Children’s literature became increasingly popular throughout the 19th century, as literacy rose and books became more affordable.
This story – by Sarah Smith (1832-1911), under her pseudonym Hesba Stretton – was one of the best-known titles of all, outselling even Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. It was first published in the journal Sunday at Home in 1866 and appeared the following year in book form. By 1900, when this reprint was made, it had sold well over a million copies.
Like many children’s tales of the time the story has a strong moral message, based on Christian principles, and given authenticity by Smith’s own experiences working with children from Manchester slums.
The girl of the title is homeless, abandoned in London by her alcoholic mother, but finds refuge in her regular visits to a coffee stall. Thanks to its Methodist owner, Standring, Jessica discovers religion; in turn, Standring gains repentance through Jessica from his money-grabbing lifestyle.