Saturday, December 13, 2008

Juvenilia: The study of writing from youth

An interest in Juvenilia

As I have written already on this blog (here), children can begin to write from a very young age. While their earliest attempts at writing, even before the age of 12 months can be seen 'just' as scribble, many young children soon develop a desire to do more than simply make their marks on paper; they begin to play with language and words, often in combination with their early drawings.

Many great writers become aware very early in life that they have a great desire to write, sometimes for self, but often for others. The study of early writing (and art) has been termed Juvenilia, drawing from the Latin meaning "things from youth". I have the privilege of being on the Editorial Advisory Board of the Juvenilia Press at the University of New South Wales. The Juvenilia Press is currently one of the passions of Christine Alexander, Scientia Professor in English Literature at the University of New South Wales. Professor Alexander is a prominent Australian editor and writer on the Brontës, including their juvenilia

The Juvenilia Press was founded in 1994 by Juliet McMaster at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, but it moved to UNSW in 2001 when Christine Alexander became the General Editor. It promotes the study of literary juvenilia (writing up to 20 years of age) of recognised adult writers. It offers insights into the later work of successful writers. It has an international team of contributing editors from Britain, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, the USA and Australia.

The Juvenilia Press, as its website suggests, is more than just a publishing project:

The Juvenilia Press was originally conceived as a university/classroom project. While it has grown well beyond those limits, pedagogy remains at the core of its mandate. Students are involved in every volume in some capacity, whether that be writing introductions, researching annotations, learning the importance of textual editing, drawing illustrations, or developing a book's layout and design. Working under the guidance of established international scholars, they gain invaluable experience, practical skills, and publication.
The works published to date

Juvenilia Press publishes the early writing
(up to the age of 20) of recognised authors who have had success later as adult writers. It has published 42 works since 1994. The authors who's early writing have already featured as Juvenilia Press publications include the following:

a) 18th Century

Jane Austen

Lady Mary Wortley Montagu
Anna Maria Porter

b) 19th Century

Louisa May Alcott

Branwell Brontë
Charlotte Brontë
Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (Lewis Carroll)
Richard Doyle
George Eliot
Iris Vaughan

c) 20th Century

Margaret Atwood
Marian Engel
Greg Hollingshead
Philip Larkin
Margaret Laurence
Malcolm Lowry
Carol Shields
Aritha van Herk
Rudy Wiebe
Alison White
Opal Whiteley

The most recent work - Lewis Carroll

The most recent publication from the Juvenilia Press is the text The Rectory Magazine written (largely) by Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (Lewis Carroll). Dodgson wrote in the 19th century (1832-1898) and is perhaps best known for his works Alice in Wonderland, Through the Looking-Glass and the poems The Hunting of the Snark and Jabberwocky. The publication was edited by Valerie Sanders and Elizabeth O'Reilly. Like other publications from JP the work contains an introductory essay by the editors of the volume. These essays, which are significant publications in their own right, provide an insight into the considerable research required to produce each publication as well as a theoretical overview of the work, the author and their early life.

'The Rectory Magazine' was written by Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) and other members of his family somewhere in the years 1847-1850 when he was aged 15-18 years. The original can be found in the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center at the University of Texas, Austin. As Valerie Sanders and Elizabeth O'Reilly point out in their introductory essay, 'The Rectory Magazine' was a collaborative family venture, though Charles wrote a lot of the magazine and was certainly the editor and driving force behind its production.

Like all Juvenilia, 'The Rectory Magazine' provides a fascinating insight into the early life and work of an author as well as the characteristics of their later adult work. The fascination for me in Juvenilia is that in the early work of the child author we see (at the very least) evidence of the later content and style of the adult writer. In fact, the child writing of the author often offers us a window into the development of the voice of the writer that we recognise in their later work. 'The Rectory Magazine' certainly offers such insight into the later work of Carroll. Sanders and O'Reilly comment in their essay that:

"Much of what he wrote prefigures his later characteristics as the author of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, published less than twenty years later. From the start he was proud of being an author: his style is both self-confident and self-mocking, and he sends up the classic Victorian periodical while also trying to sound like one of its most venerable editors. 'The Rectory Magazine' proves that Carroll's instinct for parody and comic verse was always strong, as was his love of word puzzles and nonsense games."

What JP publications also offer is an insight into the role that other authors and various literary forms play in the lives of any writer. They show evidence of the rich intertextual worlds that help to shape the work of any author. This publication on Carroll offers an interesting illustration of how the young writer often takes their lead in relation to form and genre from other contemporary works, as well as life of the times in general (including its morality), while at the same time drawing on the inspiration of great authors before - as children are want to do - giving it a 'twist'. Christine Alexander and Juliet McMaster in their book, 'The Child Writer from Austen to Woolf', the Dodgson family were not unique, many a Victorian family produced its own version of a collaborative magazine, that mirrored (and sometimes mocked as Carroll does) the periodicals of the day.

An added bonus with many Juvenilia Press publications is how we witness the young author's keen interest in illustration and integration of their own graphics with their written work, 'The Rectory Magazine' is no exception and includes some delightful illustrations including the cover and other colour and black and white plates inside this 132 page book.

'The Rectory Magazine' is a delightful publication containing a mixture of poetry and prose, which should be of interest to teachers, teenage readers and writers and in fact anyone interested in literature. The publications are available from a variety of sources including UNSW (via the JP website) at a very reasonable price of $12 or $15.

For some of the latest Juvenilia Press publications visit the website (here).

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