The Backfisch and Stories of Female Adolescence

Julie PfeifferHollins University
Vol. 36, No. 2 (Fall 2017), 295-321

Even as nineteenth-century American academics struggled to name female adolescence, mid-century authors described this in-between state in best-selling novels for girls. As a way of understanding these neglected novels, this article looks to German-language criticism and the genre of Backfisch literature to argue that novels exploring the development of adolescent girls are an essential step in the history of the girls’ book. Published in both the United States and German-speaking countries, these popular novels describe an awkward adolescent who leaves home in order to educate herself for womanhood and whose success is marked by marriage. Unlike the orphan girl story, the family story, or the Bildungsroman, the Backfisch novel focuses on a single teenage protagonist in a nurturing environment and the short but essential period of transformation from girlhood to womanhood.

Mary Wollstonecraft Sojourner Truth Margaret Atwood Abigail Adams Amy Tan H.D. Simone de Beauvoir Zora Neale Hurston Frances Burney Virginia Woolf

"The white saxifrage with the indented leafe is moste commended for the breakinge of the Stone."

— Turner, Herbal, III, 68 [1568]