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little women, anne of green gables, what katy did etc why no UK equivalent

(26 Posts)
witchwithallthetrimmings Mon 21-Nov-11 09:47:47

These books all aimed at girls in their early teens were not feminist as such but they all presented the message that there should be more to life than simpering in a drawing room and looking pretty. I think this was quite radical for the time. Why did these books come from north america and not here do you think

CMOTdibbler Mon 21-Nov-11 09:52:03

There were a lot of books that encouraged girls to look further than the drawing room (but alas, mostly to eventually get married and give up any career) written by UK writers, but generally books written by women for girls were seen as frippery novels and disappeared.

I've met lots of feminists at girls books study days, and its a well researched field if you are interested

LePruneDeMaTante Mon 21-Nov-11 09:53:23

We had a hugely oppressive class system at the time, so I suppose for something to be realistically written, it needed to be placed within that setting.

KatieMiddIeton Mon 21-Nov-11 10:02:47

I think it might be as simple as there being no perceived market in a fiercely patriarchal society; women did not have independent means and books were luxury items.

Our well known female authors (admittedly from an earlier period) like Austen, the Brönte sisters and George Eliot all published originally under male pseudonyms.

I don't think we really had novels for teenage girls until Enid Blyton. Although I'm prepared to be told otherwise.

witchwithallthetrimmings Mon 21-Nov-11 10:11:19

so middlemarch and north and south come closest (i think) but they are written i think for a more grown up audience,
the secret garden, little princess and the railway children perhaps but the message is more muted and they are aimed at younger ones.
CMOT can you give any examples of books for girls in their early teens

CMOTdibbler Mon 21-Nov-11 10:12:07

There were lots of books for teenage girls before Enid Blyton - my mum collects one particular author whose books are set all over the Empire, and she got her information from booklets written to encourage young women to marry colonial settlers. They are obv v dated, but a lot of adventure.

ElderberrySyrup Mon 21-Nov-11 10:15:34

A few decades later we got an explosion of girls' school stories which are often very feminist.

ElderberrySyrup Mon 21-Nov-11 10:19:37

Is it to do with having an educated middle class with aspirations for their daughters? Just a guess, but did America have a less conservative middle class in the 19th century?

Was all that 'angel in the house' stuff as strong in America as it was in Victorian England?

btw, re Frances Hodgson Burnett, she was born in England but lived in America for most of her life.

KatieMiddIeton Mon 21-Nov-11 10:21:15

We had horse-y books like Sewell's Black Beauty and lots of boys' adventure books.

(Can't believe I forgot Gaskell!)

Other school story authors (according to Wikipedia - I've not heard of most of them) include Angela Brazil, Enid Blyton, Elinor Brent-Dyer, Dorita Fairlie Bruce, Mary Gervaise and Elsie Oxenham.

ElaineReese Mon 21-Nov-11 10:26:50


I think perhaps less 'ladylike' (and therefore more interesting to write and read about) behaviour might have been expected of American girls at the time, and the writing about it was then popular on both sides of the Atlantic. Katy and Anne both enjoy a lot of unchaperoned freedom - and even the March girls are able to consort with Lawrie in a way which perhaps wouldn't have been considered acceptable here at the time.

However, all these books also (I would argue) carry an anti-feminist message: Anne learns that it's 'nicer to think sweet pretty thoughts and keep them to oneself' rather than chatter on: Katy of course gets schooled in The House Of Pain and is symbolically restricted to her own room for the rest of her adolescence, emerging a very much duller and more pious girl than she went in: even Jo March marries that boring old prof, and Amy and Meg both, in their different ways, learn to shun vanity and fun and be a bit more drab generally.

And yes, I think we just did the girls' school stories instead here, and went in rather less for obvious Adventure stuff....

maybenow Mon 21-Nov-11 10:31:19

i have a feeling that we just didn't have 'teenagers' in the UK back then (the teenager is an american idea)... we had children and then men/women and the transition between was barely acknowledged.

KatieMiddIeton Mon 21-Nov-11 10:32:42

Swallows and Amazons although written by a man has a few strong female characters but I think that's aimed at a slightly younger audience.

I agree with Elaine about the books mentioned being about changing yourself to be more acceptable to men polite society. Not very empowering.

witchwithallthetrimmings Mon 21-Nov-11 10:32:45

could it be the civil war in the US? both in terms of the moral reaction against the "south" and in removing men completely from the domestic sphere making families realise that women could do lots of things that there were typically thought not to be able to.

lottiegb Mon 21-Nov-11 11:06:29

Maybe not of the same era but I read a lot of 1930s-onwards horse-related stories where female protagonists had a lot of freedom, adventure and there was an emphasis on self-reliance, responsiblity and 'good character'. Similarly with all those boarding-school stories. Similarly Swallows and Amazons, in which the characters were teenagers. We may misunderstand them as younger because they were viewed as 'children' at a time when teens didn't exist but they have enormous freedom and self-determination.

I read all these from 7-11 but that's also true for Katy and Anne (which was read to me when about 6, along with the strong and adventurous Little House on the Prairie series), so perhaps definitions of 'teenage' books depend on the reader.

I think readers identify with the protagonist of whatever they're reading, whatever their sex, and often chose books for type rather than characters, initially. That's why no-one identifies with soppy Anne in the Famous Five - if you were that sort of girl you wouldn't choose to read those books.

By reading to themes e.g. horses, I stumbled across a surprising range of books and styles I mightn't have otherwise. The 'My Friend Flicka' trilogy was a real surprise. These are deeply humane and insightful stories about family relationships, differences, loneliness and fulfillment. The sensitive younger son, who doesn't meet his father's sporty and military aspirations, finds solace in horses and is a sympathetic protagonist for readers of either sex. Unusually for a children's book, there is some focus on the parents' perspectives, particularly the mother and her isolation, living mid-nowhere in a male household and, on her husband's awareness of this. There is also some powerful horse on horse violence, which mirrors the human generational power-stuggle or perhaps an oedipal theme. Not a 'fluffy little girls' book about ponies' at all.

ImpYCelyn Mon 21-Nov-11 11:09:32

I would think the war had a lot to do with it, in the same way that wartime here changed peoples' ideas of what women and girls were capable of.

Though thinking back to when I read those stories, the message I took away from them was to try to be "good", not to run around or climb trees or argue, but to read and be kind and gentle. Not necessarily a bad thing to aspire to be kind and to read, but it did make me think that acting like a "tomboy" was not desirable.

So on the whole I agree with ElaineReese, those books do have quite an anti-feminist message as well.

KatieMiddIeton Mon 21-Nov-11 11:17:43

lottie you've just mentioned two series I was thinking about: Little House on The Prairie and the Flicka books. I think the LHOTP books are much less anti-feminist than some of the other American coming-of-age books mentioned. I will read them to DS when he's older (if he'll let me!).

Of course we have a long tradition of Bildungsroman in the UK from the 19th century but they are very class-bound.

So to summarise, in the UK we have the traditional Bildungsroman, then adventure, horse and boarding school stories from the 1930s onwards with relatively little in between but with every passing decade they get more progressive and feminist, just as society did.

ninjasquirrel Mon 21-Nov-11 11:17:55

Not specifically aimed at girls, but I remember E Nesbit's books, written in Edwardian times, being boys and girls having adventures together.

ElaineReese Mon 21-Nov-11 11:37:53

The American books are quite pro-individual aren't they - perhaps more keen on Bildungsroman even than we were? - usually have a 'name' title (Anne of GG, Rebecca of SSF, Pollyanna, What katy Did) whereas the roughly contemporary British books tends to situate girls in families (5 Children and It, The Railway Children, Ballet Shoes) or schools.

witchwithallthetrimmings Mon 21-Nov-11 12:49:44

they have a name in the title but the focus is on the family around them. I think the difference is that the north american focus is on a spiritual journey and what happens to the girls as they grow up is only secondary

EdithWeston Mon 21-Nov-11 13:01:13

There are loads of British authored pony books, all of which have almost exclusively female human characters.

I remember the Gemma books (also set in a family, but siblings/cousin all female), and as well as Ballet Shoes there were also Tennis Shoes and Skating Boots.

Rerevisionist Thu 29-Dec-11 23:46:06

'A Girl of the Limberlost' by Gene Stratton-Porter (1909 I think) conforms to your US pattern, too. (Gene was female).

exexpat Thu 29-Dec-11 23:58:01

I can't think of any from before the 70s, but there were some great, feminist-inclined coming-of-age type novels around when I was growing up. Did no one else read Miss Rivers and Miss Bridges about two teenage suffragettes? I think Geraldine Symons' other books were pretty good too.

And some of the Jane Gardam books for children/teenagers were fairly feminist too - eg Bilgewater, where the main (female) character ends up as mistress of a Cambridge college, as far as I remember, and A Long Way From Verona.

EtInTerraPax Fri 30-Dec-11 00:05:27

Is it due perhaps to the fact that British Victorian society was v ery restrictive for women?
People such as Charlotte Yonge wrote a great many books for girls, but many of the childrens books I remember by Victorian authors were very heavy on morals, and/or Christian themes for girls, rather than exploration, military themes, etc for boys.

ravenAK Fri 30-Dec-11 00:11:27

Antonia Forest? Some Diana Wynne Jones.

Later than your US examples admittedly.

Oh & everyone's already mentioned Noel Streatfeild...

Hogmanayhoneyblossom Fri 30-Dec-11 12:56:57

Mary Stewart's the little broomstick?

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