Blue Flower

Beauty and the beast (Gordon Browne's series of old fairy tales)

Gordon Browne (1858-1932) was a prolific illustrator who created several picture books in full color, published around 1880. Beauty and the Beast is a retelling of an old story first written by Madame Villeneuve aiming at adult audience in the fashion of fairy tales presented by so called-precieuses. It's actually a retelling of a classical myth about Cupid and Psyche. This mesmerising story was interpreted in countless ways and is by no means meant for children only, as on might expect knowing only the popular Disney version.

Well, this is a version for children with a lot of colored illustrations by Gordon Browne and presented as a novelette, not as a typical picture book. This means the story has a well developed plot with relatively complex characters, yet it's still written for young audience.

We'll summarize this immortal fairy tale using pictures as the base, only adding a sentence or two to make the story flow clear.


The book was published by Blackie & Son in London and Glasgow.


It's a co called frontpiece with Belle and The Beast sitting on the bench in one of the scenes from the middle part.


Here we see an inside title page with a group of kids sitting around the tree, waiting to hear the story. The book is organized as a frame story of the talking tree telling different fairy tales just like the famous Scheherazade told her stories (which were often even more complexly built) to her bloodthirsty husband.


There was a rich merchant with three daughters. They were all beautiful, yet the youngest the most beautiful of all. Their names were Superba, Gracilia and Beauty.


All three had loads of suitors, but none of them wanted to marry. Superba and Gracilia thought too highly of themselves, but Beauty believed her father needs her more than her future husband.


It so happens all of father's ships were lost at the same time due stormy weather and a family got into financial trouble. Older daughter din't help a bit but thanks to Beauty's hard work and her friends who appreciated her sacrifice they still got enough food to eat.


Then father go some good news. Part of his merchandise survived and he had to leave to take it and sell it. He asked his daughters what they want for presents at his return. Superba and Gracilia asked for jewelry and Beauty wanted only a white rose.


There was a big feast helping the merchant selling his goods with huge profit.


The merchant was rich again.


On the way home the merchant got lost in the forest.


Finally he found oneself in front of castle.


He entered and invisible hands served him with best foods and drinks.


Next day, on the way out he finally found a white rose for his youngest daughter. When he picked it ...


A horrifying beast blocked his path. The merchant prayed for his life and the beast pared him on one condition. If one of his daughter comes to his enchanted castle to replace him.


It was a painful return home.


The Belle (Beauty) got her rose not knowingly how high price there must be paid for it.


When the merchant finally told the said news, all of his daughter were crying.


The Beauty offered to replace her father in the castle and he accepted he sacrifice.


She showed more courage than her father.


She stayed alone in the castle. It was a lonely place.


Invisible hands served her too.


Then she met the master of the castle - The Beast.


They started talking and became quite friendly after a while. Yet Beauty missed her family and asked for the permission of visiting so long The Beast allowed her. In return she had to promise she'll think about marry him after return.


He felt down and said he will die if she won't return in a week.


Beauty's father was lying sick, worrying to death for his daughter. She explained how friendly is The Beast. She made a decision she'll marry him.


A carriage with four black horses drove her back worrying if The Beast is all right.


The Beast transformed into a handsome prince. His name was Bellino. He explained her he was cursed to look as he did until somebody started loving him. That was her.


Kids were happy with the ending of the story of the Beauty and the Beast.


They lived happily ever after of course.

If you want to find more interesting facts about this classic story with a lot of intriguing facts behind the book and its creators, don't hesitate visiting:


This book of fairy tales and ballads was written by Mrs Wilde when she was freshly married with her already famous husband Oscar Wilde. We know she helped his at least a bit at writing his fairy tales but we don't know if he was involved in her book too.

