Manuscripts and Special Collections

Rags to Witches

From Rags to Witches:

The grim tale of children's stories

This exhibition ran from 4 May to 26 August 2018.

Once upon a time, fairy tales were not for children.

Original archives and rare books showed a range of children’s stories and traditional tales, from the beloved to the forgotten tales that never got a happily ever after.

From bloodthirsty stories set in sinister European forests, to the benign bedtime tales set in comfortable Victorian nurseries, this exhibition traced the development of children’s literature through the generations.

Told and retold by countless storytellers, the versions we are familiar with can be very different from the ones that entertained our ancestors by the fireside. Those were stories of sex, death and curses, so morally outrageous that in 1604 the Catholic Church placed one fairy tale collection on its Index of Forbidden Books.

Company of Wolves

Fairy stories began to be seen as a threat to children as new theories about childhood and education developed. A new genre of moral children’s books was born, intended to promote rational thought and Christian morality. Instead of princesses in enchanted castles in faraway places and long ago times, stories were set in the modern world where naughty children met wretched fates and pious children gave heartfelt deathbed speeches warning of the perils of Hell.

But good fairy stories triumphed.The first English-language publication of Hans Christian Andersen’s stories from 1846, was translated by Nottingham’s Mary Howitt, who was so captivated by his stories that she learnt Danish specifically to translate them. A successful children’s author of the time, her best-known poem is The Spider and the Fly.

Children’s books became beautiful in the 19th century, when iIlustrators such as Kate Greenaway became household names. Visitors can see some of her pencil sketches, given to the University of Nottingham in remembrance of her childhood years spent at Rolleston in Nottinghamshire.



Listen again

Lakeside Arts Centre

The exhibition was accompanied by a series of lunchtime talks given by external speakers. The videorecordings can be accessed on the Facebook  of Nottingham Lakeside Arts.

Exhibition poster

Rags to Witches poster

Click on the image above to see a larger version of the poster.

Exhibition themes

The exhibition boards which were displayed in the Weston Gallery are available to download:

Almost 100 items were on display in the cases, on these themes:

Visitor comments

Wonderful! Gruesome! Loved the labels to some of the publications - hysterically funny! Thank you.

Feeling slightly bewitched by it all - very nice.

We both really enjoyed this has inspired us to go away and read more.

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Manuscripts and Special Collections

Kings Meadow Campus
Lenton Lane
Nottingham, NG7 2NR

telephone: +44 (0) 115 951 4565
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