- Between Generations: Collaborative Authorship in the Golden Age of Children's Literature by Victoria Ford Smith
Children play multiple roles in children's literature: fictional characters, real audience, inspirational muses, and, as Victoria Ford Smith proposes, active collaborators. Smith's goal in Between Generations is to resurrect a lost tradition of child-adult creative partnerships during the Victorian and Edwardian eras. These over-looked or forgotten collaborations show that child creators of the period exhibited more agency than we generally assume. Smith approaches these intergenerational collaborations through a historical lens, examining nineteenth-century theories of language acquisition and art education that challenged the perception of children as passive subjects, as well as actual creative partnerships such as that between Robert Louis Stevenson and his stepson, Lloyd Osbourne.
One question that Smith never addresses is the difference between collaboration and influence. Her definition of collaboration, which she expresses only implicitly, is broad enough to include child muses such as Lewis Carroll's Alice Liddell and James Barrie's Llewelyn Davies boys. I question whether the Liddell sisters' begging for a story constitutes collaboration. The Llewelyn Davies brothers must have contributed ideas to the pirate tales that they enacted with Barrie, but the actual written words in Peter Pan are his. Does providing ideas for a story constitute collaboration, or does collaboration involve co-writing or illustrating the work? For Smith, collaboration apparently includes any kind of contribution from a real child, whether accidental (such as being born to a writer who uses him or her as creative fodder) or intentional (such as drawing a treasure map that inspires a novel). [End Page 348]
However, Smith's main intention, which is fully realized in this volume, seems to be discussing how real children participated in the creation of real books, so I shouldn't quibble over the definition of one word. In her introduction, "A Child's Story," she states that children's literature scholarship since Jacqueline Rose's The Case of Peter Pan, or the Impossibility of Children's Fiction (1984) has ignored real children because of "a narrow focus on the figure of the child and its roots in adult desire" (11). Examining that constructed figure alongside children who are real historical beings opens up new avenues for scholarship, as Marah Gubar has demonstrated in Artful Dodgers: Reconceiving the Golden Age of Children's Literature (2009). Smith wishes to build on the work of Gubar and other critics who attempt to bring real children back into the discussions of children's literature scholarship. Examining what she calls "composition narratives"—historical texts and documents about the creation process of particular works—she organizes her chapters around different models of intergenerational authorship: "collaborations among storytellers and auditors, between coauthors, and between child illustrators and adult authors and educators" (20).
In chapter 1, "Active Listeners: Child Auditors as Creative Collaborators," Smith claims that far from being passive listeners, the children listening to an adult tell a story help construct the meaning of the story and affect its pace, plot, and characterization. She ties the discussion to early theories of language acquisition that posited children as active agents capable of changing the language, just as the child audience changes the story. Using W. M. Thackeray's The Rose and the Ring as a case study, Smith shows how complex and ambiguous composition narratives can become as varying accounts and recollections compete for authority. Other story-tellers whom Smith examines in this chapter include the Brothers Grimm, Edgar Taylor, Mary Molesworth, Margaret Gatty, and Juliana Horatia Ewing. I was particularly intrigued by Smith's discussion of the child study movement at the end of the nineteenth century, especially its interest in language acquisition and children's secret languages.
Chapter 2, "Family Dynamics: The Strange Case of Robert Louis Stevenson and Lloyd Osbourne," uses the fourteen-year collaboration between Stevenson and Osbourne as a paradigm of adult-child partnerships. Smith provides a history of the toy printing press, one of which initiated the partnership, as well as of...