Constance Lloyd Portrait
Constance Lloyd

Here is an index of her stories and ballads:

Little Red Riding Hood

Puss in Boots

Little Bo-Peep


Old Mother Hubbard

The Three Bears

Babes in the Wood

Jack the Giant Killer

Three Little Kittens

The book was printed by Ernest Nister in Nirumberg in 1888, simultaneously published in London and New York




 Little Red Riding Hood



We all know how this story goes and Mrs Wilde's version is not too different from today most known ones. It includes the scene with a Red Head going into bed to her Granny (who was actually wolf) and the wolf is in the end killed by an axe.





Puss in Boots


This is another famous story about a relationship between human and animal but this time a cat acts as a helper to they youngest son who inherited least of all brothers after their father died.



Little Bo-Peep

A lovely poem popular among kids in 19th and early 20th century.




This popular fairy tale, probably the most famous in the world is retold by Mrs Wilde according to the Perrault's version. with glass, not golden slippers and a happy ending for everybody, including the envious sisters.





Old Mother Hubbard

A playful song for kids about an old woman who is trying to please her dog in countless ways yet the dog always finds a way to surprise her.



The Three Bears

It's a classic story about the Goldilocks who gets lost in the wood and finds an empty cottage. she tried to find just the right chair, just the right soup and just the right bed. The bears, as you can imagine, are not very happy with the intruder.





Babes in the Wood

A ballad with a tragic end which is almost forgotten today, but was among the most popular stories or songs for kids in the 19th and first half of 20th century. Mrs Wilde decided to present it in verse.




Jack the Giant Killer

There are several fairy tales with Jack in the leading role, but two of them stand out - Jack and the Beanstalk and this one, where Jack defeats Cormoran, Galligantua and other giants, even a giant with two and a giant with three heads.







 Three Little Kittens

Another poem for kids - for the end of the book of Mrs Oscar as Constance Wilde (nee Lloyd) was called in those times.



 A few words about John Lawson, an illustrator of the book:

John Lawson was born in Dunfermline, Scotland in 1839. We don't know much about his early career except him being a freelancer from 1865 to his death in 1909. He was married to Martha and having four kids together before the family moved to London, England around 1880, where he made a career as an illustrator of books for kids. His speciality were images from Bible stories. Apart from that he illustrated poems, fairy tales and nursery rhymes, sometimes as the only illustrator and sometimes as one of several artists working on the same book.

John Lawson worked for some of the most established publishers in the field of children's literature, like Frederick Warne & Co., Macmillan & Co., George Routledge & Sons, and Ernest Nister.


Ernest Nister was a successful publisher who was born in Germany but moved to London where he found better business environment, yet still printing in Nuremberg (including the book presented in this article) an unofficial world capital of toys at the time of his prime. He was one of the pioneers in the fast growing and extremely competitive market of children's literature, working with some of the finest artists of his time, including Louis Wain and Beatrix Potter, always trying to offer something new to the reader. Nister is credited as an inventor of pop-up books. First editions of his books are praised among collectors of vintage books.



Julius Wolff (1834-1910) was born to a cloth maker in Quedlinburg. He studied economics and philosophy in Berlin preparing to take over his father's business. The company suffered substantial financial troubles and Julius sold it to establish a short-lived newspaper in his hometown. After only one year he joined the army in Germany's war against France as an officer. In 1972 he started a career as a freelance writer. One of his favorite themes was the Pied Piper of Hamelin, done in two separate books, one written as an adventure, the other as a collection of songs. This brought him another award - in 1884 he became an honorary citizen of Hamelin.

You can find a few tidbits about Hamelin, a lovely German city with a few really original ideas for tourists, here:


Julius Wolff became a professor in 1904 and in 1910 his home-town Quedlinburg awarded him with an honorary citizenship as well. There was also a fountain built in his memory. Julius Wolff's most popular works were Till Eulenspiegel, The Flying Dutchman, The Raubgraf and already mentioned Pied Piper of Hamelin, here presented with illustrations by Philipp Grot Johann.
















