Women Writers of Children's Literature

By Harold Bloom | Go to book overview
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Kate Greenaway
1846-1901

KATE GREENAWAY was born in London on March 17, 1846, the second child of John and Elizabeth Greenaway. Kate's art and its vision of childhood would combine in her own original way her parents' vocations: her father was a draftsman and engraver; her mother, a milliner and seamstress. The remote, vaguely melancholy character of Kate Greenaway's images of children captures something of the self-contained, never-quite-realized life of its creator: Kate was solitary and shy as a child, taking comfort from the abandoned garden behind her mother's shop and from the gardens she imagined above the rooftops of London. Her illustrations would suggest the intensity of her attachment to the countryside in Nottinghamshire, where she often visited her cousins.

Kate had 12 years of formal training in drawing and painting, which culminated in an exhibit of her watercolors at the Dudley Gallery in 1868. Her work was admired by an editor of People's magazine, and she was commissioned to make illustrations for the publication. She also was commissioned by Marcus Ward to design cards for Christmas and St. Valentine's day and later was asked to illustrate an edition of Madame D'Aulnoy's Fairy Tales. She had her first exhibit at the Royal Academy in 1877.

Despite this gratifying—and financially crucial—work, Kate's true ambition was to illustrate and publish a book of her own verse. Her father took the illustrated manuscript of verses she had developed to a colleague, Edmund Evans, who was an innovator in color printing. Evans agreed to print the book, working with Routledge to edit and publish it in the autumn of 1879. Entitled Under the Window, the book was an immediate success, igniting the "Greenaway vogue" in aesthetics—and children's dress in particular—that spread beyond England into Europe, especially France.

The famed art critic John Ruskin so admired Greenaway's drawings for Under the Window that he wrote her a letter of extravagant praise in 1880. This letter initiated a 20-year relationship between Ruskin and Greenaway that proved to be the source of both intense happiness and terrible frustration and pain for the artist. Ruskin wrote often to praise, scold or lecture her for her work, in return for which Greenaway expressed her awe and love for the great man and showered him with watercolors and drawings. The relationship was especially trying for Greenaway because Ruskin was gradually losing his

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