Childrens writing Chapter uri icon


  • Cambridge University Press 2015. The business of writing for children In his adult novel New Grub Street (1891), set in the London literary world, George Gissing sketches the career of two young middle-class women left in straitened circumstances by their mother's death. Their brother submits to a publisher under their names a proposal for a book to be titled A Child's History of the English Parliament, which the young women then complete and publish. Subsequently, the sisters embark on freelance work for a magazine that Gissing calls The English Girl (the title suggests that it resembles such real-life publications as The Young Ladies' Journal and The Girl's Own Paper), because their brother knows the editor and has prevailed on her to provide employment for them even though they have little previous experience. Their earnings are steady; unlike many other women authors of the period, neither has to combine writing with other forms of paid employment; and at least one sister finds the work pleasant enough that she continues it even after marriage has made her financially secure. All in all, the portrait of their literary career is considerably less gloomy than the corresponding account of the struggle of many of the male writers with whom New Grub Street is primarily concerned. While sketchy, Gissing's discussion of the sisters' enterprise is founded on an accurate understanding that if writing for pay was a career relatively open to middle-class women in the nineteenth century, children's literature was arguably the most welcoming segment of the field. To be sure, almost any kind of writing could have been produced at home to a schedule that made it possible for an author to attend also to the domestic duties that Victorian ideology identified as paramount for a woman, but because teaching and guiding children was often considered to be the most important of those duties, writing juvenile literature could be seen as an extension of her natural womanly capacities. That women were presumed to have a special affinity for the young meant that earning money as a children's author was likely to be viewed as socially positive rather than as an unfeminine attempt to thrust oneself into the public sphere. Moreover, Victorian women were already well ensconced in this profession, having inherited a thriving tradition of women's writing for children from their Georgian predecessors.

author list (cited authors)

  • Nelson, C.

citation count

  • 1

complete list of authors

  • Nelson, Claudia

editor list (cited editors)

  • Peterson, L. H.

Book Title

  • The Cambridge Companion to Victorian Women's Writing

publication date

  • October 2015