Louisa Henrietta Sheridan’s The Comic Offering was published in 1831 by Smith, Elder, and Co. and sold for 12 shillings. It was the first British humor publication and annual written, edited, and illustrated by a woman (Hunt 95). Five volumes – the first being the only one she wrote entirely – were released annually from 1831 to 1835 and each contained illustrations with puns and humorous and satirical poetry and short prose fiction. Much of the writing found in the annuals is concerned with women and issues society and men forced upon them during Sheridan’s lifetime, and this is no less true in the fourth volume, published in 1834. Through research of the time period Sheridan lived in, it is clear that, from this volume, thirteen pieces – twelve writings and one illustration – in particular satirize issues of social etiquette, courtship, and beauty, attempting to point out their absurdities. However, while these eight pieces both critique and mock these issues, they along with writings from the first and second volumes and Sheridan herself failed to truly give women a voice and avoid affirming the stereotypes and gender roles forced upon them.
When it came to how women should act in society, there was no shortage of rules. These rules of social etiquette were done as “a shield against the intrusion of the impertinent, the improper, and the vulgar. …Etiquette is the barrier which society draws itself as protection” (David 22). Being polite was all about saving face in company and to avoid being the cause of disorder. Society believed that “one of the chief beauties in female character is that modest reserve, that retiring delicacy, which avoids the public eye and is disconcerted even at the gaze of admiration” (Gregory 26). Women must be timid and seen but not heard. Furthermore, she must blush, for it is the “most powerful charm of beauty” since it plays on her frailty and weakness, which furthers her physical beauty (27). Also, a beautiful woman may be educated, but must hide her intellect, for it threatens the reason for her want of beauty, marriage. In other words, a woman should be knowledgeable, but may not appear so if she wishes to be beautiful (32). The chief and predominant feminine traits valued then were humbleness, frailty, and silence. If followed properly, etiquette, as dictated by men, could trigger the creation of a perfect modern and well-behaved society.
Interestingly enough, this “perfect society” required that women be kept in their place. Women were supposed to be meek and weak, leading to them being perceived as fragile objects rather than human beings. Their sole ambitions were limited to becoming wonderful caretakers and/or teachers of the young. They did not necessarily have to be stupid, but they needed to know their place. They were “socialized to rely only upon their beauty, conduct and manners”, resulting in them becoming “unpalatable human beings”, and were “advised to hide their feelings” (Wollstonecraft).
Poets also contributed to the pressure of etiquette, such as George Gordon, better known as Lord Byron, and his 1814 poem titled “She Walks in Beauty”. In the last stanza, Gordon writes:
“So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
But tell of days in goodness spent,
A mind at peace with all below,
A heart whose love is innocence!”
Gordon is catering to the idea that the ideal woman is mild, soft, and innocent.
In Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Elizabeth embodies the ideal woman. She possesses a “gentle and affection disposition”, a “docile temper”, and an “attractive softness (19-20). She “continually endeavour[ed] to contribute to the happiness of others, entirely forgetful of herself” (27), with her “existence…bound up” in Frankenstein’s, her husband-to-be. Acting as an automaton built to serve was the preferred behavior for a woman because, if she were to blush or flirt with someone other than her suitor, she would lose some of her worth.
These aspects are satirized in pieces from The Comic Offering by Louisa Henrietta Sheridan. “The Flirt” speaks of an extremely beautiful woman that any man would be lucky to marry, only she has a few flaws, namely that she is snarky, spirited, and flirty. These qualities were hardly becoming of a proper woman and no man would want to marry her unless she changed her personality. The speaker comments on how her beauty, “her roses”, must fade and she will find herself “grow[ing] out of date” and dying alone as an “old maid”. Once that day comes, she will regret having ever been a flirt (4: 111). This piece points out that women were expected to be more reserved if they planned on not ending up unmarried and alone in old age. The fact that she actually possessed a personality was inconsequential. If she wanted to be a proper lady, she needed to abandon her individuality and not appear lewd, sexual, or more intelligent/witty than men.
