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The Rocket Club. Manuscript on paper, in English. "Essays of the Rocket Club." [England]: , 1885. 4to (23.8 cm, 9.375"). [200 (195 used)] ff.; illus. $2,450.00
A remarkable collection: One year's worth of => original, handwritten pieces painstakingly composed and assembled by the members of a private "girls'" essay society, covering a wide range of literary, cultural, and historical topics, gathered in a luxurious custom binding. At the time this volume was commenced, the club was coming into its eighth year of existence — "a venerable age for an essay society" according to the author of the introduction, whose pseudonymous "Elm" signature often shows up in these pages graced by a sketched leaf. Following Elm's admonishment to write more things worth reading in the coming year are pieces like "Books for the Million" (regarding the advantages and disadvantages of booms in publishing and public libraries, signed by Pleasance), "The Ministry of Little Things" (a parable in verse, from Ivy), "A Day in the Orkneys" (a travelogue by Sirius), a lengthy essay on personal influence by Serapis, and groups of essays from multiple contributors on assigned topics including fashion, 17th-century poets, architecture (to which Elm had strong objections, considering it too broad a topic to address in this format), beetles, and "Music: Its Use and Influence." => The essays seem to have been submitted on a monthly basis, with each club member having an opportunity to comment on the month's offerings. In some instances, the critical responses are as interesting as the original pieces!
As mentioned in the November criticism section, there were at least 16 members of the club, although some were more active than others. It seems all but certain that all of them were female, well educated, and sufficiently wealthy to participate in this type of leisure activity. Several made use of overtly feminine pseudonyms (Stella, Faith, the intriguing Duhitar) or self-identifiers (Elm mentions "us girls"); Sirius, Serapis, Aquarius, Nitor, and Tortoise are less obvious — but in at least one instance a Serapis essay bears a follow-up comment that begins "she wishes to say . . .," and other critical responses give us additional she/her references for Key, ?, Aquarius, Pleasance, and Dragonfly. Ivy is an interesting case, rebutting a point on contemporary male fashion by describing men's style as "simple, sensible, & comfortable," and then going on to say "as to women, they may attire themselves in any way almost that is most convenient," which seems curiously self-distancing from feminine experience. One of the few specifically female-oriented topics, "Should the Franchise be Extended to Women?," brings several references to "our" characteristics, and although no hardline declarations in favor of suffrage are made, several essayists tentatively conclude that single women running their own households should have the right to vote.
=> In addition to the beautifully hand-calligraphed and illuminated title-page, the volume also contains a number of mounted illustrations. These include a pencilled "design for a border," symbolically signed by Key, which received high praise from the club members in that month's criticism section; five costume drawings in one of the essays on fashion, likewise symbolically signed by Dragonfly; five striking depictions of beetles, four in color (the one of an African beetle bearing the sub-caption "Drawn from life," which has been followed with a pencilled question mark!); a sketch of an Irish "Bian" horse-drawn carriage (accompanying an essay on the life of Charles Bianconi); and six lovely painted landscapes (including coastline, mountain, and village scenes — some connected to a group of essays on "What Constitutes Beauty" and some to "A Type of English Scenery").
Binding: Contemporary black morocco, covers framed in gilt rolls and fillets with inner blind roll and blind-tooled corner fleurons surrounding gilt-stamped title ("Essays of the Rocket Club. 1885); spine with gilt-stamped raised bands and gilt-tooled compartment decorations. Board edges with gilt roll, turn-ins with blind roll; marbled endpapers and top edges gilt.
Bound as above, spine head repaired and refurbished; somewhat rubbed and a little scuffed — a volume that was both used/referred to and treasured. Many leaves with short tears from outer margins, often with old, possibly contemporary repairs; some leaves showing faint, pressed-out creases most likely from mailing. => Unique, enjoyable, and eminently worthy of study. (36353) Please RESHELVE This.
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