A River's Story - To Ada Hudson on her 16th Birthday
[N.P.]: March 11, 1892.
[N.P.]: March 11, 1892. Manuscript short story in a vernacular binding of drab card hand-tied with a pink ribbon, measuring 7 x 8 inches. 8 neatly handwritten pages with 7 detailed pen illustrations on facing pages. Accompanied by a 4 page Autograph Letter Signed by the book's author and illustrator Agnes Hornung to her dear friend Ada Hudson, for whose sixteenth birthday the book was created. An exceptionally lovely example of Victorian women's use of literature and art exchange as a personal expression of taste and intimacy.
Calligraphy and drawing were important activities for educated women at the turn of the century. As these women gained power in consumer culture as readers and art collectors, they also publicly practiced good taste and displayed their educations by crafting pieces of their own. "Copying verses in beautiful calligraphy sheltered women from the charge of an extravagant and corrupting interest in purely commercialized forms of culture...this personal, tactile involvement with decorative objects remained a powerful index of women's gentility" and a measure of their literary and artistic knowledge (di Bello). The present work participates in this tradition. At the same time, it stands out as an original work rather than a scribal copy of another author's narrative. As "a token of love and remembrance from her friend," A River's Story in all its simplicity speaks to the way a woman's life progresses, shaping the spaces around her and growing with the addition of new relationships and loves that she can nurture. In Agnes' letter to Ada, which accompanies the book, she explains that A River's Story reflect "the earnest prayers I breathe on this thy birthday, sister dear; May each of those rich gifts be thine, Increasing with each passing year." This is a literal explanation of Agnes' metaphor, beautifully and delicately illustrated in the manuscript book. The river, born from a spring in the mountains, makes its way downstream, feeding plants and animals, assisting humans with their mills, and gaining experiences along the way. By the end of its journey it has grown in size and has begun to slow; and it joins the larger body that is the ocean, where it can come to rest. A simple, concise, and elegant expression of one young woman's hopes for another whom she loves. While census records show multiple entries for women with both names, we have been unable to determine which are these Agnes Hornung and Ada Hudson; but we're confident that further scholarly research could reach a conclusion that brought forth more information about these women's lives and relationship. (Item #3376)