What Next? Felicia Hemans and the Changing Meaning of Juvenile Writing
Published as a teenager, Felicia Hemans (then Felicia Dorothea Browne) self-consciously fashioned a literary reputation in terms of youth throughout her career. Her shift in self-presentation exposes how juvenility changed from 1750 to 1835. She first identified with a tradition of classically trained juveniles, of schoolboy writing, and university prizes (an identity her gender made problematic, requiring an effort of self-assertion). With the rise of literary annuals and gift books in the 1820s and 1830s, she became regarded as the opposite—an intuitive, spontaneous “poetess.” The juvenile tradition was now also regarded in terms of girl poets and girl readers, a response to more visible possibilities for young women’s education. Understanding the poetess tradition in relation to the juvenile tradition advances recent feminist revaluations of literary annuals. Hemans’s proleptic sophisticated self-reflection on writing in her poetry helps modern critics interpret the juvenile tradition within the centuries that follow after her.
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