Reading the Reading Girl: From Frances Hodgson Burnett’s Little Editha to Hermione Granger and Her Fans

Caroline McAlister


This article opens with Lady Macbeth, followed by a classic nineteenth-century story of a precocious and adorable reformer, followed by a mid-twentieth-century protagonist of prodigious intellectual potential. These formidable female heroes (or anti-heroes, as the case may be) offer precedent and foundation for the primary focus of Caroline McAlister’s article: Hermione Granger and the Reading Girl. Using all of these “reading girls” as lenses for her study, McAlister explores the intersections between the ostensibly passive activity of reading and the active worlds of creation and engagement, offering an unprecedented nuance to Barthes’ idea of writerly text. Editha, Matilda, and Hermione all approach their worlds primarily through the book, but none of them stays securely within that textual space. Each is called out of the text to make changes in the people and institutions of her world; just as each is called, of course, each calls to her readers to make active spaces for themselves in their own worlds. Of course, this engagement is most clearly evident in the character of Hermione, and the richly complex world of fan fiction and activism that Harry Potter readers of myriad ages, nations, and genders have constructed for and around themselves. Using classic female characters from generations of reading, McAlister brings her readers into the age of New Media in a way that gives writerly texts a whole new dimension.

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The Looking Glass: new perspectives on children's literature

ISBN 1551-5680