Current Projects

Presently I am writing a popular nonfiction book entitled Prodigies in Print: How Bestselling Children Changed History, and Why We Forgot Them. Cynthia Cannell Literary Agency represents the project, and I've included a brief synopsis below.

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In 1811 Scottish poet and diarist Marjory Fleming died unpublished. She was not yet nine years old. Fleming’s work was released to an adoring audience in 1858; only recently has she ceased to be a household name. The sensational rise of Marjory Fleming forms but one node in a pattern of bestselling published writing by, or in collaboration with, children from the late eighteenth- to early twentieth centuries. Joining Fleming were Thomas Chatterton (1752-1770), Vivian Burnett (1876-1937), Daisy Ashford (1881-1972), Josephine Kipling (1892-1899), Opal Whiteley (1897-1992), Frances Griffiths (1901-1988), and Elsie Wright (1907-1986). Canonical adult authors such as Mark Twain, Robert Louis Stevenson, Rudyard Kipling, Frances Hodgson Burnett, and J.M. Barrie all credit juvenile creatives with stylistic influence. The tradition of published children is broadly engaging, historically significant, and mostly forgotten. Recent articles by Alexandra Johnson, U.C. Knoepflmacher, Laurie Langbauer, and Judith Plotz recover writers who won their fame exclusively as children, but as yet no book-length consideration exists. To fill this gap I am writing Prodigies in Print.

Addressing an educated general audience, Prodigies in Print tackles the question of why published nineteenth-century children fell from view precisely when our current intellectual climate welcomes both marginalized voices and evolving definitions of creativity. In narrating eight bestselling children’s quests for freedom of expression, Prodigies in Print also reveals the uncredited roles they played in the transition of intellectual property from fluid Romantic concepts into the vigorously defended legal entity it is today. Where one might expect an incremental series of tweaks framed in stuffy legalese, one encounters a passionate battle waged not only in the courts, but in the newspapers. The definition of authors’ rights, and in turn, the definition of authorship itself, was a question on the lips of a populace unprecedented in its literacy.

If authorship’s legal definition seemed relatively weak in the nineteenth century, childhood’s proved entirely lacking. Thus, as the press simmered with support for authors, it also advocated another sort of autonomy. The Victorian era became the first in history to afford children legal protection, compulsory schooling, and a subculture of their own. Since childhood and authorship share traits of creativity and vulnerability to exploitation, Prodigies in Print argues that their definitions evolved in tandem, each benefitting from the era’s dedication to the rights of the individual. Yet increased adult protectiveness toward “normal childhood” meant greater resistance toward anything that might violate children’s dependent status. Prodigies in Print ultimately tells the story of how bestselling children were obscured by the very categories of artistic autonomy they chartered.

+Plan of Work:

 My dissertation analyzed child-authors via feminism and New Historicism, so I have written a book-length manuscript and published several scholarly articles on the subject already. When I shifted focus to a trade nonfiction audience, I knew that while I could draw on my dissertation’s research, I would have to abandon its style and structure. Building narrative tension requires a deeper sense of place and character, so in the past three years I have sought and won grant money to visit ten archives in three countries, as well as most of the prodigies’ homes. I have also interviewed my subjects’ heirs. Possessed of enough material to complete most of the composition, I am currently at work on the fourth of ten chapters.

 While I am currently writing for a popular audience, I do not wish to neglect traditional scholarship. Thus, I am aiming to submit a scholarly article to journals every two years now that the book is underway. Recently I completed a piece connecting the collaboration between Rudyard and Josephine Kipling with late-Victorian theories of evolutionary child development.

+Research Philosophy and Methodology:

At once a Victorianist and a practitioner of what I would term “children’s studies,” I aim to be particularly intentional in my diction regarding the latter. The phrase “childhood studies” would only truly suit scholars who interpret childhood from a psychological footing, and “child studies” risks stripping children of subjectivity in favor of an objectifying iconography I oppose. Thus, I suggest “children’s studies” as the most encompassing term. It makes room to discuss childhood as a status, experience, or symbol, and also allows critics to reflect on individual children’s relationships to such figuration. “Children’s studies” also parallels the diction of women’s studies, a field that asks similar questions regarding the silencing nature of totalizing language, as well as the limitations of pedestalized influence. However, the association between women’s studies and children’s studies must not be read in a one-to-one ratio; allegorizing the two fields of inquiry would advance neither discipline. Thus, while I deploy methodology inspired by feminist questions of marginalization and recovery, I intend it to return bearing not just new voices, but new theoretical doorways and an enriched sense of context.

Excavating Victorian conceptions of childhood reveals a culture enchanted by paradoxes and ruptured dialectics – tensions that seem more avant-garde than even our most informed stereotypes of nineteenth-century life might suggest. Thus, my work illuminates Victorian alignments of childhood and the creative process, but it also necessitates a reconsideration of how we historicize the period. I agree with Marah Gubar’s argument that the figure of the child was neither cohesively defined nor categorically affirmed by the Victoriansbut I would add that its lack of coherent definition created within it a space which could be repeatedly repopulated with variant ideas while masquerading as a stable element of cultural common ground. Thus, I believe that children’s studies invites a mutually-beneficial reconsideration of current critical approaches to the entire Victorian era.

Since Prodigies in Print’s target audience is broader than that of traditional scholarship, my theoretical underpinnings will largely remain beneath the surface of my prose. Yet I aim to keep them within my constant awareness, just as I intend to provide an exhaustive bibliography on my website if my publisher requires a truncated list. My pedagogy pairs rigorous scholarship with engaging delivery, and the same is true of Prodigies in Print.

 

Publications + Exhibits   

Rare Book Collection. University Of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Photograph by Katherine Carlson. Illustration by W. B. Macdougall in an 1898 edition of  Keats's Isabella, or the Pot of Basil.  

Rare Book Collection. University Of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Photograph by Katherine Carlson. Illustration by W. B. Macdougall in an 1898 edition of  Keats's Isabella, or the Pot of Basil.  

 “‘We Can Feal Pangs as Well as You’: Marjory Fleming and the Challenge of the Child-Author.”  Women’s Writing. Vol. 18, No. 3, August 2011. pp. 368-384.

“Little Lord Fauntleroy and the Evolution of American Boyhood.” The Journal of the History of Childhood and Youth. Vol. 3, No. 1, Winter 2010. pp. 39-64.

Two encyclopedia entries:  The Romantic Child” and “Fleming, Marjory.” The Facts on File Encyclopedia of Literary Romanticism, Ed. Andrew Maunder.  2010.

Co-Curator of the exhibit “Presenting John Keats: A Celebration of Six Million Volumes,” which opened in November 2008 at the UNC-CH Rare Book Collection.

Presentations

My great-grandfather, Ralph Jewell Gibson, in Little Lord Fauntleroy garb. Circa 1890.

My great-grandfather, Ralph Jewell Gibson, in Little Lord Fauntleroy garb. Circa 1890.

“Prodigies in Print: How Bestselling Victorian Children Changed History, and Why We Forgot Them.” 2016 Appalachian College Association Summit. Kingsport, TN.  

“Some Sort of Masterpiece”: l’Écriture Enfantine in Daisy Ashford’s The Young Visiters.” 2016 Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century British Women Writers Conference: Athens, GA.

“What Makes a Good Book Good?” Humanities Socratic Society. 2016. Lee University: Cleveland, TN.

“Velvet Suit and Lawsuit: The Dramatic History of Little Lord Fauntleroy.” Frances Hodgson Burnett Sesquicentennial Celebration. 2015. Jefferson City, TN.

“Integration of Text and Media: Using Visual Art to Teach Keats’ ‘La Belle Dame Sans Merci’ and Other Poems.” Teaching Reading in Literature and Informational Text (Tri-LIT): Strategies for Implementing Common Core Standards – a workshop for high school teachers funded by Tennessee Higher Education Commission. 2014. Lee University: Cleveland, TN.

 “A Just So Legacy: How Kipling Suspended Evolutionary Justifications of Imperialism for ‘The Daughter That Was All to Him.” 2010 British Association for Victorian Studies Conference: Glasgow, Scotland.

“Children’s Literature Round Table.” Invited participant. Comparatist Conversations: a Graduate Comparative Literature Symposium. 2009. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

“‘The Daughter That Was All to Him’: Recapitulation and the Legacy of the Child in Kipling’s Just So Stories.”     2009 Children’s Literature Association Conference: Charlotte, NC.

“Little Lord Fauntleroy and the Evolution of American Boyhood.” 2009 American Comparative Literature        Association Conference: Cambridge, MA.

“‘We Can Feal Pangs as Well as You’: Marjory Fleming and the Problem of the Child Author.” 2008 British Women Writers Conference: Bloomington, IN.

Future Project

I have long been fascinated by late-Victorian and Edwardian literary appropriations of the god Pan. Key texts for a resulting scholarly monograph will include Arthur Machen’s The Great God Pan, J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan, Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows, and D.H. Lawrence’s St Mawr. I will interpret the revival of Pan references alongside widespread redefinitions of masculinity and the burgeoning category of adolescence at the fin de siècle. 

Curriculum Vitae

For a comprehensive survey of my scholarship and teaching, please click here. 

Transient

Copyright 2016·  Katherine Leigh Carlson  ·  All Rights Reserved