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River Banks, Rabbit Holes and Railway Children: Charting Series of Children's Classics



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Webster, Amy Marie 


‘The classic’ is a muddled, confused and conflicted term in children’s literature scholarship and educational policy. This thesis frames an analysis of the classic through a focus on ‘the series’, which is a dominant yet overlooked publishing phenomenon that aims to reproduce and repackage classic works. It takes a broader mixed methods approach that combines the analysis of a large corpus of series by publishers in the United Kingdom with case studies of individualised editions to interrogate three different facets of ‘the classic series’. The thesis maps and provides considerable insight into series of children’s classics, which have previously received little in-depth attention. It includes a database that constitutes a historical record of the classic series and a valuable resource for future scholarship. Chapter One analyses this database to answer the thesis’ principal research question: ‘what are the dominant trends in the classic series?’ It argues that series of classics are defined by variation and instability as publishers designate a wide variety of titles classics often driven by commercial concerns. Chapter Two explores how publishers abridge classic texts for inclusion in their series through a case study of editions of The Wind in the Willows. It uses corpus linguistics methods and close textual analysis to show how publishers consistently alter the written text of classic works for younger readers which radically impacts upon the experiential dynamics of the classics. Chapter Three focuses on how publishers repackage the classics as a series through a close study of the material aspects of books. It highlights how publishers’ packaging largely serves to diminish the classics by presenting them as uniform products rather than individual tales. This thesis exposes the significant gulf between the idea of a classic that is tied to notions of quality and the reality of how the term currently functions which is as a marketing tool. It concludes that publishers’ series are confusing what a classic is, which provides a reason for why scholarship on the classic is so vexed. The thesis recommends a critical approach towards children’s classics that acknowledges how this group of texts is fraught with complexities, lacks diversity and is tied to the commercial enterprise of the children’s book business. This research is of particular interest to educators and scholars of children’s literature as it provides a concrete and comprehensive understanding of the classics which are a privileged but historically unexplored group of texts.





Jaques, Zoe


Children's classics, Classic, Series, Children's literature, Education, Children's publishing, Children's book business, Commercialism, Adaptation, Abridgement, Paratext, Materiality, Children's book illustration, Book marketing, National Curriculum, Reading curricula, Mixed methods, Digital humanities, Distant reading, Corpus linguistics, Database


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge
Vice-Chancellor's Award, Cambridge Trust