In “A Stay at Home Tale”, Jenny, a young woman, finds herself “broken” for the sake of propriety. She possessed a love of freedom and buoyant spirits before having them droop and die “under the discipline of tight lacing” (4: 329). When she and her brother are misbehaving later in the story by trying to loosen her corset, she receives a lecture from her aunt on what it means to be respectful while her brother gets off without a word (until later on at least) (336). Her “rowdiness” needed to be quelled before she could start acting like a proper woman and for her failure to maintain decorum, she – along with her brother – find themselves written out of her will. She was unworthy of it and all for wanting to be able to breathe.
These social graces required of women extended to courtship as well. Courtship in the nineteenth century was a very structured affair, resembling a rigid social ritual guided by strict principles and etiquette. Usually around seventeen or eighteen years of age and upon completing her education, she would “come out” into society. This meant attending a ball or some other social gathering where the young lady, under her mother’s wing, presented herself to potential suitors. This event in a woman’s life followed the purchase of a new wardrobe so that she could look her best upon coming out. It was considered proper for a man and woman to be introduced to each other through a mutual acquaintance. Introducing yourself was taboo, unless the person you wished to speak to was of a lower class. If two people who were introduced at some point prior were to meet again in public, they needed to be reintroduced to each other before being permitted to converse. Men at this time chose their wives based primarily on beauty and economic gain. Emotional attachment and romance played a relatively small role (Hoppe).
In The Comic Offering, these behaviors and mannerisms are humorously embedded within several of the works. A piece of prose entitled “An Auction for Wives” provides the reader with a satirical caricature of the “coming out” ceremony. Parallels are drawn between the way in which women are presented at balls and the way goods are presented at auctions. Both the auctioneer and the matron attempt to highlight the attributes of the auction “item” and bachelorette. The men who attend balls, in this piece, are likened to buyers at an auction, to whom the prospective wives are mere investments. In this way, the work poignantly yet humorously portrays the objectification of women. In the end, none of the wives are “purchased” because they possess less than ideal physical attributes, to the point where even those who receive 120 pounds yearly are not good enough (4: 7-11). This highlights suitors’ unwillingness to look beyond these two areas of concern.
Another piece entitled “The Heiress Hunter” depicts another “coming out” ceremony in which a suitor, Sir Meadows Featherfew, searches out his ideal bride. Unsurprisingly, he aims his first attempts at courtship toward the wealthiest baronesses and, after being rejected, works his way down the social ladder until he is introduced to two women, one of which is set to inherit a large estate. One is ugly and the other is beautiful and Featherfew marries the ugly cousin, thinking that she is the one set to inherit the fortune. Here we see him prioritizing wealth over beauty. At the end of the tale it is revealed the attractive cousin is the true heiress. Rather than being indignant in response to Featherfew’s shallow motives, the newly-married Lady Featherfew apologizes profusely for the confusion. This humorous scene highlights the frequent subordination of wives to their husbands in the eighteenth century. Furthermore, Lady Featherfew’s apologies show how women were bred to be passive for their future roles as wives. He is disappointed to say the least and regrets his marriage, heavily implying that the two will not be in marital bliss for much longer (4: 155-171). His behavior indicates an indifference regarding whom he actually marries so long as she is of considerable social and economic standing.
In “My Very Particular Friend”, the narrator worries that her friend’s manners will prevent her from being courted and finding a husband. The friend is described as talking out of turn and being sarcastic as well as being somewhat of a flirt. The narrator predicts these characteristics will obstruct the friend’s marriage prospects (4: 12-14), reflecting society’s widely subscribed to ideals of feminine behavior. Marriage, in this piece, impresses upon the reader that it is a woman’s purpose in life to be married and to refine her manners in order to achieve that goal.
A fourth piece, “To Choose a Husband; or Romance and Reality”, illustrates the offering of gifts from the man to the woman that usually follows the introductory phases of courtship. The speaker addresses a lady being courted, telling her that if she receives certain things from her courter or if he is of an elevated social and economic standing, she ought to marry him without hesitation (4: 3-7). Throughout the piece, all we know of the suitor is what physical/material things he can offer her rather than anything about how he might treat her in a relationship. If a woman receives certain things from a suitor, it does not matter what his character actually consists of. Once again we see a depiction of the courtship process as being impersonal, superficial, and formulaic.
