Check out my most recent blog post, entitled “Fairy Hunting at the Huntington,” here. In it, I discuss some of the materials that I’ve found while on a long-term fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities at the Huntington Library.
Check out my most recent blog post, describing my research on the fairy and the microscope in Victorian Britain, here on the Victorian Studies blog.
My article, “Nature’s Invisibilia: The Victorian Microscope and the Miniature Fairy,” was recently awarded Editor’s Choice for Victorian Studies 57.4 and can currently be read for free on JSTOR.
The Diamond Ettiquette [sic] of Courtship and Marriage (London: Ewins, 1845): 2 x 1 3/8 inches (5.1 x 3.5 cm)
Seen at the University of North Texas Special Collections.
The Diamond Ettiquette [sic] of Courtship and Marriage measures just 2 by 1 3/8 of an inch, making it about the size of two quarters. Priced at just 6 shillings (about £2.39 today),  this affordable and portable volume belongs to a set of miniature etiquettes, including The Diamond Etiquette for Ladies, The Diamond Etiquette for Gentlemen, and later The Pocket Language of Flowers. Portable etiquette books ostensibly offer emergency etiquette advice to their owners. The utility of a miniature guide to courtship and marriage, however, is somewhat less clear. What lady or gentleman, after all, would consult his or her portable etiquette book in the midst of a proposal?
The Diamond Ettiquette surveys various aspects of courtship, with chapters on General Conduct, Proposals, Intervention of Parents or Guardians, Correspondence, Conduct after Betrothal, Conduct on retiring from an Engagement, and Marriage. Although addressed to both sexes, the advice applies predominantly to ladies. Indeed, the writer comments upon the difficulty of condensing the necessary advice for women “to the size of so small a manual as the present” (19).
So what did a Victorian lady need to know about courtship and marriage?
First and foremost, a lady ought never to flirt. Flirtation, the author explains, is “[a]n evil of great magnitude” (20-1), which could damage a lady’s reputation permanently. Once a lady is known for her flirtatious ways, she “must go through the world with a stain upon her reputation,—a blot upon her moral escutcheon, which not all the rubbings of a Madame Bluebeard could ever erase” (23-4). Without a trace of irony, the author blurs the lines between real and imagined scenarios, invoking the fairy tale to convey the irreparable seriousness of a social sin. After receiving a proposal, the lady-reader is instructed defer to the wisdom of her relatives after making her own opinions known. She should also be wary of consulting her friends about the marriage, because they might have their own interests at heart. “Female confidantes,” the guide warns, “are frequently the most dangerous friends” (50).
Even once a proposal has been made and accepted, a lady must carefully guard her reputation against the possible dangers of a fickle or untrustworthy suitor. In particular, she must be careful about what she writes, since “a gentleman’s estimation will rise or fall like a domestic weather glass, according to the ability exhibited in composition” (73-4). No comment is made upon the quality of gentleman whose affections change like the weather. Similarly, if the courtship is broken off, a cadish gentleman might, “whilst professing to return letters, be devoid of principle, to the extent of taking copies, and exhibiting them for the amusement of his every-day friends” (75). Such a prank, again, might permanently damage a lady’s reputation by making her the fodder of a crude joke.
A Victorian gentleman faced far fewer risks during courtship. While gentlemen are also warned against flirtation, the author admits that a lady “receives a much larger share of public odium” than a gentleman for such behavior (25). A gentleman should avoid becoming either a “Jack Brag” (35), who talks too much about his female conquests, or a sentimental romantic, whose “lovesick expressions of sighing and dying, whining and pining” would be “unmanly, and indicative of a very weak mind” (76-7). But while a gentleman might repulse some of his acquaintances through bad behavior, he is faced with no serious consequences. Upon marriage, the gentleman gains the social prerogative both to abandon his own “bachelor friends” at will and to require his wife to drop any of her friends whom he deems unsuitable (105-7).
