Paths of virtue? The development of fiction for young adult girls 1750-1890

  • Bridget Carrington

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This study considers the early history of the development of fiction for Young Adult girls, an area which has received little attention. Its focus is on selected novels published between 1750 and 1890 which were read by unmarried girls in their teenage years and early twenties, or recommended for them by educationalists and critics.

In the thesis I consider why girls read these novels, and how the texts address the themes identified by twentieth- and twenty-first-century theorists of children’s literature as identifiers of fiction for young adults. Primary evidence is drawn from reading records and critical surveys made between the mid-eighteenth and early twentieth centuries.

The Introduction puts forward the argument for investigating the origins of fiction for Young Adult girls. Part I examines the theoretical framework for the study, Chapter 1 seeking to define Young Adults girls as a distinct identity within a wider pre-mature social grouping. Chapter 2 reviews critical theories particularly relevant to the thesis: reader response and cultural materialism. A discussion of book history is made in Chapter 3.

Part II explores the texts themselves, justifying each choice by referencing the evidence of reading and/or recommendation contemporary with the novels. In Chapters 4 and 5 Richardson’s Sir Charles Grandison and Burney’s Evelina are examined. The focus of Chapter 6 is the Gothic novel, identifying Radcliffe’s Romance of the Forest as a key text among the Young Adult female audience. Wood’s East Lynne and Braddon’s Lady Audley’s Secret, both immensely popular early examples of the sensation genre, are considered in Chapter 7. Chapter 8 investigates the largely forgotten work of Flora Shaw, with a close examination of her novel Colonel Cheswick’s Campaign. This chapter, together with the Conclusion, identifies the significant changes in female expectation apparent by 1890, changes which encouraged a new direction in fiction for girls.
Date of Award2009
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Roehampton

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