On that note, nothing was more superficial than the standard of beauty in the nineteenth century. It was derived from paintings, engravings, descriptions, and what was printed on/in magazines, annuals, and periodicals. The ideal woman was “short and slight, rounded and curved. Her shoulders slope[d]; her arms rounded; a small waist [lay] between a rounded bosom and a bell-shaped lower torso, covered by voluminous clothing. Her hands [were] small, her fingers tapered. Her feet when they protruded, were tiny and delicate. When her pictorial representation [was] colored, her complexion [was] white with a blush of pink [on] her cheeks” (Mazur 284). This look, also known as the Steel Engraving Lady, was the most reproduced look in the 19th century and became the standard for beautiful women.
Women were so dedicated to being “beautiful” that they found many ways to attempt to fit the desired look. The idea was to look frail and petite, best reflected in ill women. Thus, the ill and sickly became perfect models for women of the time and were “studiously copied as models of female attractiveness” (Mazur 285). Besides habitually making themselves ill, women also relied heavily on clothing to look the part.
One such industrious piece of clothing was the corset. It was the first layer of what women wore and was seen as fix for an “imperfect” waist size. In order to obtain the 18-inch waist and the bell-shaped lower torso, women went through corset training, even going so far as to wear corsets to bed and special corsets while partaking in “sporting” activities. By wearing a corset tightly around their torso, they forced their ribs inward and created the desired bell or Venus shape. Also as a way to accentuate the bell-shaped feature, women often over-burdened themselves with large dresses, which were specifically fluffed around the lower torso (“Fashion and the Return of the Corset and Tight-Lacing”).
Standards of beauty such as these were less stressed on men than they were on women and were most likely created to embody the wants of men, “forcing” women to conduct themselves toward the wishes of their “dominant” counter-part. The Comic Offering comments on this injustice in multiple pieces, the first of which is “An Auction for Wives”. The story criticizes the way women are treated as objects of beauty. The women within the piece all own either estate or money, yet none of them are “bid” on most likely because they possess physical defects/imperfections (4: 7-11). Their beauty is in disrepair and therefore they are no longer candidates for marriage. This highlights that women, even those with estate or finance, are not responsible for marriage and can only hope that they fit the standards of beauty in order to be pursued or in this case purchased by men.
Then there is “The Stout Lady”, in which a stout woman wishes that she could be sickly to being beautiful. In the piece, she regrets that she is no longer “languid and pale” and that her “strength” no longer failed her, highlighting how women wanted to be sick so they could be considered beautiful. She believed that “all food was an insult” and lived on “love” in an effort to lose weight. While she was trying to impress a suitor, she gave up food because getting married was apparently more important than sustenance. The last and most critical point in the piece was her jealousy of Caroline Bayly and the fact that she can faint on a whim and had fainted the night before. The stout lady believes that Caroline looked “delightful” when she fainted and wanted badly to be delightful in the same way (4: 96-101).
A picture used in The Comic Offering labeled “Running Against Time” (4: 120) suggests that women continually attempt to be as young, innocent, and beautiful as they can.
Women’s beauty, their most important aspect, fades with age (Wollstonecraft), requiring them to be in a constant “arms race” of sorts in an effort to stay as young as they can for as long as they can because, once they pass a certain age, the only way any man will be interested in them is if they possess an estate/wealth of some kind.
However, while all the pieces mentioned thus far mock and point out the absurdities of the issues forced upon women, they fail to actually push back against them. “The Flirt” does not see any value in the woman being spoken about possessing an actual personality. She is attractive and can be fun to talk to and be around, but unless she stops being so enjoyable, she is worthless.
In “A Stay at Home Tale”, while Jenny’s brother Sammy does get “punished” in the end, only Jenny is chastised for her behavior. Sammy is not vilified in any way and is almost presented more as a funny annoyance than anything else. Only women can expect to receive punishment for acting out while their male counterparts can do as they please.
