by Juliet McMaster
As the story of a day’s adventures of a young person fond of her stomach, who leaves home and returns to it in that satisfying circular motion, The Beautifull Cassandra reminded me of Peter Rabbit. And the Beatrix Potter analogy made me re-imagine the characters as small animals, in the tradition of Peter Rabbit, Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle, and Jemima Puddleduck. Yes, I thought, The Beautifull Cassandra should become a picture book for children. And the pictures should be by me!
I had been a closet illustrator for many a year, making home-made books with pictures for my kids and others. Now was my time for coming out of the closet. I set to work, and roughed out my images, and researched costumes for the 1780s. Cassandra was to be a mouse; and the other characters took shape as animals, too: the hackney-coachman would be a frog in a caped great-coat like Dickens’s Tony Weller; his horse a turtle; the Viscount a lounge lizard, and so on.
So I set to work. I made a story board and line drawings of my pictures. Then I took two weeks off all other entertainments to make and colour the final versions. Iíve always been more at home with line than with color, so I pondered long on managing my characters’ colors. Since they move from one frame to the next, I realized that I could get into color clashes between characters, whose visual identities might suffer. So to provide an immediately recognizable identity for my minor characters, I chose a particular range for each of them: orange to red for the lizard Viscount, yellow to green for the frog coachman, and so on. But my major characters, Cassandra and the bonnet that she elopes with, came in the full range of primary colors, red and blue and yellow. And finally I went to market with them.
It was a long time before I found a publisher, because though I have some standing as a Jane Austen critic, I had none as an illustrator of children’s books. But The Beautifull Cassandra finally found a publisher in Sono Nis Press in Victoria, Canada, and she emerged in time to be launched at our glorious JASNA conference at Lake Louise in 1993. Since then many a customer has told me that her five-year-old child or grandchild has now added the word “peremptory” to her vocabulary.
Having learned that looking very closely at an author’s childhood work can give you a special window on that author’s development, I invented the Juvenilia Press, devoted to producing scholarly editions of the childhood works of Austen and many other authors, always with students involved in the editing process. So this was one more aspect of the legacy for children that Jane Austen’s youthful story has provided.
Note: The booklet, The Beautifull Cassandra, can be purchased from Sono Nis Press.