A Companion to the Victorian Novel

By William Baker; Kenneth Womack | Go to book overview

Victorian Juvenilia

Christine Alexander

Victorian juvenilia offer a new perspective on the culture of the period. Because children learn largely by imitation, their early writings represent a microcosm of the larger adult world, disclosing the concerns, ideologies, and values of the age. Yet the child was to be seen and not heard. Displayed in paintings, greeting cards, advertisements, and novels, the child was both a prominent symbol of innocence and a neglected figure in Victorian society. Despite a popular concern with education and child development, interest centered on the adult response to childhood. Novelists like Dickens, in Hard Times (1854), and Lewis Carroll, in the Alice books (1865 and 1871), understood the importance of fantasy for children, but there is little evidence of any general understanding of the needs of children or a readiness to listen to their point of view.

It is time the voice of the child was heard. The recovery, publication, and critical exploration of youthful writings (generally those produced before the age of twenty) is now under way, providing a large enough sample of individual studies to allow us to speak of juvenilia as a subgenre of literary culture. Scholarship to date has centered on the early works of a given writer with a view to examining their relationship to later work, and therefore revealing the writer’s route to maturity. Numerous nineteenth-century children who wrote papers and diaries, however, never became adult authors; and some, like nine-year-old Daisy Ashford (The Young Visiters [1890]) achieved lasting fame by their

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