“An Auction for Wives” strips the women of any and all agency. Rather than having even the slightest say in who they will marry, it seems to be perfectly acceptable to allow any and all men to bid on them and decide how much they are worth. Apparently women are incapable of determining their own worth or are not supposed to. The auctions also do not take anything into account beyond what the women own or what they look like. Who they are as people is of no consequence. It furthers the stereotype that women must be beautiful in order to be married, and thus explains why women were so eager to achieve the desired appearance.
In “The Heiress Hunter”, the “ugly” woman, upon finding out that Featherfew only married her because he thought he would get all of her money, apologizes to him and show zero signs of anger or resentment. She sees no worth in herself and is actually beside herself for disappointing him. Never mind the fact that whatever assets she might have had had prior to marrying him will transfer to him and he will leave her with nothing since he is likely to divorce her. Clearly, all that matters is whether he was going to be happy or not.
In “My Very Particular Friend”, the speaker laments that her friend is not the ideal woman as that fact will drastically decrease her chances of being married. While there is no clear indication that the speaker is female, because it would have been unusual for men and women who were not married to be friends and “hang out” together, it is safe to assume that the speaker is female. This means that she is in total agreement with the standards society and men place upon women as she reiterates the very things they would say and seems to agree that her supposed “negative” qualities overshadow anything positive about her.
“To Choose a Husband; or Romance and Reality” offers no agency to the woman the speaker is addressing. The woman never speaks in the piece and is being told what kind of men she should be looking to marry. The choice is not up to her at all. She must bend to the will of those around her and is not allowed to voice any dissent or any concerns she might have.
“The Stout Lady” does nothing to fight the stereotype that women are illogical and dominated by emotions. All that matters to her is looking as thin and pale as other women when, because of the absurdity of the piece, it is possible the “stout” lady is not very stout at all. It also does nothing to fight back against the idea that there is only one ideal standard of beauty as it does not concede that women can be beautiful without looking like Caroline.
The “Running Against Time!” picture points out a flaw in the way society views women and points out the absurdity of it, but offers no rebuttal. Instead, it almost makes them seem silly for even trying. It also reinforces the idea that it is impossible for a woman to be beautiful/attractive beyond a certain age.
The pieces in the first volume of The Comic Offering, all written by Sheridan, are no better and are perhaps even worse than those in the fourth. Most of the stories “have a moral, with those who transgressed against the standards of society suffering some penalty, whether it be shame, personal discomfort, or loss of a desired object” (Hunt 102). In “Rural Felicity”, a young woman ignores her mother’s concern about her visiting a family she has never met because she is caught up in a constructed fantasy about the family being rich, living in a beautiful countryside, and possessing a handsome bachelor son. The exact opposite is true and during her stay in the swamp-like area with the not-so polite family, she is attacked by a young man from a nearby asylum. This prompts her to return to her mother, “having suffered substantially for her willful behavior” (102-103).
In “Married and Single”, a young woman refuses her mother’s advice that she marry a wealthy suitor and instead chooses to be with Fred, a military man. However, the things she once found charming about life with him soon make her feel constricted and annoyed. When his regiment is sent to India and she returns to live with her mother while he is gone, she finds her old suitor has married one of her friends and the two are quite happy together. From this she concludes she is to blame for the unhappiness in her marriage and vows to be more like her friend rather than allowing any of the blame to fall on her husband (Hunt 103). She has “adopted the submissive (and acceptable) role of an obedient wife and daughter” (104).
The story “Fast Day” concerns a woman who attempts to subvert her husband’s authority and gain control of the household. Ultimately, she finds herself “locked in the house and ordered by him to do housework” (Hunt 104), not quite the outcome she had in mind initially. Such stories are hardly empowering for women and instead instruct them that any ambitions they may hold that does not fall in line with society’s “plan” for them should be forgotten or else they will suffer the consequences and be shown the error of their ways.
