Anne Bronte’s Long-Overlooked Novel Gets Folio Treatment

As the youngest Bronte sister, Anne (1820-1849) was hardly a wallflower, but she is perhaps the least known. In her twenty-nine years she managed to compose poetry and two novels before succumbing to pulmonary tuberculosis. Her last novel, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, published under the pseudonym Acton Bell, was an instant success and sent shockwaves through Victorian society. The story centers on Helen Graham, a recent arrival to Wildfell whose mysterious background intrigues fellow tenant Gilbart Markham. Contemporary readers were scandalized by Bronte’s descriptions of alcoholism, domestic violence, and her unvarnished views on motherhood. In the introduction to the second edition, Bronte minced no words on her goals for Wildfell: 

“When we have to do with vice and vicious characters, I maintain it is better to depict them as they really are than as they would wish to appear. To represent a bad thing in its least offensive light, is doubtless the most agreeable course for a writer of fiction to pursue; but is it the most honest, or the safest? Is it better to reveal the snares and pitfalls of life to the young and thoughtless traveller, or to cover them with branches and flowers? O Reader! if there were less of this delicate concealment of facts–this whispering ‘Peace, peace’, when there is no peace, there would be less of sin and misery to the young of both sexes who are left to wring their bitter knowledge from experience.”

After her untimely death, Anne’s older sister Charlotte suppressed subsequent English editions of the novel, saying that it was not worthy of preservation and that Anne wasn’t in her right mind when she wrote Wildfell. The book was ultimately re-published in 1854, but was rife with errors and massive omissions, eventually earning the moniker of “the mutilated texts.”

To mark the 200th anniversary of Bronte’s birth, which was January 17th, the Folio Society has issued a new edition based on the first printing complete with edgy new illustrations by Valentina Catto and an introduction by Girl with a Pearl Earring author Tracy Chevalier. This edition of Wildfell Hall completes the Folio Society’s triptych of Bronte bestsellers, Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights.

According to Chevalier, “Wildfell Hall is a different, wilder beast–perhaps too wild for its time.” Though radical and revolutionary for genteel 19th-century readers, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall will no doubt resonate with readers in 2020 and finally establish Anne Bronte as a literary equal to her sisters.

Holiday Gift Guide

It’s gift-giving season, and there’s not a moment to lose! We present a rundown of the year’s best gifts for children from 1 to 92.

The Nursery Rhyme Book, by Andrew Lang; The Folio Society, $59.95, 280 pages, all ages. 

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Acclaimed Scottish folklorist Andrew Lang (1844-1912) scoured the world of children’s literature to compile volumes of stories, and this charming, thematically-organized collection of over 300 nursery rhymes includes well-known ditties like “Hickory, Dickory, Dock” and “Jack and Jill,” as well as lesser-known rhymes like “Ring the Bell” and “Old Betty Blue.”  Introduced by award-winning children’s book author Michael Rosen and accompanied by over 100 black and white illustrations by L. Leslie Brooke and six color paintings by Debra McFarlane, The Nursery Rhyme Book is a beautiful gift fit to stand the test of time.

*N.B.:Folio titles are only available through the Folio Society. Order early to ensure on-time holiday delivery.

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The Nursery Rhyme Book by Andrew Lang. Illustrated by Debra McFarlane and L. Leslie Brooke. Copyright 2016 Debra McFarlane. Reproduced with permission from The Folio Society.

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The Christmas Story.  Copyright 2016 by Robert Sabuda. Reproduced by permission of Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

The Christmas Story, by Robert Sabuda; Candlewick Press, $35.00, 12 pages, all ages.

The birth story of Christ is told in six deceptively simple pop-ups rendered in stark white and gold, and though this book is delicate–the manger scene is a remarkable feat of construction–The Christmas Story would make a magnificent present to those celebrating the holiday. Sabuda gave Hanukah a similar treatment in 2011 when he and poet Michael Rosen explored the 2,000 year-old Festival of Lights.

The Christmas Boot, by Lisa Wheeler, illustrated by Jerry Pinkney; Dial Books, $17.99, 32 pages, ages 3-7.

