readership. The annuals were released each November, making them an ideal Christmas gift, lover’s present, or token of friendship. Selling more than 100,000 copies during each holiday season, the annuals were accused of causing an epidemic and inspiring an “unmasculine,” “unbawdy age” that lasted through 1860 and lingered in derivative forms until the early twentieth century in both the United States and Europe. The annual thrived in the 1820s and after despite—or perhaps because of—its “feminine” writing and beautiful form.
(from BRANCH article). +

Harry Hootman found in a review of British and American annuals published 1823-1861 that they contained 9,473 poems by 1,350 poets, 3,716 prose selections by 776 authors, and 3,700 engravings by 314 engravers based on the art of 617 artists. The genre was quite extensive in exposing the reading public to new literary voices and allowing them to view otherwise inaccessible great works of art.

Collection Items

Paper Boards, Forget Me Not 1823
The first literary annual that was profoundly successful was published in green paper boards with ornate designs on that cover and its slipcase as well as gild edges on the paper. Published in a duodecimo (small) format, the engravings and literary…

“Madonna,” Frontispiece engraving and title page, Forget Me Not 1823
This first Forget Me Not volume introduces a much more intricate steel-plate engraving, Madonna, engraved by John Samuel Agar. This frontispiece sets the tone for Ackermann’s experiment by presenting an image of the Madonna “from a painting by…

Presentation plate, Forget Me Not 1823
The opening pages of the first Forget Me Not, as with all literary annuals in England and America, invite reader participation and encourage gift-giving with a presentation plate and tissue guard. The engraving itself includes the year and title of…

“June” Woodcut-engraving from 1823 Forget Me Not
For this first volume, Ackermann used only one engraver, John Samuel Agar, to create both the steel plate frontispiece engraving and the monthly wood-cut engravings of Twelve Months that are the focus of this first volume. Though Rudolph Ackermann's…

“Forget Me Not” Bouquet Engraving, 1825 Forget Me Not
Many engravings in the literary annuals were portraits, bucolic scenes, and these kinds of botanical arrangements. A process of intaglio steel plate engraving was widespread by Rudolph Ackermann after he successfully created a production line in his…

“Sacontala” & “A Spill Case,” Comparison of Woodcut and Steel Plate/Intaglio Engravings, 1825 Forget Me Not & 1830 Comic Annual
Though the paper size evolves through the life of most literary annuals, the printed space, the printing plate, remains octavo and the page begins to incorporate large margins around the text blocks in 1825 with The Literary Souvenir. This was done…

Slipcase, 1825 Forget Me Not
The neo-classical embellishments adorning early annuals' covers and slipcases remind readers of the three graces: charm, beauty, and literature. Ackermann, with this final marker of the literary annual, focuses on establishing the literary annual in…

“Hiding of Moses,” William Blake, Remember Me! A New Year's Gift or Christmas Present for 1825
In order to attract their readers, publishers paid exorbitant prices to “borrow” original paintings and have them rendered as engravings. A single portrait required anywhere between twenty and two hundred guineas for borrowing fees and up to two…

Autographs No. 1, 1826 Literary Souvenir
One of the alterations popularized by the Literary Souvenir mimicked elements of the “album” genre. The Literary Souvenir included printed facsimiles of authors’ signatures in the last three to six pages of the book. Though the autographs are…
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