Dr. Rosoff Publishes Book on Impact of Fiction on Female Gender Identity

By Caitlin Burns | April 10, 2019

Cover of Dr. Rosoff’s book

After 10 years of preparation, British and American School Stories, 1910–1960: Fiction, Femininity, and Friendship by Dr. Nancy G. Rosoff, dean of Graduate and Undergraduate Studies, and co-author Dr. Stephanie Spencer, professor of the History of Women’s Education at the University of Winchester, has finally hit the bookshelves.

The historical analysis examines how reading selected British and American school stories contributed to the formation of gender identity for teenage girls in the early to mid-twentieth century. Dr. Rosoff said that rather than comparing cultural differences, the book explores similarities that can be found across British and American cultures.

“We’re looking at ideas that transcend national boundaries,” said Dr. Rosoff. “We used series that start with the central characters in early adolescence and continue into their early adult life.”

In total, Drs. Rosoff and Spencer examined five series—Marjorie Deane, Grace Harlowe, and Joan Foster for American novels and the Chalet School and Dimsie for British novels. Throughout these books, the authors examined five overlapping themes under the umbrella topics of friendship and femininity—sociability, responsibility, authority, domesticity, and possibility. Dr. Rosoff noted that since the analysis follows the characters from school age to early adulthood, all face the “possibility” of life after school or college, whether that is further education, working, getting married, or motherhood.

“We argue that these books were an important source of informal education for young girls and shaped their gender ideology,” said Dr. Rosoff. “These books wouldn’t have been assigned in classrooms, but they’d be available in libraries for girls to read. Many were given as gifts or prizes to young readers.”