Philipp Grot Johann (1841-1892) also known as Philip Grotjohann, as he often signed himself) was born in Stettin (today's Szczecin) and started his career in engineering, working in ship- and locomotive building industry, got first degree in Polytechnic in Hannover before he met Peter von Cornelius and decided for studies in art in Dusseldorf, where he remained until his death (with the only longer exception of one year of studies in Antwerp). He soon gained a reputation of highly competent illustrator, made graphics for eminent authors like German literary giants Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Friedrich Schiller, British writers like Walter Scott or William Shakespeare, but worked on other projects, like stained glasses and murals as well. P. Grott Johann's illustrations of Grimm's Fairy Tales are considered as his top achievement. He was chosen to illustrate first fully illustrated edition for which publishers waited to come out of copyright. There are 180 illustrations altogether! Unfortunately, Grot Johann died before the project was finished, so it was continued by another eminent illustrator of the time: Robert Leinweber, but this is another story.


The Pied Piper (Ratcatcher) from Hamelin presented here was first published in 1876 Grot'sche Verlagsbuchhandlung in Berlin, the main publisher of both authors presented in this post. Extensive text is written in verse on more than two hundred pages with 18 illustrations (one for each chapter) and 17 vignettes (one chapter ended exactly at the end of the page, so the vignette was not needed). We present all graphics (a cover page from 1884 edition included) together with the titles for each chapter and a decorative capital letter by which each first verse in the chapter starts. Enjoy the beauty made by classic masters.




This book contains four stories, but we should probably start with the story about the author / translator / illustrator.


Boris Zvorykin (1872-1942) was born in Moscow and is today considered as one of the best representatives of old-fashioned Russian ornamental painting, inspired by traditional icons. Born in an affluent family (father was a merchant) he attended the best schools in Moscow and got a job in St. Petersburg as an illustrator of magazines and designer of calendars, postcards and even menus for the Tsar's court. He also designed murals and patriarch's robe.


Fairy tales made him famous across all the Russia. He understood them as a folk treasure and as a patriot, he illustrated many of them. When a revolution came, he moved to Paris where he died. But before that, he executed many interesting projects, including designing ceramic tiles for today's Villeroy & Boch. He stayed closely connected to his homeland and fairy tales from Russia in many ways.


The most famous is definitely a translation of four fairy tales in French accompanied with their illustration. They were published only posthumously when Jacqueline Onassis discovered originals, edited the stories and published them in the book presented in this post.


The Firebird


The story is similar to Grimms' Gold Bird. It starts with Tsar who has three sons and a beautiful orchard, from which every night golden apples were stolen. All sons tried to guard the orchard, yet only the youngest, Prince Ivan, managed to discover a thief. It was a beautiful bird. When the bird escapes, leaving only a feather as a proof of its existence, Tsar wants to have it.




Sons departed each in other direction and after a while, Ivan got a magical helper, a wolf. The wolf helped to get himself a firebird, a horse with a golden mane and a beautiful princess. He also helped when his older brothers betrayed Ivan before the prince returned home with a bride and precious bird and horse.


Maria Morevna


In this fairy tale, we have a prince with three sisters and dead parent who asked him to marry the girls to the suitors when they ask for their hands. so he married them to a falcon, an eagle, and a raven. After that, he meets Maria Morevna, a mighty queen with magical powers. They marry but he makes one of the most typical mistakes - opens the forbidden doors what activates Koschei the Deathless who kidnaps the queen.


Ivan went after his wife and with a lot of love and magical help from his three brothers-in-law got his wife back. He also had to trick Baba Yaga, to get a splendid horse able to escape Koschei, who is finally defeated and destroyed.


Snow Maiden


Once upon a time, there was a woodcutter who loved his wife very much but they didn't have any children. They finally made a doll of snow and a miracle happened - it became alive. This snow maiden became the most beautiful girl in the country and brought a lot of happiness to her parents until the winter came near its end. Snegurochka, as they named her, joined a festival where the arrival of spring was celebrated and met a boy Lel, whom she liked a lot.


