Review: The Story without an End by Sarah Austin and Eleanor Vere Boyle (translated from Carové)

A romantic reprint of a 19th century childhood idyll.

Publication date: 15th December 2015
Publisher: Dover Publications

Unfortunately, I have to admit that I found The Story Without an End archaic. I’m not sure if it’s because I find descriptions of a beautiful natural world trite, or because inanimate objects being called “she” is my pet peeve, but I found the work hackneyed. Understandably so, considering Dover have produced a new – and very good, I might add – edition of a translation from the mid 19th century. This necessarily results, however, in a translation as dated as the original text.

The imagery is impressive, and the detailed descriptions evoke feelings of tranquillity and  awe. The word “idyllic” springs to mind constantly, as the Child wanders parentless and aimless through its natural surroundings. However, the theme of innocence and reversion to the simplicity of mother nature is at once alluring, and overdone. There is also an undercurrent of theological significance, as the Child exhibits certain Christ-like qualities, which, again, both add to the atmosphere and make it obsolete. It has something of The Waterbabies about it, which is unshakeable.

The illustrations are traditional and highly recognisable as similar to those that accompany Hans Christian Andersen’s works. They complement the text perfectly, and portray the common conflation of unblemished innocence and childhood that riddles the text. The cherubic, androgynous Child is fairy-like as it features in stunning pastoral backdrops. They could definitely serve as classic prints in a child’s bedroom, and their retention is a definite highlight of this edition.

I believe that this book’s appeal lies predominantly in its value as a reference piece. It is a beautiful edition, so if any adults had enjoyed this as children, or are partial to Victorian children’s literature, it is certainly worth consideration. The modern child is likely to find a lot of the imagery attractive – especially the sentient flowers – however there are lulls that are not often reflected in the contemporary children’s book. This might make it a fairly difficult read.

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