This independent study investigates adult authority in youth literature in late-nineteenth-century Britain. Examining both sensational literature known as “penny dreadfuls” and the didactic magazines The Boy’s Own Paper and The Girl’s Own Paper, this project analyzes how rhetoric enforced middle class ideology outside of the classroom and shaped the youth reading experience. In an urbanizing, industrializing Britain, anxiety about social mobility ran high, and youth consumption of penny dreadfuls received suspicion due to their supposedly subversive content. This study argues that penny dreadfuls actually reinforced the social order, mirroring didactic literature in their construction of conservative adult authority. In order to demonstrate the similarity between these two forms, this project studies Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events as a way to approach the adult narrator in late-nineteenth-century texts due to its exaggeration of both sensational and didactic narration styles. As Lemony Snicket’s hybrid narrator deconstructs adult authority through postmodern techniques, he reveals that youth reading autonomy remained a fantasy in late-nineteenth-century Britain.


Ng, Margaret

Second Advisor

Shostak, Debra


English; History


Children's and Young Adult Literature | Cultural History | European History | Literature in English, British Isles


youth reading autonomy, empire, adult authority, didactic, sensational, penny dreadful

Publication Date


Degree Granted

Bachelor of Arts

Document Type

Senior Independent Study Thesis Exemplar



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