Once August hit, my summer went from relaxingly productive to complete craziness, hence my recent lack of posts. Between a full schedule and exhaustion, blogging has not been high on my list of priorities. In addition to moving, unpacking, and physical therapy, I’ve also begun my archival research at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities Libraries, and this is the topic of today’s post.
A professor first mentioned the Victorian literary annual to me during my first semester in my doctoral program; in my second semester, I began researching the genre for a book history course. (I’ve written on the topic previously here and here.) Now, the literary annual is playing a major role in my dissertation as one of the genres I’m investigating (along with fairy tale collections and poetry and short story collections).
I’m fascinated by the history of the literary annual. Marketed as appropriate reading and gifts for young middle-class women, the annual featured luxurious bindings (such as red silk) and state of the art steel-plate engravings. These engravings were the real appeal of the annuals, as the poetry, short stories, and nonfiction texts were written to accompany the engravings. Moreover, the genre was increasingly “feminized,” as women increasingly edited, wrote, and read the literary annuals. Published between 1823 and 1857, at the height of their popularity more than 60 different annuals were published in a single year.
Perhaps because they were considered feminine, as well as because the engravings rather than the texts were the selling point, critics since the genre’s debut have considered the literary annual to be fluff rather than literature, and the literary annual has only become a source of scholarly interest in the last few decades. So there is plenty of work to be done with the annuals, in particular with the literary contributions that have been overlooked in favor of the genre’s intriguing history as a book-object.
I was thrilled to discover that the University of MN has an extensive collection of British (and American) literary annuals; as a side note, those interested in exploring the catalog should search under “gift books” rather than literary annuals. Holdings are available in regular collections that are loanable as well as in various special collections, including those held at the Andersen Library and Wilson/Bell Library. I’ve included my current batch of special collection annuals in the spreadsheet image below.
Although my research has only begun, I’ve already found some literary gems although they are not quite what I’m looking for for my dissertation. Fingers crossed that my theory is proven true as I continue my research into the fascinating world of the British Victorian Literary Annual!