Academic Genre: The Companion to ___________

Excellent scholarship by Marah Gubar, Claudia Nelson, Victoria Ford Smith, M. O. Grenby, Alexandra Valint, and others has more than demonstrated the importance of children’s literature to nineteenth-century culture more broadly. My first book contributed to that conversation, arguing that Romantic-era children’s tales helped shape the reading habits of the Victorians.

Fairy Tales (Boston Public Library)

Last summer, I signed a contract to write another book, which makes the case in a different way: a Companion to Nineteenth-Century British Children’s Literature. Consistent with the series in which it will be published, the book will primarily consist of entries about texts, authors, and topics, organized alphabetically. The book is intended for students and scholars of both children’s literature and the nineteenth century, and the implicit argument is that those two subjects inform each other.

But because the argument is implicit, the book differs from the genres I’m used to writing. And so this post is as much a question as anything else: how does one write such a Companion?

There are lots of similar examples, though none precisely the same. Perhaps most immediately, Philip Nel and Lissa Paul’s Keywords for Children’s Literature and issue 46.3-4 of Victorian Literature and Culture (edited by Rachel Ablow and Daniel Hack) provide entries on terms central to children’s literature and Victorian studies, respectively. The “keyword” approach differs slightly from the alphabetical terms I’m collecting, and both collections are expansive, interdisciplinary, and written by multiple authors. Among those authors, in both cases, are scholars whose work crosses the two disciplines. Therein lies another difference: collections of keywords by individual scholars let those individual scholars play to their particular strengths (and in both cases, these particular individual scholars have many strengths — these are two brilliant groups!) In that sense, the keyword entries that bridge children’s literature studies with nineteenth-century studies are not dissimilar from the monographs written by the scholars I mentioned above (several of whom also have entries in one or both keyword collections).

Then there are the many existing companions to children’s literature or to the nineteenth-century (or Romanticism, or the Victorians). Multiple authors is the norm, but some are written by single authors like Peter Hunt, Karen Coats, and M. O. Grenby, on children’s literature, or Louis James and Philip Davis, on the Victorians. All the children’s literature companions of course feature the nineteenth century to some degree, and some (but not all!) of the nineteenth-century companions include an entry on children’s literature. I’m trying to fit my own book at the intersection of the two, and so the task is partly combinatory.

I’m fairly comfortable writing the introduction, but I’m working on choosing the texts, people, and topics who make the list. I have some strategies (Scrivener! Spreadsheets!), that I will talk about in some upcoming posts. I’m hoping that thinking out loud — and maybe hearing from some of you who are reading this — will help me make some choices.

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