Monday, April 25, 2011

The Childhood Writing of Famous Authors: Recent Titles from Juvenilia Press

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 making 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 had the pleasure of spending a number of years 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. 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 format of the publications is similar each time. A theoretical essay is included to introduce the work and is written by the editor of the work. This is then followed by the juvenilia that is published with original illustrations when available.

The works published to date

Juvenilia Press
has published 44 works since 1994, some of which I reviewed in my previous post (here). The writers whose early work has been published include Jane Austen, Charlotte & Branwell Brontë, Louisa May Alcott, Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (Lewis Carroll), George Eliot, Margaret Atwood, Greg Hollingshead, Margaret Laurence, Rudy Wiebe, Opal Whiteley and many others.

The Most Recent Publications

a) Mary Grant Bruce, 'The Early Tales' (2011)

Pamela Nutt has recently edited the work of Mary Grant Bruce with Year 11 students from Presbyterian Ladies' College in Sydney. This latest publication exemplifies the importance of pedagogy to the Juvenilia project. The illustrations are by Matilda Fay & Isabelle Ng.  Mary Grant Bruce’s nineteenth-century childhood was spent in rural Victoria and throughout her writing career this landscape provided the setting for many of her stories. These early tales, written for the newspaper The Leader, demonstrate an understanding of the challenges of the Australian outback and introduce many of the concerns she would later develop in her highly successful fiction for children.

b) Iris Vaughan, 'The Diary of Iris Vaughan' (Revised edition, 2010)
Peter F. Alexander and Peter Midgley have edited Iris Vaughan’s Diary, with the assistance of Sigi Howes and illustrations by J. H. Jackson. The diary was begun when Vaughan was only seven years old and is as much autobiography as Diary. It also gives a charming, keenly observed and brilliantly amusing picture of colonial Africa as Victorianism made way for the twentieth century.

c) Patrick Branwell Brontë, The History of the Young Men (2010)

William Baker and others have edited this early work of Patrick Branwell Brontë. This is a tale of exploration, bloody battles, colonization and supernatural ‘guardian demons’. Branwell at age 13 years chronicles the founding of imaginary African kingdoms and the exploits of the toy soldiers who inspired the Glass Town and Angrian saga. Here we observe the role of history and the power of childhood play in the early writing of the neglected but talented brother of the famous Brontë sisters.

d) Sarah Fyge Egerton's The Female Advocate (2010)

Peter Merchant has edited this work with the support of Steven Othman. While Egerton claimed that this work was written when she was 14 years this cannot be verified. This is a work by a young woman that takes a stand for woman in general. The measured militancy of The Female Advocate (1686) breathes fresh air into the age-old battle of the sexes. Though the author entered the fray while still in her teens, in making her statement she creates a compelling poem. This is the first time the work has been presented in a single edition with critical commentary.

e) Jane Austen's 'The History of England & Cassandra's Portraits' (2009)

Written "By a partial, prejudiced, & ignorant Historian", this History of England is an outrageous parody of the schoolroom history book. Together with her elder sister Cassandra, the fifteen-year-old Jane Austen reduces the heroic to the everyday, vigorously endorses Mary, Queen of Scots, and denounces Elizabeth I. The young 15 year old Jane Austen offers a revisionist version of British history (e.g. citing 17 great woman compared to 26 men at a time when only men could be ‘great’). Jane uses her sister Cassandra’s drawings to support her work. Even here there seems to be a clever interplay going on, and perhaps another layer of criticism as she seems to express concerns at how history is presented to expose the deficiencies of the texts of her day.

This edition explores the collaboration between the sisters and the way Cassandra’s illustrations extend the textual allusions to family and friends, revealing some surprises. The work was edited by Annette Upfal and Christine Alexander.

Other Posts & Resources

My previous post on Juvenilia HERE

Christine Alexander (2010). The Brontës: Tales of Glass Town, Angria, and Gondal, Selected Writings, London: Oxford University Press.

No comments: