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  • "The Best Magazine for Children of All Ages":Cross-Editing St. Nicholas Magazine (1873-1905)
  • Susan R. Gannon (bio)

The Children's Magazine: A "Space in Between"

In its "golden age" under the guidance of founding editor Mary Mapes Dodge, St. Nicholas Magazine was considered the finest literary magazine for children ever produced.1 Many would say it has yet to be surpassed. In her celebrated article "Children's Magazines," written for Roswell Smith of Scribner's Monthly just before she undertook her editorial duties on St. Nicholas, Dodge stressed the importance of measuring the contents of a publication to the child's needs. "A child's magazine is its pleasure-ground," she said. "Let there be no sermonizing . . . no wearisome spinning out of facts, no rattling of the dry bones of history." She expressed concern that "the little magazine-readers find what they look for and be able to pick up what they find." "Boulders," she said, "will not go into tiny baskets" (353). Yet there was always a fair amount of discreet sermonizing in St. Nicholas, and the magazine was, in fact, addressed not only to children but to a very important audience of adults.

This significant secondary audience of adults—a key factor in the success of any literary magazine for children—raises a number of problems. For one, the "adult" implied in the diverse fictions, features, and editorial projects of the magazine is as elusive an abstraction as the "child" to be found there. Such constructs conceal as much as they reveal of the complex motivations, ideological assumptions, and lived experience from which they arise. Jacqueline Rose has spoken eloquently about the way the enterprise of children's fiction "hangs on" "the impossible relation between adult and child," "setting up a world in which the adult comes first (author, maker, giver) and the child comes after (reader, product, receiver), but where neither of them enter the space in between" (1-2). The children's periodical—exemplified here by St. Nicholas—certainly [End Page 153] shares that "impossibility" in the sense of being written and produced by adults for a primary and defining audience of children. But St. Nicholas was also for adults. And I think the magazine did offer its readers something of a "space in between," where differing—sometimes age-specific—visions of child-adult relations could be figured, tested, and vigorously discussed.

The care with which the magazine addressed its primary audience of children has been documented elsewhere.2 This paper explores less familiar territory: the way St. Nicholas catered to its significant secondary audience of adults and the importance of this audience as a presence in the magazine's reading environment. One popular strain of formula fiction that appears often in St. Nicholas—the fiction of benevolent intervention in which a caring adult rescues a dependent or needy child—will exemplify the way fiction in the magazine allowed adult and child readers to reflect on the issues of power and dependency so central to their relations. In terms of vocabulary, the presence of child role-models, illustration, and even many details of address, such stories look child-oriented. Yet they were constructed to offer the possibility of an alternative kind of reading for adults. I will examine a sampling of such stories, looking in some detail at two pieces written by Lucy G. Morse, whose work Dodge particularly admired. Frances Hodgson Burnett's Little Lord Fauntleroy became a best-selling novel perhaps in part because of the enthusiasm with which Dodge used her "pulpit" in St. Nicholas to promote it and to encourage a particular way of reading it. A study of Dodge's editorial handling of this novel will suggest the way young and old were drawn into a community of readers whose vivid responses to Burnett's novel raise compelling questions about the image of childhood it presented to them.

Editing St. Nicholas for the Adult Reader

In November 1873 the innovative magazine for adults, Scribner's Monthly, proclaimed the arrival of Scribner and Company's new magazine for children, St. Nicholas: "Whether we shall lead the little child, or the little child shall lead us, remains to be seen; but...


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pp. 153-180
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