By following these rules, the author of the manual declares, a man and woman may be sure that their marriage “will prove happy in its consummation, and lead to the enjoyment of genuine domestic felicity” (5). The miniature format of the volume serves to reinforce the idea that domestic happiness may be achieved through a relatively simple set of etiquette rules. For present-day readers, the dubious guidance offered here may not seem to guarantee domestic bliss. Yet the miniature volume still holds the enchanting allure of a secret manual, which promises to contain some gem of hidden wisdom inside.
- 1. For approximate conversion values from the nineteenth century (or earlier!) to today, visit the website Measuring Worth, at
The Waistcoat Pocket Map of London ([London] Paris: Dower, ca.1865): 2 7/16 x 2 inches (6.2 x 5 cm)
The Waistcoat Pocket Map of London has an unassuming exterior, with cloth boards covered by a faded green paper label. The cover spells out both the contents of the work and their proposed utility: “Shewing all the Railways and Stations, Public Buildings, Streets, and with Reference to all the Chief Objects of Interest. Divided into half mile Squares to calculate Cab Fares.” Upon opening the cover, linen pages unfold to display a hand colored rectangular map of the city, measuring about 20 x 12 inches (51 x 32 cm) The words “The Visitor’s Map of London” are emblazoned across the top twice: in the middle and in a box in the right corner.
The unfolded map offers an impressively detailed birds’ eye view of the city of London. The map labels each individual street and names many key buildings, representing their size and shape as seen from above. A grid structure divides the city into half mile squares, while letters distinguish general regions of the city: “W” for “West,” “NW” for “North West,” “CW” for “Center West.” A key at the bottom of the map lists the locations on the map’s grid of 173 unique sites in London, with railway termini listed in a separate section and with the “International Exhibition” highlighted in a larger font size. The map uses color to highlight select locales; railway termini are highlighted in red, parks and the Thames in slightly different shades of blue, and major thoroughfares in yellow. The unfolded map remains affixed to the cardboard covers of the book. While this attachment secures the map in its case, it also makes the book’s cover stubbornly present for the reader, blocking one square of the map and destabilizing the map by creating a comparatively heavy weight on the left side.
Pocket maps like this one were popular during the nineteenth century as a response to the burgeoning urban landscape of London. In 1838, the publisher Edward Mogg urged visitors to London to provide themselves with pocket maps, noting,
To avoid the inconvenience of taxing his friend to an attendance upon him in his peregrinations, it is indispensable that [the visitor to London] provide himself with a plan of London . . . like the clue of Ariadne, they will conduct him through the labyrinth, and, occasionally consulted, will enable him, unattended, to thread with ease the mazes of this vast metropolis. 
Mogg’s classical analogy serves to underline three essential ideas about London: first, that the city of London was a maze that could be navigated only with a guide, second, that without a map, London may pose dangers like the Minotaur’s labyrinth, and third, that a pocket guide, like a ball of thread, would guide the visitor easily even as its size permitted it to be concealed from public view.
The idea of a pocket map is, of course, familiar to us today; travelers continued to rely upon these maps until they were recently displaced by smartphones. The Waistcoat Pocket Map of London differs from such contemporary examples in its effort to make the map conform to the shape of a miniature book. In placing a map, already a miniature representation of the city, within a miniature book, the format serves to underline the idea that the city itself has been condensed into a portable form. For a Victorian audience that understood the miniature book as a form of condensed knowledge, the printing of a map as a miniature book presented the map as a private source of knowledge about the city that, much like Ariadne’s thread, offered the “reader” a talismanic guide to the city.
Seen at the Bridwell Library at Southern Methodist University.
At first glance, The English Bijou Almanac for 1839 scarcely appears to be a book at all. Measuring just three quarters of an inch by nine-sixteenths of an inch, the volume is slightly smaller than a person’s thumb. The cover bears the words The English Bijou, bracketed on top and bottom by two red circles rimmed with gold dots and surrounded by an ornate series of curves, lines and dots. More expensive editions of the same volume feature hard binding in morocco or vellum, elaborate cases in velvet or tortoiseshell, and matching magnifying glasses that fit into the case. This almanac lives up to its name as a bijou; it is a precious object that encases its literary content in a jewel-like form.
