The Keepsake

The Keepsake for 1833, 1829, and 1834. Source: University of Victoria Libraries Special Collections, PR1143 K44 1829, AY13 K4 1833, and AY13 K4 1834. Image by Caroline Winter, taken on 7 Dec. 2017.

The Keepsake was the longest-running of the British literary annuals, and in many ways a model of the genre. The first literary annual, the Forget-Me-Not, appeared in 1822, and annuals were extremely popular in Britain in the 1820s through the 1850s (Hoagwood et al.). Annuals were designed and marketed as gift books for young, middle-class women, and were beautifully designed and produced. They were usually published at the end of the year, in time for Christmas gift-giving. Many, including The Keepsake, included engraved presentation plates with space for a personal inscription. The average price for an annual was 12 shillings, making them rather expensive, but the most popular ones sold extremely well, between 15,000 and 20,000 each year (Feldman 8; Hoagwood et al.). The Keepsake for 1829 was extraordinarily popular, selling about 20,000 copies in one month (Hoagwood et al.). In addition to The Keepsake, other popular titles included The Literary Souvenir, Friendship's Offerings, and The Gem.

The annuals were compilations of poetry, short essays or narratives, short stories, and engraved illustrations. The illustrations were one of the annuals' greatest selling points, and especially so for The Keepsake, which featured an engraved title page and frontispiece in addition to a presentation plate and numerous engraved illustrations throughout each volume. They were often commissioned before the poetry or prose that accompanied them, and were available to buy separately (Feldman 20; Hoagwood et al.). Because the marketplace for annuals was quite competitive, publishers tried to attract popular authors, illustrators, and engravers. The Keepsake, for example, features works by Sir Walter Scott, Robert Southey, Felicia Hemans, Edward Bulwer Lytton, Thomas Moore, William Wordsworth, Percy Shelley, Lord Byron, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Lady Caroline Lamb, the Countess of Blessington, and Catherine Gore, as well as Mary Shelley. The Keepsake also features paintings by such well-known artists as J. M. W. Turner, Edwin Landseer, and Alfred Edward Chalon, engraved by the leading engravers of the day, including Robert Wallis, Joseph Goodyear, and Charles Heath (Feldman 24; Hoagwood et al.).

Contributors to the annuals were compensated well, which, along with the huge circulation, made annuals an important venue for professional writers. Writing for the annuals was also seen by many critics, and by some of the authors as well, as hack work, writing done for the money only. Mary Shelley's short stories are often dismissed by scholars, for example, because they appear in The Keepsake and other annuals (see O'Dea and Sussman).

The Keepsake is recognizable for its luxurious binding of scarlet dress silk, and gilt lettering and edges. In addition to this octavo volume, a larger and more expensive royal octavo volume was also available (Hoagwood et al.). The digital facsimile of "Transformation" in this edition is from a royal octavo volume of The Keepsake for 1831.

Works Cited and Further Reading

Feldman, Paula R. Introduction. The Keepsake for 1829, edited by Frederic Mansel Reynolds. Broadview Press, 2006, pp. 7–32.

Hoagwood, Terence, Kathryn Ledbetter, and Martin Jacobsen. "Introduction to The Keepsake for 1829."

Freistat, Neil, and Steven E. Jones, editors. "L.E.L.'s 'Verses' and The Keepsake for 1829, edited by Frederic Mansel Reynolds." Romantic Circles, 1998.

Ledbetter, Kathryn. "'BeGemmed and BeAmuletted:' Tennyson and Those 'Vapid' Gift Books." Victorian Poetry 24.2 (Summer 1996): 235-245, JSTOR,

---. Tennyson and Victorian Periodicals: Commodities in Context. Ashgate, 2007.

O'Dea, Gregory. "'Perhaps a Tale You'll Make It': Mary Shelley's Tales for The Keepsake. Iconoclastic Departures: Mary Shelley After Frankenstein, edited by Syndy M. Conger, Frederick S. Frank, and Gregory O'Dea. Associated University Presses, 1997.

Sussman, Charlotte. "Stories for The Keepsake." The Cambridge Companion to Mary Shelley, edited by Esther Schor. Cambridge University Press, 2003, pp. 163–179.