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Child Writers and Child Readers Up Close and Far Away: Distant and Close Readings of Late 19th Century Children’s Periodicals

By: Elissa Myers

Annotated Bibliography – Child Writers and Child Readers Up Close and Far Away: Distant and Close Readings of Children’s Periodicals of the Late 19th Century

I would like to investigate how children were empowered (or not) by the periodical literature they read in late-Victorian and early-Edwardian periodicals written for a child audience. I will pursue this question by ascertaining the extent to which children themselves contributed to these periodicals (through letter-box columns, letters to the editor, etc.), and by looking for other kinds of evidence (perhaps in periodicals, diaries, or juvenilia) suggesting that children used the works or conventions of authors published periodicals in imaginative ways (perhaps in their own writings, or home theatricals), rather than merely internalizing the sometimes didactic messages of these publications.

Though what I have said of the project so far seems to suggest close reading as a methodology, I think for the periodical part of this project, distant reading might allow me to make some generalizations about children’s periodicals that I could then use to extract a representative sample of journals to deal with. I think this would be particularly useful as periodical studies tend to be pretty anecdotal, because up until very recently there has been no useful way of making any generalizations about such a large, heterogeneous corpus, or of assuming one’s sample to be representative. Alternately, if I do choose to examine periodicals that stray from the norm, at least such a distant reading could provide me with the knowledge of whether or not these periodicals are normative, precluding an argument that takes several isolated examples to be true across the board.

Brake, Laurel. “Half Full and Half Empty” Journal of Victorian Culture 17.2 (June 2012): 222-229. EbscoHost. Web. 29 Oct. 2014.

Brake’s article details the hazards of working with digitized periodicals. Particularly interesting to me is the fact that only some periodicals have been digitized and that one’s experience of the periodicals is also affected by which periodicals are packaged together. Brake demonstrates that it is dangerous to make generalizations from these databases because they by no means necessarily represent meaningful samples of what was read by the Victorian public and often obscure the relationships between publications.

Brazeau, Alicia. “I must have my gossip with the young folks’: Letter Writing and Literacy in The Boys’ and Girls’ Magazine and Fireside Companion. Children’s Literature Association Quarterly 38.2 (2013): 159-176. Project Muse. Web. 29 Oct. 2014.

Brazeau examines the “chats” taking the form of letters between editors and young readers and attempts to problematize assumptions about the lack of child agency in the nineteenth century in the vein of Marah Gubar. My project seeks to be part of this burgeoning tradition of problematization.

Gubar, Marah. Artful Dodgers: Reconceiving the Golden Age of Children’s Literature. New York: Oxford UP, 2009. Print.

Complicating the familiar narrative of nineteenth-century children’s books in which child agency is always stifled by adults who eroticize their supposed innocence, Gubar argues instead that children are in some sense co-creators of certain types of literature such as children’s theatre. Again, this book provides a theoretical framework for the type of analysis I want to do.

Gubar, Marah. “Risky Business: Talking about Children in Children’s Literature Criticism.” Children’s Literature Association Quarterly 38.4 (2013): 450-457. Literature Resource Center. Web. 29 Oct. 2014.

Adapted from a talk Gubar gave at the Children’s Literature Association conference in 2013, this essay posits that scholars have overcorrected their assumptions about childhood in the wake of the publication of Jacqueline Rose’s The Case of Peter Pan, or the Impossibility of Childhood and Perry Nodelman’s The Hidden Adult. These books suggested that child agency has been stifled by adults’ desire to eroticize and romanticize children’s innocence, as well as adults’ tendency to make generalizations and assumptions about what children think or feel as a “group”—an idea that is to some extent true. However, Gubar believes the current alternative, which seems to be not discussing actual children in children’s literature studies at all– also marginalizes children. Gubar suggests that we as scholars begin to seriously and thoughtfully venture into the area of theorizing children’s experiences of and contributions to children’s literature. This article provides a more overt, manifesto-like statement of the theory underlying Gubar’s book.