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A version of this book was published ten years ago (same author and illustrator) and it’s been updated for 2016. Caldecott Medal winner Jerry Pinkney’s masterful illustrations are a perfect accompaniment to Wheeler’s story about a lonely but warm-hearted woman whose generosity earns the admiration of a certain red-dressed sleigh driver.

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The Christmas Boot. Image Copyright 2016 Jerry Pinkney. Reproduced with permission from the publisher. 

The Complete Adventures of Curious George: 75th Anniversary Edition, by Margret and H.A. Rey; Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; $34.99, 432 pages, ages 2-8.

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At seventy-five, George is still a curious little monkey, and this banana-yellow hardbound volume with thick red spine will quickly settle into nightly bedtime rotation. In addition to the seven original tales, the book comes with a free audiobook code to listen to actor John Krasinski read the stories aloud. A lovely gift for adventurous grandchildren everywhere.

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Little One, by Jo Weaver. Copyright 2016 Jo Weaver. Reproduced with permission from the publisher.
BEAR THAT WAS
Little One, by Jo Weaver. Copyright 2016 Jo Weaver. Reproduced with permission from the publisher.

Little One, by Jo Weaver; Peachtree Publishers, $16.95, 32 pages, ages 2-6. 

Debut picture book author-illustrator Jo Weaver hits it out of the park with this lovely examination of the pull between a mother’s love and a child’s need to develop independence. Simple, singing text accompanied by Weaver’s soft black and white pencil illustrations highlight the beauty in nature and in family bonds. A perfect read-aloud while snuggling on a cold winter’s night.

Lego Pop-Up: A Journey Through the LEGO Universe, by Matthew Reinhart; Scholastic, $29.99, 10 pages, ages 7-10. 

Paper engineer Matthew Reinhart takes readers on a tour through the LEGO galaxy in this bright and bold pop-up book. Castles, dinosaurs, and ninjas all leap from the pages accompanied by short bursts of text. A must for LEGO fans of all ages.

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Lego Pop-Up, copyright 2016 Matthew Reinhart. Reproduced with permission from Scholastic.

Won’t You Break Your Lock and Key?

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image credit: Bill Bragg

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The Warden, by Anthony Trollope; The Folio Society, $53.95, 224 pages.

Since 1947, the Folio Society, a London-based publishing house, has offered exquisitely crafted volumes of the world’s greatest literature. Their edition of Anthony Trollope’s masterpiece The Warden is no exception – sheathed in a chestnut clamshell case, the clothbound volume includes appropriately dark, mysterious and complex illustrations by British artist Bill Bragg.  Pulitizer Prize winning author Jane Smiley provides readers with a nuanced examination of the author, as well as the world that influenced The Warden and other books in the Barsetshire Chronicles series.  Two major characters in English fiction both first appear here; Mr. Harding, the elderly warden of Hiram’s Hospital and the Rabelais-reading Archdeacon Grantly. Through their activities and relationships, Trollope keenly examines Victorian politics, society, and culture. Consider The Warden as an unexpected alternative to the traditional Dickensian offering this holiday season.

Folio FYI: You can’t get these books on Amazon. To ensure delivery by Christmas, the Folio Society requests orders to be placed by December 10th.

Happy Birthday William Shakespeare

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Image used with permission from The Folio Society

Lord Polonius: What do you read, my lord?
Hamlet: Words, words, words.
                                                            Hamlet
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The Folio Society has been preparing for William Shakespeare’s 450th birthday since 2006, when the renowned British fine books publishing house embarked on an ambitious project to print every tragedy, comedy and history in a large format, limited edition collection. The entire canon, including poems and sonnets, is now complete and color-coded by genre in individually numbered volumes. Zerkal deckle press paper, Moroccan leather binding and typeset in letterpress on hand-marbled paper, these books are a sumptuous tactile experience.

The series is a feast for the eyes as well; Shakespeare’s words stand alone, elegant and unobstructed by small margins and notes because the texts and commentaries are now in separate volumes. This affords readers the  delight of reading Shakespeare unencumbered by visual clutter.

Each page meets the Folio Society’s rigorous standards for quality and craftsmanship. These gems are also attractively priced at $545 per volume. Such beauty is fleeting – only three hundred copies of each volume exist.  What better way to celebrate the Bard’s birthday than by enjoying his work in such a wonderful manner.