The second volume of The Comic Offering does not appear to be quite as harsh toward women, though it too carries the same “baggage” as the first. One notable change is that Sheridan only wrote several of the stories in it – and all subsequent volumes – with the rest being written by others. This could explain the change in tone as the vast majority of the stories do not have women filling the protagonist role or even being any of the main characters. Most concern themselves with men of varying ages and while many of them have women in them in minor roles, very few of them actually involve the men trying to court or marry them. This is possibly a response to the critical reaction the first volume received. Since many questioned a woman being the sole writer and whether what she was writing was appropriate (Hunt 100), she likely figured bringing in other writers would take some of the scrutiny off of her and would allow the prose to be more “varied” in an effort to appease her critics…and perhaps she felt women might want to read more than just stories of them being punished.
That does not mean, however, that there is nothing in the second volume that is “offensive” toward women. On page nine, there is an illustration of a young man and his elderly wife walking their dogs.
She is looking up at him lovingly while his gaze is off to the side, his face showing disappointment if not disgust. The caption for it speaks of how sad it is for young men to have to be seen with old women as they seem to live even longer in an effort to “‘cheat the fool’” who married her expecting her to die not long after so that he could acquire her wealth. This is far from flattering for women as it affirms their worthlessness if they have no money because it is impossible for them to remain beautiful and valuable past a certain age. If a woman is not beautiful, she better hope she has money or else she will find no one willing to marry her.
At the very end of the volume are advertisements for other works published by the same publisher. On page 378, one of these works is the “Home Book; or Young Ladies’ Assistant”. It forms the “complete System of Domestic Economy” for the “Guidance” of those whose job is to manage the household and also contains “valuable directions for effectually checking the many Impositions practised upon respectable Families by Servants”. The advertisement also makes sure to point out that the work is written by “a Lady”. The second volume may not pay quite as much attention to women as the first did, but it makes sure to point them in the direction of sound advice for the most important job they are allowed to have: household management.
It is clear that the pieces failed to push back against society’s pressures on women and so did Sheridan herself in her effort to both satiate critics and sell books. Critical response to her annual could be described as mixed at best. Many critics at the time perhaps offered “grudging praise” (Hunt 100) as far as the quality of the illustrations and humor in the prose, but they also never failed to mention the fact that she was a woman and remark on the strangeness of a woman writing humor (101, 112). Her “gentility and honor” (101) always seemed to be in question due to British humor’s “notorious past”. Many humorists and satirists, such as Pope, Swift, and Smollett used sexual or scatological images and humor in their writings, resulting in humor as a genre becoming a subject of “intense scrutiny for possible signs of impropriety…whether written by males or females”, which would explain why humor’s “taint of unrespectability” clung tightly to Sheridan in the eyes of her critics (102) since women, even more so than men, were supposed to exercise “restraint”. At one point, she even wrote of her disdain of going out in public with people who refuse to act as others act (106), an indication that she did not exactly disagree with society’s pressures. As a result, the first volume of The Comic Offering seems to suggest that she “carefully crafted her poems and stories in such a way as to allay the fears of her critics” (95).
While her “unfailing support of the status quo” helped her to gain “the approval of critics and the public alike” (Hunt 95), it took the bite out of her and the other contributors’ satire. The works point out and mock the various aspects and absurdities of the pressures of etiquette, courtship, and beauty that society forced upon women, but no real critique of them exists in any of the writings. The flaws are pointed out for the sake of laughing at them, but the idea seems to be that they could laugh at them as long as they proceeded to continue adhering to them afterward. It is possible that Sheridan did not necessarily hold the beliefs that her contributors did, but, seeing as she was the editor of the volumes, it is unlikely that she would have allowed anything in them that she objected to. By the time the fourth volume came around, her annual had experienced substantial and widespread sales (4: VII), meaning the possibility of her committing career suicide had likely diminished substantially. If she had been less concerned with maintaining her own image and appeasing her critics in order to sell books, perhaps her annuals would have sparked actual critical dialogue rather than mere amusement and laughter.
Bits-n-Pieces. “Wood Engraving.” Bits-n-Pieces. HubPages, 24 Sep 2010. Web. 30 Sep 2012.
David, Charles William. Etiquette and the Usages of Society. Harvard: W.D. Ticknor, 1844. 22. Print.
