[N.P]: [c. 1854]. Complete 28 page handwritten manuscript play prompt, drawn directly from Julia Corner's 1854 adaptation of Beauty and the Beast. Stitched at spine and holding, though some pages are loose or delicate. Occasional staining, largely confined to margins or rear blanks. Composed in one woman's hand in ink throughout, with what appears to be a much younger girl's annotation in pencil to the final pages. The text throughout corresponds with Corner's book, with the exception of stage directions occasionally being abbreviated or simplified. We have been unable to locate the "Miss Lacy's School" mentioned in the younger girl's note.
Julia Corner, the daughter of a printer, became a prolific children's author in her time; and her adaptation of Beauty and the Beast was hailed for "creating quite a sensation among all the middling-size children" according to Eliza Cook's Journal from that year. At a time when there was debate about the morality of performance and theater, Corner was noted for "wisely sympathizing with child-natures, and she declares her belief in the propriety and profit of theatrical amusement among children"; and Eliza Cook's Journal documents instances of girls in particular gravitating toward the play, "settling all the characters for all available friends" and performing at home or school (Cook, Vol 10). Here, we see first-hand evidence of this phenomenon: girls in a ladies' school taking on roles and acting them out for classmates. Further research into the school, its location, and its class of girls would be enlightening -- uncovering, for example, if there were multiple prompts for girls who could not access Corner's text, whether the manuscripts were done as a handwriting exercise in addition to the performance, or whether one individual simply copied this play out as a souvenir of the event. The hand used throughout is elegant and well-trained -- seemingly a grown woman, whose spelling corresponds with contemporary American rather than British expectations.
The choice of a fairy tale like Beauty and the Beast also deserves study, as it promotes particular feminine qualities -- including respect for authority, filial affection and self-sacrifice, and modesty -- even within the darker setting of fairies, sorcery, and punishment.
A unique opportunity for research in fields including but not limited to the trans-continental transmission of fairy tales, girls' education, the history of performance, didactic literature and performance in schools, gender studies, and paleography. (Item #3249)