She also met a girl Kupava, who became her friend. Kupava was engaged to merchant Mizgir who immediately when met Snegurochka felt in love with her. While Snegurochka didn't like him, Kupava was still mad at her friend. She went to Tsar and asked for punishment. Tsar arranged a meeting with the snow maiden and decided not to punish her, what made Kupava even angrier. She jumped in the well and dies.

Snegurochka didn't find happiness either. When the weather became warmer, Lel convinced her to join him outside of the house and she eventually melted into the water until she completely vanished.


Vassilissa the Beautiful


This is one of many versions of Cinderella. The tale starts with a mother who gives her daughter a doll just before she dies. When father remarries and a stepmother with two wicked daughters on her own starts gnawing Vassilissa, a doll helps her. Things became even more dangerous when Vassilissa is sent to Yaga Baba to get some light. The girl became a prisoner, is forced to work very hard for only a crust of bread, has to sort bad seed from good one under the threat of death, but her doll helps her to get through all the perils.


Despite following all the orders of the witch it became apparent Yaga Baba will eat her, so the doll helped Vassilissa to escape together with a skull with glowing eye holes. When she returned home, the light coming from the skull burnt the step-mother and her daughters. After that Vassilissa decided to move out of the house, started living with an old woman, where she made some linen so fine only a prince could wear it. When prince finds out about the skillful girl, marries her and they lived happily ever after.


The story about Dick Whittington is a classic in England but not so well-known in the rest of Europe. It starts with a boy who lost his parents and being without anything he wanders around the country before he decides to go to London. Why London? He heard it's the best place in the world with plenty of food and streets paved with pure gold.


But the reality is different. Dirty streets of London are not hospitable to Dicky who is so hungry he falls down in front of the door of a merchant Fitzwarren. Luckily for him, the master of the house saw him and after a short conversation, he hired a boy for helping in the kitchen.

After a while, the boy befriended Mr. Fitzwarren's daughter and things were looking good if he wouldn't have problems with rats and mice in the room. When a gentleman who visited the house of Fitzwarren gave him a penny, Dick bought a cat what solved the problem.


Soon after Mr. Fitzwarren invested a lot of money in the trading ship. It was a custom to send a small gift with a ship for good luck. Everybody in the household participated but Dick Whittington. Finally, he gave the only treasure he had - his cat. The ship sails away and after a while landing on an island where inhabitants had plenty of goods, including gold, but also too many rats.

Dick's cat prooved a great hunter and the captain of the ship sold it for the amazing sum of money which made Dick a rich man. He didn't only get rich, he also married his master's daughter and later became a Mayor of London.

The story about Dicky Whittington and his cat is very similar to more known fairy tale Puss in Boots, written by Charles Perrault. But there is an important difference - Richard Whittington really lived (circa 1354-1423). He was successful merchant and počlitician, four times a Lord Mayor of London and a member of parliament. With his fortune Charity of Sir Richard Whittington was formed and this institution still exists, helping people in need!


A few words about real Richard Whittington

While the legends put the boy in poverty real Dick Whittington started his life in a wealthy family. Because being the youngest son he couldn't count on the inheritance, so he started with trading as a very young man. Very soon he managed to start supplying nobility from the circles of the King Richard II and later King Henry IV with different luxury goods. After a few years of trading, he turned more to other aspects of finance. It's documented he made several loans to the British crown what eventually gave him the position of the Mayor of London. Some of the loans were repaid in licenses enabling him to export wool free of duty so he intensified trading with wool.

Many influential people in Gret Britain were indebted to Richard Whittington what made him even more powerful. He became a rich man and when he died without children his will instructed to establish a foundation which was already mentioned above and is still active.


How about the book?


The history of Dick Whittington, Lord Mayor of London (with the adventures of his cat) was first published by Branbury and printed by John Golby Rusher, London in 1820. The woodcuts were engraved by George Cruikshank (1792-1878) and Allen Robert Branston (1778-1827) after vignettes and illustrations of unknown authors. The illustrators may be Cruikshank and Branston themselves, but one plate is also signed by Fry what remains a mystery.

Pictures, printed in black and white were painted in color by hand by an also uncredited person(s).