Brown cloth binding with black embossed floral design. Gilt title on the front board and spine. All edges gilt
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Her Benny, an improving story for young people about Liverpool street children, was first published in 1879. It was the best-known and most popular work of Methodist minister and author Silas Hocking.
Published initially as a serial, and then in book form by Frederick Warne & Co. of London as Her Benny. A Story of Street Life, 1879, with illustrations by Harry Tuck. Hocking, who had published one previous novel (Alec Green, 1878), sold the copyright of this one for just £20, but it was to establish his reputation. It became hugely successful, was translated into many languages,[ and sold over a million copies in the author’s lifetime.
Her Benny was amongst the most popular examples of the ‘waif story’, a category of improving fiction for Victorian children whose purpose, although primarily religious (and typically Evangelical), was also social and political. As Hocking describes in his preface, Her Benny grew out of his Methodist ministry:
‘my pastoral work, during a three years’ residence in Liverpool, called me frequently into some of the poorest neighborhoods of that town, where I became acquainted with some of the originals of this story … the grouping of the characters is purely fictitious, but not the characters themselves…. Some of them are alive today, others have gone to their rest…. [If my story] shall awaken any sympathy for the poor little waifs of our streets, I shall have my reward.’
His local knowledge also emerges in the book’s vivid descriptions of Victorian Liverpool, and its careful attempts to reproduce the Scouse (Liverpool) dialect.
Didactic in intent, yet sympathetic in tone, his ‘rags to riches’ tale was well calculated to appeal to a contemporary audience. Its form parallels, and was probably influenced by, Hogarth’s well-known and widely distributed series of engravings of Industry and Idleness, which had also been aimed at the young. Like them, its principal message is that diligence and honesty will be rewarded; Benny as Industrious Apprentice has his Idle counterpart too, in the character of Perks, a street boy who repeatedly but unsuccessfully attempts to lure Benny into crime, and ends up dying in Dartmoor prison.
Hocking’s work however is also characteristic of Victorian evangelical fiction in the emphasis placed on Christian piety, and the role of inner spiritual renewal; his Methodist beliefs emerge especially clearly in Joe Wrag’s prolonged struggle with the doctrine of Predestination. Hocking’s sense of pathos is also characteristically Victorian; in particular the name chosen for Benny’s little sister, as well as her character and fate, seem calculated to recall to his readership Little Nell in Dickens’s 1840/1841 novel The Old Curiosity Shop, who was also marked for a tragically early grave
Silas Kitto Hocking (24 March 1850 – 15 September 1935) was a British novelist and Methodist preacher. He is known for his novel for youth called Her Benny (1879), which was a best-seller.
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