Rebellious Youth: The Development of Fiction for the Adolescent Audience, 1850-1900

Fox, Elizabeth, English - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Chase Levenson, Karen, AS-English-Eng Lit Ops, University of Virginia

The second half of the nineteenth century saw the emergence of both the idea of adolescence and a new genre of literature designed for this young audience. In this dissertation, I trace the development of adolescent fiction across several textual forms—including youth novels, boys’ periodicals, and girls’ periodicals—analyzing the ways it drew from and informed ideas about young people’s behavior during the Victorian era. I focus, in particular, on literary representations of youthful rebellion, an increasingly prominent part of the expected adolescent experience. As I show, the authors of adolescent novels and periodical fiction regularly portrayed young people’s campaigns for personal and generational independence in their works. When creating these depictions, however, they had to grapple with the conflict between adolescents’ desire for freedom and change and adults’ insistence upon obedience and stability. The tenuous balance each narrative struck between these competing demands varied depending upon its expectations of its audience’s gender and purchasing power, the degree of parental scrutiny it was likely to receive, and its own textual form. In every case, the act of catering to conflicting interests rippled out across the narrative, as texts pointedly framed political, social, and religious ideas in ways meant to repress or enact young readers’ rebellious goals. The tension that emerged from this intergenerational conflict ultimately became a defining feature of the adolescent genre, one that continues to inform literature for young people to this day.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Literature, Victorian, Adolescence, Periodicals
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