Hobbs, Andrew. “Five Million Poems, or the Local Press as Poetry Publisher, 1800-1900.” Victorian Periodicals Review 45.4 (Winter 2012): 488-492. Web. 29 Oct. 2014.

Hobbs aims to foreground the local newspaper as a venue for poetry by examining the British Library’s digitized database of more one hundred local newspapers. This is one of the few examples of distant reading of periodicals I have found, which I will use to guide my own methodology of distant reading.

Houston, Natalie, Lindsy Lawrence, and April Patrick. “Teaching and Learning with the Victorian Periodical Poetry Index.” Victorian Periodicals Review 45.2 (Summer 2012): 224-227. Project Muse. Web. 29 Oct. 2014.

The authors of this essay delineate the methodology and theory behind their production of the Periodical Poetry Index, as well as some of the possible uses of it. This project might provide me with a model for my own, as it strives to encourage by its project design distant reading with contextualized, sequential reading of entire periodical issues.

Hughes, Linda. “Media by Bakhtin/Bakhtin Mediated.” Victorian Periodicals Review 44.3 (2011): 293-297. Web. 29 Oct. 2014.

In reaction to Dallas Liddle’s The Dynamics of Genre, Hughes establishes the need to read the journalistic, poetic, and fictional pieces in Victorian periodicals not only as exemplars of their respective genres, but also in the context of the periodicals in which they appear. Because Linda Hughes is such an important scholar in the field of periodical studies, I tend to read her hesitancy about distant reading as exemplary of a larger debate raging right now as to whether or not to read periodicals distantly.

Hughes, Linda. “SIDEWAYS!: Navigating the Material(ity) of Print Culture.” Victorian Periodicals Review 47.1 (Spring 2014): 1-30. Project Muse. Web.

In her article, Hughes argues that “the task of conceptualizing Victorian print culture and devising methods to navigate its massive materiality has become more pressing because of the digitization of Victorian periodicals. However, Hughes advocates for a “sideways” reading of Victorian periodicals that incorporates different genres, interactions between text and illustrations, and sequential reading rather than what she refers to as “data mining,” though I think she actually means distant reading. She discusses how periodical texts were frequently in dialogue with each other, uses metaphors of city and web simultaneously. These convey meaning of materiality and intertextuality at the same time. Hughes’s caution guides my own use of both close and distant readings of periodicals.

Lejeune, Philippe. Le Moi des Demoiselles: Enquête sur le journal de jeune fille. Paris: Editions de Seuil, 1993. Print.

This book delves deeply into the diary of a young French girl writing in the nineteenth century. The author’s investigation of the young woman’s diary is also framed by her own research journey, making it especially useful for learning about the methods by which one does such research.

Liddle, Dallas. “Reflections on 20,000 Victorian Newspapers: ‘Distant Reading’ the Times using The Times Digital Archive. Journal of Victorian Culture 17.2 (2012): 230-7. Academic Search Complete. Web. 29 Oct. 2014.

Liddle applies Moretti’s technique of distant reading to Victorian newspapers by using some of Gale Cengage’s metadata about these titles, including the file sizes of pdfs, which yield information about the visual density of the pages. He also uses word counts of individual leader articles to demonstrate how these articles became longer as the century went on. Liddle’s use of distant readings that incorporate visual elements might provide me with a solution as to how to deal with the problem of illustrations in my work.  

Manson, Michel and Annie Renonciat. “La culture matérielle de l’enfance: nouveaux territoires et problématiques.” Strenae: Recherches sur les libres et objets culturels de l’enfance 4 (2012): paragraphs 1-23. OpenEdition. Web. 3 Nov. 2014.

This article provides a useful overview of recent research into children’s material culture—including descriptions of the methodology and theoretical underpinnings as well as the challenges of this kind of work. This will be useful in providing a starting point from which I can glean more sources with which to theorize my own argument, which to a large degree, rests on an understanding of what it means to examine how children are either empowered or not by their contributions to material objects (periodicals), as well as their use of the narratives found within periodicals in their everyday play.

