KATE CHOPIN AND
THE BIRTH OF
YOUNG ADULT FICTION
Bonnie James Shaker
Kate Chopin and the Birth of Young Adult Fiction.1 I am reminded of the need to clarify my employment of this common coordinating conjunction by another scholar who acknowledges the many potential meanings of “and” in titles.2 Neither a compounding agent for singular nouns nor a signifier that necessarily communicates a coexistence between two separate entities, the “and” in my title is intended to suggest an intersection between a writer and an historical occurrence in fiction, an intersection that has been little discussed critically, and an intersection that, because of its undertreatment, may be met with some skepticism.
Admittedly, young adult fiction is difficult to define as a genre, let alone locate in origin. Caroline Hunt's nearly exhaustive literature review on the topic is a lament “that virtually no theoretical criticism attaches to young adult literature as such. Theorists in the wider field of children's literature often discuss young adult titles without distinguishing them as a separate group and without, therefore, indicating how theoretical issues in young adult literature might differ from those in literature for younger children.” What Hunt foregrounds as a vacancy of independent criticism indeed points to the problem of defining young adult fiction as a genre in and of itself. Yet Hunt admits that such a genre exists, if by no other means than through the institutionalized consent of those who study the problem, and she reproduces their consensual knowledge when she hands it down to us as received wisdom: “no one, as far as I know, seriously suggests that young adult literature as a separate category begins before World War II (Seventeenth Summer) or, alternatively, the late 1960s (The Outsiders).”3