“Whether children are, like everything else, text or not, . . . we should attend to the texts they fashion out of themselves. . . ‘[C]hildren’s literature’ refers as much to the literature children make as to the literature they may or may not read”(McGillis 230).
In January 2017, marking the bicentenary of Jane Austen’s death, Fiona Macdonald claimed in “The Racy Side of Jane Austen” (BBC Culture) that the “stories, dramatic sketches and a spoof history” Austen wrote “between the ages of 11 and 17” reveal “a different side to the British novelist” (my italics). As Professor Kathryn Sutherland argues, “Austen’s earliest writings appear to have little in common with the restrained and realistic society portrayed in her adult novels. . . . By contrast, they are exuberantly expressionistic tales of sexual misdemeanour, of female drunkenness and violence.”
“What would Jane write?” I am prompted to ask. “As a child.” How might her writing as a young person differ from her mature work? While her juvenilia undoubtedly served as a valuable apprenticeship for her adult masterpieces (Macdonald’s article cites Austen’s sense of humor, her “confident, willful, even rebellious young women,” and her “critical intelligence” as common elements of her juvenilia and adult work), might her youthful writings not also be considered literature? Must Austen’s transition from child author, playwright, and historian to adult novelist inevitably be collapsed into a simple narrative of linear development, or might it also demonstrate losses as well as gains along the way (as this article’s title, with Jane’s inscrutable eyes peering over [End Page 4] the “racy” headline, seems to imply)? Rather than her early texts being innocent scribblings of an ignorant child, might her childhood notebooks, with their parody, “exaggerated sentiment,” “absurd adventures,” and “murder and violence” highlight instead how much she was, already, as a child, both an accomplished reader and writer, astutely interacting with the narrative conventions of her time? Might her childhood novel, consisting of twelve “chapters,” with “each chapter . . . just a sentence or two,” not as easily demonstrate a subversive satire of literature as it does childish naïveté and writerly incompetence? And, significantly, would her youthful writings even have been noticed, let alone appreciated, two hundred years after her death, had the child writer not become a canonical adult author?
This special issue of Bookbird joins an ongoing, if sporadic, conversation among various scholars (admittedly from the Anglo-American tradition most familiar to me) on “‘Another Children’s Literature’: Writing by Children and Youth.” Juvenilia of adult authors, such as the childhood writings of Austen (or, in this issue, a childhood drama by Maria Edgeworth), provide a usual, but hardly the only possible, entry point to this discussion. Even Christine Alexander and Juliet McMaster, of Juvenilia Press, acknowledge that there are other important forms of children’s writing to be considered: “[A]longside these child incarnations of adult authors are some [children] whose writing is also full of percipience and zest, but who did not become adult writers” (2).
Indeed, Bookbird’s Call for Papers for this issue urged contributors to attend to “the literary dimensions of children’s and youths’ writing” of many types. Our argument for the necessity and timeliness of this research was grounded in Jacqueline Rose’s perhaps overly influential argument that “[c]hildren’s fiction sets up a world in which the adult comes first (author, maker, giver) and the child comes after (reader, product, receiver)” (1–2); Jack Zipes’ pronouncement that “[t]here never has been a literature conceived by children for children, a literature that belongs to children, and there never will be,” followed immediately by a paradoxical assertion not always included with the initial statement: “This is not to say that children do not produce their own cultural artifacts that include literary works” (40); Kimberley Reynolds’ observation that “[h]istorically, children have not written what has been published as children’s literature because they had little access to the equipment necessary to do so and . . . it was generally assumed that they had too little experience of the world or the craft of writing to have anything to say or to say it interestingly” (24); Evelyn...