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- Published: 9 Oct 2013
- DOI: 10.4324/9780415830409
- Set ISBN: 978-0-41583-040-9
As part of the ongoing project of retrieving women writers from the margins of literary and cultural history, scholars of literature, history, and gender studies are increasingly exploring and interrogating girls’ print culture. School stories, in particular, are generating substantial scholarly interest because of their centrality to the history of girls’ reading, their engagement with cultural ideas about the education and socialization of girls, and their enduring popularity with book collectors. However, while serious scholars have begun to document the vast corpus of English-language girls’ school stories, few scholarly editions or facsimile editions of these novels and short stories are readily available.
Girls’ School Stories in English, 1749–1929, a new title from Routledge and Edition Synapse’s History of Feminism series, provides a vital resource to cater to this growing critical interest. This unique collection answers the important need to balance the historical record of canonical literature for young people in the nineteenth century and early twentieth century with popular fictions that had wide, devoted, and—following the emergence of school-series fiction—ongoing readerships. Moreover, existing scholarship has not yet explicated the connections between the British genre and its adaptation to colonial and American readerships, and one of the functions of this collection is to document the evolution of the girls’ school-story genre in Britain to pinpoint the development and contestation of its signature tropes, and to trace the refinement and reproduction of these elements in Canadian, Australian, and American print cultures.
The six volumes in the collection cover the years 1749 to 1929, a temporal span designed to demonstrate the origins of the genre and its development throughout the Victorian and Edwardian eras. It concludes with works from the 1920s that coincide with a peak in the genre’s popularity. And the thematic, rather than chronological, organization of the set allows users easily to compare and contrast (across time and place) school-story conventions and attitudes with issues such as women’s higher education.
Volume I (‘Moral Education’) of the set draws attention to some of the earliest school stories published for girls in the eighteenth century, many of which situated moral improvement and rationality as the primary purpose of girls’ education. Early stories, such as Dorothy Kilner’s Anecdotes of a Boarding School; or, An Antidote to the Vices of those Establishments (1790), which is reproduced in full, were especially influenced by religious imperatives. While the overtly religious nature of these texts declined throughout the nineteenth century, the girls’ school story continued to present a strong moral code based on honour and selflessness, which is shown in an excerpt from Canadian Ethel Hume Bennett’s novel, Judy of York Hill (1922).
The girls’ school story is typically one of transformation, in which the protagonist learns to conform to the rules and codes of school life. Volume II (‘The New Girl’), therefore, focuses on the generic conventions associated with a new student arriving at school, in which the girl does not initially understand or comply with the expectations of teachers and peers. While it presents examples that adhere to the model of successful transformation, this volume also reproduces some striking instances where this trope is subverted. It includes the full text of noted school-story author L. T. Meade’s Wild Kitty (1897), which depicts a ‘wild Irish girl’ protagonist who is unable to be tamed by the English school environment, as well as a story from the Australasian Girls’ Annual, ‘Vic and the Refugee’ (1916), in which the new girl is revealed to be a spy.
Volume III (‘Unruly Femininity’) concentrates on girls who are disobedient, impulsive, or who are fun-loving ‘madcaps’. It contains the full texts of Mary Hughes’ The Rebellious Schoolgirl (1821), which is distinctive as one of the first sympathetic portrayals of a girl who has yet to understand and abide by the rules of the school, and Evelyn Sharp’s The Making of a Schoolgirl (1897), which complicates some of the school-story tropes. Nonetheless, many of these school stories are heavily invested in defining a feminine ideal, as we see in a later short story, ‘Teddy Versus Theodora’ (1910).
In addition to defining a feminine ideal, many schoolgirl heroines take their family and school responsibilities seriously, as markers of their desire to be good and to succeed academically. Volume IV (‘Duty and Responsibility’) demonstrates the ways in which girl heroines can have different expectations and attitudes towards their families, their studies, and their friends. The novel that is reproduced in full in this volume, Elsie Jeanette Oxenham’s The Abbey Girls (1920), is the foundational text produced by one of the most popular writers of girls’ school stories and was the basis for dozens of further books. It emphasizes the rewards that issue from sacrifice, with the heroine passing up a scholarship to allow her cousin to attend school, only to receive an inheritance at the novel’s closure that allows her also to enrol at the school. A girl’s responsibility to her country is particularly evident in an excerpt from Angela Brazil’s The Patriotic Schoolgirl (1918), in which the students are encouraged to consider how they can help national war efforts.
The formation of friendships and the pleasures of school life, such as sports and games, become hallmarks of the genre from the late nineteenth century. Volume V (‘Friendships and Fun’) exemplifies the enjoyable aspects of schoolgirl life that some protagonists metafictively describe reading about in school stories, but also provides examples of the way that relationships among girls can be infused with jealousy or hostility, such as in the excerpt from the 1874 Little Pansy: A Story of the School Life of a Minister’s Orphan Daughter. Louise Mack’s Teens: A Story of Australian Schoolgirls (1897), which is reproduced in full, is regarded as the first Australian school novel and focuses on the development, and testing, of a strong friendship between high-school girls Lennie and Mabel.
The collection’s final volume ( ‘Higher Education and Women’s Rights’) demonstrates how the genre presented debates about women’s suffrage and higher education to a girl readership. The college story replicated many school-story conventions, but also grappled with questions of family and public opposition to university education for women. This volume includes the complete novel, An American Girl, and Her Four Years in a Boys’ College (1878) by Olive San Louie Anderson, a member of the first class of female students at the University of Michigan. As the genre was more prominent in the United States, two American college short stories are also reproduced, as well as extracts from a British example, L. T. Meade’s A Sweet Girl Graduate (1891). School stories by their nature were largely supportive of girls’ education but, nevertheless, in some of the extracts selected for this volume, they show ambivalence about issues such as women’s suffrage.
By making readily available materials which are currently very difficult for scholars, researchers, and students across the globe to locate and use, Girls’ School Stories in English, 1749–1929 is a veritable treasure-trove. The gathered works are reproduced in facsimile, giving users a strong sense of immediacy to the texts and permitting citation to the original pagination. Each volume is also supplemented by substantial introductions, newly written by the editors, which contextualize the material. And with a detailed appendix providing data on the provenance of the gathered works, the collection is destined to be welcomed as a vital reference and research resource.
THE GOVERNESS; OR, THE Little Female Academy., Anecdotes of a Boarding-School; OR, AN ANTIDOTE to the VICES OF THOSE Useful Seminaries., “Chapter V,” “Chapter VI,” “Chapter VII,” “Chapter VIII,” Grace Hamilton’s Schooldays, Bath: Binns and Goodwin, 1856, pp. 53–105, Chapter XXVIII., Chapter XIV., Chapter VI,
An American Girl, and Her Four Years in a Boys' College, Chapter I. Going out into the World, Revenge, “The New Woman.”, Woman's Suffrage at St. Austin's, Chapter IX. The Blues and Purples, III The Virgil Strike, Chapter XI. Jill at Work and Play