“Fashion and the Return of the Corset and Tight-Lacing.” Return of the Corset. Top Cities, Nov 2010. Web. 30 Sep 2012.
Gordon, George. “She Walks in Beauty.” Poetry Foundation. Poetry Foundation, n.d. Web. 30 Sep 2012.
Gregory, John. A Father’s Legacy to His Daughters. London: London, 1774. Print.
Hootman, Harry. “An Index of British Annuals.” British Annuals and Giftbooks. Brit Annuals. Database. 30 Sep 2012.
Hoppe, Michelle J. “Courting the Victorian Woman.” literary-liasons. Literary Liasons, 1998. Web. 30 Sep 2012.
Hunt, Tamara L. “Louisa Henrietta Sheridan’s Comic Offering and the Critics: Gender and Humor in the Early Victorian Era.” Victorian Periodicals Review. 29.2 (1996): 95-115. Print.
Huxley, Leonard. The House of Smith Elder. London: William Clowes & Sons, 1923. 1-5, 7, 9-23, 25-26, 32, 37-38, 40-41, 44-45, 47-48, 57-58, 61, 69, 71, 75, 82, 90-92, 223-224. Print.
Maidment, Bryan. “A Draft List of Published book and periodical contributions by Robert Seymour.” Victorians Institute Journal. NINES. Database. 30 Sep 2012.
Mazur, Allan. “U.S. Trends in Feminine Beauty and Overadaptation.” Journal of Sex Research. 22.3 (1986): 281-303. Print.
Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft. Frankenstein. 2nd ed. New Jersey: Pearson Education, 2007. 19- 20, 27, 66. Print.
Sheridan, Louisa Henrietta, ed. The Comic Offering. 2nd ed. London: Smith, Elder, 1832. 9, 378. Print.
Sheridan, Louisa Henrietta, ed. The Comic Offering. 4th ed. London: Smith, Elder, 1834. 3-8, 11- 14, 96-101, 107-111, 120, 155-171, 326-339. Print.
Wollstonecraft, Mary. “Wollstonecraft ‘A Vindication of the Rights of Woman’ – Summary of Important Points.” A Vindication of the Rights of Woman: with Strictures on Political and Moral Subjects. Handout. British Literature Late 18th Century to the Present: English 56B. (Dr. Katherine D. Harris.) San Jose State University. 4 Sep 2012. Print.
Louisa Henrietta Sheridan’s The Comic Offering: Satire Without Bite
The Minimal Information Found on Louisa Henrietta Sheridan’s Background
Very little information exists on Louisa Henrietta Sheridan’s background. Her birth date and age are unknown, with even her 1842 obituary failing to provide either one. She was Captain William B. Sheridan’s only daughter and there is no information as to whether she possessed any brothers. Fate was unkind to her as she died from consumption – tuberculosis – a year after marrying Lieutenant-Colonel Sir Henry Wyatt and becoming Lady Wyatt (Hunt 95). She retired as editor of The Comic Offering in 1835 due to deteriorating health, but no woman stepped forward to replace her (112) and there is no indication that the annual continued in any form thereafter.
Louisa Henrietta Sheridan’s The Comic Offering: Satire Without Bite
Smith, Elder, and Co., Publisher of The Comic Offering
Smith, Elder, and Co., was founded by George Smith and Alexander Elder in October 1816 at 158 Frenchurch Street. George Smith, the son of a farmer, apprenticed himself to Isaac Forsythe, a banker and bookteller, and, at the age of twenty-one, secured a position in Rivingtons’ before working with John Murray. Once he felt he had enough experience, he started Smith & Elder with Alexander Elder, though he still kept his position with John Murray while Elder devoted all of his time to their business. Biographical information on Elder was virtually nonexistent, though he is credited with the early development of the publishing department. The business moved to 65 Cornhill in 1824 in order to expand.
