Phantasmion was greeted warmly by Sara Coleridge’s many literary friends, but beyond her own circle the novel was not widely received and applauded. Her kinsman John Duke Coleridge, in the preface to his 1874 edition, blames the novel’s original lukewarm reception on the fact that it was expensive, unsigned, unillustrated, and limited to only 250 copies. He hoped the new edition would bring a wider audience, but readership for the novel has remained small.
Coleridge began Phantasmion for the same reason she had written Pretty Lessons in Verse for Good Children (1834): to educate her children entertainingly. At her husband’s urging, however, she extended and published the work, later acknowledged to be the first fairy novel. She wrote to a friend that she feared that such tales might be considered out of fashion, but she pointed out that Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Robert Southey, William Wordsworth, Sir Walter Scott, and Charles Lamb had used the form productively. These men, later to become known collectively as the British Romantic movement, were among the most famous writers of her day and also her family and friends—Coleridge was her father, Southey her uncle, and Wordsworth, Scott, and Lamb intimate friends of the family.
Immensely learned herself (by the age of twenty, she knew Spanish, French, German, Italian, and Latin), she was both following in familiar footsteps and making her own well-informed choices about the best literary...
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