While The English Bijou Almanac delights as a precious object, it poses a variety of mechanical challenges to the reader. The text of the volume is printed in a miniscule, italicized font that is difficult to parse without a magnifying glass. The reader who strains his or her eyes to read this text also confronts the considerable mechanical challenges of turning thin pages and of keeping the tightly bound work open without blocking the text with his or her fingers. Indeed, the reader’s hands feel massive in relation to the volume, like clumsy instruments that are barely capable of the necessary manipulation of pages. It is difficult to imagine any reader attempting to overcome these challenges and to use this precious and impractical object for practical purposes.
Still, the English Bijou Almanac presents ostensibly useful charts alongside poetic fancies. The combination of useful and entertaining material is typical of nineteenth century almanacs. Yet the emphasis here falls dramatically on the poetic material. Practical charts, including a calendar and lists of the royal family, the Sovereigns of Europe, the Queen’s Ministers and the Ladies of the Court, appear only after a series of poems dedicated to luminaries like the Duchess of Kent (mother of Queen Victoria), the Duke of Wellington and Beethoven. The title page proudly emphasizes that the volume is “poetically illustrated by L.E.L. [Letitia Elizabeth Landon]” and each poem (or poetic illustration) is accompanied by a visual image which further attracts the reader’s gaze. Within this context, the practical charts included at the end of the volume seem almost an afterthought: a practical pretense for a work that itself embodies an extreme vision of literary minuteness.
Despite the seeming improbability of The English Bijou Almanac’s existence, Albert Schloss published editions of the work yearly from 1835 to 1843 to great acclaim. Indeed, the 1838 volume was dedicated to Queen Victoria and the 1839 almanac included a portrait of Prince Albert in honor of the impending royal nuptials, both with the Queen’s permission. Landon’s poems, which appeared in the first five years of the Bijou Almanac’s publication, lent literary credibility to a work that was already a marvel of miniature printing. In this almanac, the last one for which she wrote, Landon composes a short poem entitled, “A Farewell.” “My little Fairy Chronicle, / The prettiest of my tasks, farewell!” she writes, commemorating her work as belonging, not to the everyday world of reality, but rather to an alternative realm of fairyland. In remaking the almanac as a bijou and a fairy chronicle, Schloss acknowledges the potential utility of miniature books (as portable reference volumes) even as he defies this utility by creating an almanac that delights precisely because of the incredibly small dimensions which make it impractical to use.
Seen at the Bridwell Library at Southern Methodist University. 
The Earth and Its Inhabitants comes in the form, not of a traditional miniature book, but rather of a pastel blue cardboard box with a label on the top giving the work’s title. Inside the box, a miniature or pocket globe, measuring about 1.7 inches in diameter, sits atop an accordion-folded set of pages, which are attached on one end to the bottom of the box and which have a red tab on the other end for the reader to lift the strip out of its case. Each page of the foldout book measures 1 7/8 x 1 5/8 inches (4.7 x 4.2 cm) and includes a hand painted image of a male inhabitant of a foreign country, wearing the dress traditionally associated with his nation. Captions beneath list the man’s nationality in German, French and English, often with unusual English spellings or names.  Citizens of major European nations (including “English,” “Frankh,” “Italien,” and “Swiss”) mingle alongside inhabitants of remote countries (including the “Siamese,” “Japonese,” “Hindoe,” and “Neger”). The volume places a clear emphasis upon exoticism; Germans are omitted from the set, but the “Ostiaki” (Siberians), “Illirian” (ancient Balkans), “Calmuc” (peoples north of Tibet), “Tscherkesse” (peoples north of Turkey), and “Hottentotte” (South Africans) are all included. The nations are roughly organized into regions of the world, from the east Asia, to Canada, Africa, west Asia and Europe. This order, however, is imperfect; the “Cine” [the Chinese] are inexplicably represented between a “Spaniard” and the “Persians.”