Mitchell, Sally. The New Girl: Girls’ Culture in England, 1880-1915. New York: Columbia UP, 1991. Print.

Sally Mitchell argues that the concept of girlhood as distinct from womanhood developed in the period from 1880-1915. I am considering using this time period for my own analysis. Her use of many different kinds of literature, including advice manuals and magazines, to make her argument might also provide me with a model of incorporating several different genres.

Moruzi, Kristine. Constructing Girlhood through the Periodical Press, 1850-1915. Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2012. Print.

Moruzi’s book provides a look at attitudes about girlhood promulgated in several widely-read Victorian periodicals written for girls. I am particularly interested in her examination of girls’ contributions to these periodicals in such venues as essay competitions.

Mussell, James. The Nineteenth-Century Press in the Digital Age. Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012. Print.
This book will help me get a sense of what periodicals scholars have already done towards incorporating digital methods into their scholarship, enabling me to create a proposal for a project that engages with current scholarly conversations.

Nicholson, Bob. “Counting Culture; or How to Read Victorian Newspapers from a Distance.” Journal of Victorian Culture 17.2 (2012): 238-246. Web. 29 Oct. 2014.

Nicholson argues that applying the methods of distant reading, particularly those of “culturomics” to British newspapers would give us valuable insight not only because it would allow us to see how a large, difficult-to-theorize body of work changed over time, but also because the day-by-day nature of newspaper reporting could render such a view could provide uniquely precise views of the evolution of Victorian culture. Nicholson generates searches for different keywords in selected time brackets, and then maps their correlation/proximity to other keywords. Nicholson’s methodology could be useful for my own work with periodicals because many of the problems of readability and missing data with which Nicholson deals also frequently occur in periodical research.

Phillips, Michelle. “‘Along the Paragraphic Wires’: Child-Adult Mediation in St. Nicholas Magazine.” Children’s Literature 37 (2009): 84-113. Project Muse. Web. 29 Oct. 2014.

Examines children’s letters from St. Nicholas’s “letter-box” column in order to illustrate the fluidity of child-adult boundaries in the magazine.

Rodgers, Beth. “Competing Girlhoods: Competition, Community, and Reader Contribution in the Girl’s Own Paper and the Girl’s Realm.” Victorian Periodicals Review 45.3 (Fall 2012): 277-300. Web. 29 Oct. 2014.

Rodgers’ article delineates how the two magazines listed in the article’s title aimed to reconcile competing ideas of girlhood through an emphasis on community.

Sanchez-Eppler, Karen. Dependent States: The Child’s Part in Nineteenth-Century American Culture. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2005. Print.

Sanchez-Eppler argues that children contributed to the making of social meaning in nineteenth-century America by examining many different kinds of historical sources such as drawings and diaries by children and manuals about childcare. I am interested in how one might examine these sources in tandem with a distant (and perhaps a close, as well) reading of Victorian periodicals in order to reevaluate children’s voices and agency.

Smith, Victoria Ford. “Toy Presses and Treasure Maps: Robert Louis Stevenson and Lloyd Osborne as Collaborators.” Children’s Literature Association Quarterly 35.1 (2010): 26-54. Web. 29 Oct. 2014.

This article theorizes Stevenson and his stepson Osborne as collaborators on Stevenson’s novel Treasure Island, through examining their unique use of toy printing presses. This article once again uses an interesting mix of methods to demonstrate children’s co-creation of the literature they read—a model I wish to emulate.

St. Nicholas and Mary Mapes Dodge: The Legacy of a Children’s Magazine Editor, 1873-1905. Ed. Susan R. Gannon, Suzanne Rahn, and Ruth Anne Thompson. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2004. Print.

This is the only full-length study of one of the most important and most collaborative children’s magazines. St. Nicholas included a letter-box as well as other features such as writing competitions.