Jun 01, 2023 - Sale 2639

Sale 2639 - Lot 31

Price Realized: $ 4,750
?Final Price Realized includes Buyer’s Premium added to Hammer Price
Estimate: $ 2,000 - $ 3,000
Alcott, Louisa May (1832-1888)
Autograph Script for a Performance of Mrs. Jarley's Waxworks.

Massachusetts, undated circa 1867-1879.

Two sheets of lined paper, each folded and inscribed over eight pages, with a note, "With Mrs. Jarley's compliments & thanks for the tickets"; on verso of last leaf; with a period envelope inscribed in another hand, "Jarley Wax Work as presented by Miss Louisa Alcott," and a contemporary transcription that may be in the hand of Mary Elizabeth Dewey (1821-1910), as the transcript was found with Dewey's papers; 10 x 8 in. unfolded.

Mrs. Jarley was a minor character in Charles Dickens's The Old Curiosity Shop who had a wax museum, not unlike the real-life Madame Tussaud. The concept caught on in mid-19th century America, morphing into a dramatic and moralistic tableau vivant stage performance. From her diaries and contemporary accounts, we know that Alcott wrote and performed many such waxworks shows for charity. "Miss Alcott was an enthusiastic admirer of Dickens, and she entered into the humor of his homely characters most heartily. She acted 'Mrs. Jarley displaying her waxwork' nine times this winter [1867] and always successful in giving life and variety to the representation. She was constantly called upon to act for charity. She enjoyed the fun, and as she could not give money, it satisfied her generous nature to be able to help in any way." (Quoted from Ednah Dow Cheney's LMA: Life, Letters & Journal.)

The Houghton Library has a Jarley script in Alcott's hand which differs slightly from the text of this example. A full transcript is available upon request.

The Dewey family, including Mary Elizabeth's father Orville Dewey (1794-1882), a Unitarian pastor from Sheffield, had a connection to the transcendentalists of Concord, and at least one of his books was published by Roberts Brothers, who also printed Alcott's works. Mary Elizabeth edited the Life & Letters of Catherine Sedgwick [Harper & Brothers, 1872], and her father's papers. She is also described as a "leading spirit" of the Sheffield Friendly Union, and established Dewey Memorial Hall in her hometown.