The usual format of this work simultaneously serves to miniaturize the world and to suggest its expansive scale. Enclosed within a diminutive box, the world becomes a portable object. Pocket globes like the one in this set, indeed, were popular in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, especially in England. These globes were presumably intended to teach children geography, although critics have suggested that they also functioned as geographical reference tools and as novelty toys for adults.  Yet while the globe serves to miniaturize the word, the 32 accordion-bound images serve to suggest the expansive variety of global populations. The strip of images unfolds to approximately 52 inches or 4 1/3 feet (132 cm) in length, parading figures that represent the diversity of global societies. The world, in this representation, is at once an knowable commodity that can be purchased and put in the pocket and an endless extent of new and diverse persons. Far from representing the earth and its inhabitants exhaustively, this work invites its reader to imagine the inhabitants of the rest of the globe.
The Infant’s Library (London: Marshall, c.1800 – 1816)
Individual Book: 2 3/8 x 1 7/8 inches (6 x 4.6 cm)
Seen at the Lilly Library at Indiana University.
The Infant’s Library is housed in a wooden box whose cover resembles a glass-fronted bookcase in a library. The upper part of the box imitates the appearance of glass bookcase doors with volumes visible behind, while the bottom half mimics a lower cabinet with drawers. At the top of the cover, a decorative piece of woodwork simultaneously completes the illusion of box as bookcase and, more practically, serves as a grip for the reader to remove the cover. The cover slides up to reveal a set of sixteen miniature 2 3/8 by 1 7/8 inch volumes housed on two shelves. Each volume has a paper cover in a range of colors, each with the same oval label on the cover reading “The Infant’s Library.”
This box set was sold as a child’s miniature library by John Marshall at the turn of the 19th century; similar sets from the period published by Marshall include The Cabinet of Lilliput (London: Marshall, 1802), The Book-case of Instruction and Delight (London: Marshall, 1802) and The Doll’s Library (London, Marshall: c. 1800). The first fifteen volumes of this series bear the same title page, with the series title (Infant’s Library) and publication info accompanied by the book number. The sixteenth volume is titled “A Short History of England for the Infant’s Library,” and was presumably published and added to the collection after the others.
Individual volumes represent a progression from letters, the building blocks of language, to full sentences. Book I is an alphabet with a full-page letter and its corresponding illustration on non-facing consecutive pages. Like My Alphabet Book, this miniature volume does not distinguish between the respective sizes of Lion and Mouse; the two animals are both represented within small circular discs. Book II marks a progression from single letters to paired vowels and consonants, arranged first in nonsensical arrangements (“ab ac ad af ag ah ak al am”), next as short words, and finally as nouns with adjectives (“A good boy,” “A fairy child,” “A nice book,” “A neat doll”). The pairing of the vowels and consonants in the first pages structurally mirrors the pairing of adjective and nouns at the end; implicitly, this volume suggests, letters fit together as words just as words fit together as descriptions. Small things inevitably marches towards larger ones. Books 3-15 offer short descriptions of scenes, accompanied by full pages illustrations. Just as the complexity of language has expanded, from letters in Book 1 to full sentences in Book 3, so too the illustrations have visually grown, from half-page circles in Book I that recall the microscope’s focused field of view to full-page, telescopic illustrations in Book III that illustrate scenes taken from the world.
The author dedicates the set in Book III to an unnamed child, using the opportunity to announce the volume’s aim to entertain. “My dear,” he writes, “These little volumes I dedicate to you, as they were principally intended for your amusement” (2). There is, of course, much about these volumes to amuse the child, as a doll-scaled imitation of the shelves that children might have seen in their own parents’ libraries. Like most eighteenth-century books, he volumes educate while entertaining, teaching both alphabetic knowledge and visual observation. The miniature size of these volumes renders them toy-sized, proportional to the child’s dolls, even as it mimics adult libraries, the source of parents’ understanding. In this sense, the size of the volumes suggests how the child’s entertaining work of learning will lead them (in time) to the broad scope of parental knowledge and power. Through the enchanting portal of these miniature volumes, the child moves from the alphabet of the nursery into the observation of the world. Although the child now gazes at the minute pages of a miniature book, the volume promises that reading this book will give him or her the ability to understand the whole world.