Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
English & Film Studies
Textuality, Media, and Print Studies
Faculty of Arts
Just as they do today, adolescent girls functioned as a cultural force in the eighteenth century, and it was commercially viable for authors and publishers to attract and sustain the attention of these teenaged readers. Girls’ Voices of the Eighteenth Century: The Development of a Genre for Young Female Readers, 1740-1800, examines how four female authors leveraged elements of fairy tales, romances and gothic fiction, and developed dialogue and humour in their texts, to reflect the interests and literary awareness of their target audience of adolescent girls. My study begins with an investigation of the legacy of early French fairy tales in these texts, particularly in the work of Sarah Fielding, who was inspired by the potential of the fairy tale form and its cast of female protagonists. I then study the work of Mary Ann and Dorothy Kilner, who demonstrated the adolescent’s increasing awareness of power imbalances in the larger, adult world, and gave voice to the underdog in class and gender hierarchies. Finally, I consider the voice of female characters in the texts of Ellenor Fenn, who was subversive in her use of fairy tale and gothic features, recognizing that both genres were popular in the period with adolescent readers. Fenn was especially unique for her conscious appropriation of teenage colloquial speech in an attempt to entertain and engage her youthful audiences. Fielding, Fenn, and the Kilners recognized the potential of a new genre of text – the real precursor, it could be argued, to the contemporary YA novel – in which narrative form was expressly tailored to appeal to and to address the adolescent girls themselves. As experienced pedagogues, their intimacy with the young people in their care provided insight into the experience of eighteenth-century youth. This understanding especially shines in their work for adolescent girls, in which dialogue is rich, and characters seem to speak for the first time in their own voices.
Rangaratnam, Sarah, "Girls’ Voices of the Eighteenth Century: The Development of a Genre for Young Female Readers, 1740-1800" (2018). Theses and Dissertations (Comprehensive). 2104.