In 1843, George Smith’s nineteen-year-old son, George Smith, took over the business from his father, though Elder stayed on to manage the publishing and his “taste” led to sporadic bouts of publishing. Smith’s father died in 1846 and Elder retired, leaving all aspects of the business in his hands. One of the partners had been embezzling money, but Smith caught on and relieved him before managing to turn the business around from financial ruin and starting Cornhill Magazine with William Thackeray in 1860. Notable works published include Friendship’s Offering (no editor or author specified), Louisa Henrietta Sheridan’s The Comic Offering, Sir Andrew Smith’s Illustrations of the Zoology of South Africa, Charles Darwin’s Zoology of the Voyage of the Beagle, John Ruskin’s Modern Painters, Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, William Thackeray’s The History of Henry Esmond, and Cornhill Magazine (Huxley 1-5, 7, 9-23, 25-26, 32, 37-38, 40-41, 44-45, 47-48, 57-58, 61, 69, 71, 75, 82, 90-92, 223-224).
Louisa Henrietta Sheridan’s The Comic Offering: Satire Without Bite
Annuals were largely intended to be given – initially only at Christmas – as gifts, leading to the name “gift books”. They were published primarily for profits rather than out of any perceived literary worth and were aimed at middle-class families. Much attention was devoted to making them pleasant to look at, resulting in beautifully engraved covers, colored and glazed paper boards, and decorative titles and designs. Slip cases with identical designs were eliminated once annuals were being bound in silk fabric or embossed leather bindings. They ballooned from pocket-sized books to “parlor display size” and typically contained “biographical sketches, descriptive travelogues, moral essays, short stories, and many poems” in an effort to encapsulate popular culture (Hootman).
Louisa HenriettaSheridan’s The Comic Offering: Satire Without Bite
The Illustrations and Engravings in The Comic Offering
The fourth volume of The Comic Offering is bound in embossed leather with its pages gilded in gold and woodcut engravings on the covers as well as inside as illustrations. While Sheridan drew most of the illustrations for all five volumes, Robert Seymour drew some of them and Slader performed the engravings. Seymour designed the frontispiece and title page of volume one – the title page design remained constant throughout all five volumes – and the frontispieces of volumes four and five. Many of the illustrations in the first volume are unsigned, though Seymour did sign three, implying he may have done others as well. He was the primary illustrator for volumes two and three, signing nine and sixteen images, respectively, though it is unclear if he still contributed illustrations beyond the third volume as they do not seem to match his style (Maidment). The illustrations found in the fourth volume are all unsigned, making it unclear whether Sheridan resumed the primary duty of illustrating or if others contributed.
Louisa Henrietta Sheridan’s The Comic Offering: Satire Without Bite
The Engraving Process
The process of wood engraving first involves drawing the desired image/illustration. Once drawn, the image would be transferred to a wood block – typically boxwood due to its hardness and fine grain – by covering the block’s surface with Chinese white and then carefully tracing the design with pencil. The block was typically rested on a round leather sandbag and a well-sharpened burin graver was used to begin engraving the design, with the graver pushing away from the body with enough pressure for the burin to penetrate the wood. Using their left hand, the engraver would move the block from left to right to ease the process of engraving curved and parallel lines. A small amount of calcium carbonate could be rubbed into the lines to check the progress. Once the engraving was completed, the block was brushed clean and inked to create trial proofs. Any mistakes made needed to have holes drilled over them and a peg inserted into the hole. The bit of the peg above the hole would be cut down to the surface and sanded and polished in order to redo the error. Lines could be rubbed down with emery paper if need be (Bits-n-Pieces).
Louisa Henrietta Sheridan’s The Comic Offering: Satire Without Bite
Wikipedia Pages Created/Edited After Researching Louisa Henrietta Sheridan, the publisher – Smith, Elder & Co. – and The Comic Offering
The articles created for Sheridan and The Comic Offering are fairly short and minor as it was difficult to find much information on either one. Smith, Elder, & Co. already had a Wikipedia page, but the “Works published” section was updated with Sheridan’s annual, the Friendship’s Offering annual, Andrew Smith’s Illustrations of the Zoology of South Africa, Charles Darwin’s Zoology of the Voyage of the Beagle, John Ruskin’s Modern Painters, Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, and William Makepeace Thackeray’s The History of Henry Esmond.
Group members’ blogs: