‘A Library of Our Own Compositions’: The Minervian Library and Children’s Social Authorship in Victorian Orkney

Kathryn Gleadle, Beth Rodgers

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Abstract

This article examines the Minervian Library, an extraordinary collection of children’s manuscript stories produced in mid-Victorian Orkney. Established in 1866 by sisters Mary and Clara Cowan and their cousin Isabella Bremner, the collaborative project had ambitions beyond its beginnings as a family literary endeavour: the girls envisaged a working library complete with membership and borrowing records. On offer to the ‘Library Damsels of the Minervian Library’, as they dubbed their members, were 50 of their own original compositions, mostly comprising fairy tales, domestic dramas, and stories of European nobility. In this article, we argue that an analysis of these manuscripts and the social networks in which they were produced and circulated challenges our understanding of literary juvenilia and its relationship to wider cultural processes. We posit that the manuscripts offer a striking example of juvenile ‘social authorship’, not only in the sense of their circulation among a community of readers, but also in the ways that the authors actively engaged with developing literary trends, such as the emergence of the European literary fairy tale, and responded to contemporary debates about girlhood and girls’ lives. In this way, the Minervian Library demonstrates that children were not simply passive consumers of cultural activities, but could also be participants in the creation of collective meanings and discourses.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbervcac035
Pages (from-to)477-492
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Victorian Culture
Volume27
Issue number3
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 09 Jul 2022

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