Guest Post: Jill E. Anderson on Anne Emery’s Fictional Teen Heroine Dinny Gordon

Jill E. Anderson is the History, African-American Studies, and Women’s Studies Librarian at Georgia State University; she holds a PhD in US cultural and women’s/gender history from Rutgers University and an MSIS from the University of Texas at Austin. Her current project is on post-World War II girls’ intellectual culture, and she is blogging on this project at True Stories Backwards.

In my forthcoming Journal of the History of Childhood and Youth article, “Dinny Gordon, Intellectual: Anne Emery’s Postwar Junior Fiction and Girls’ Intellectual Culture,” I focus on popular novelist Anne Emery’s fictional teen heroine Dinny Gordon, an unusually bookish heroine for this genre.

DinnyGordonFreshmanDinny is consistently portrayed as a serious, engaged reader. Inspired to plan an archaeological tour abroad after reading a book on Pompeii while babysitting, she also creates an award-winning geology project on Pompeii. She finds her sister’s teen-oriented books frustrating, preferring instead to settle into Edward Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. And in Sophomore, she falls asleep having finished Mary Renault’s novel on Theseus, The King Must Die, a birthday gift from her history-professor father. Prof. Gordon wakes Dinny to introduce her to his teaching assistant, Brad Kenyon, a graduate student in ancient history at the University of Chicago. Brad and Dinny develop a strongly intellectual relationship: he introduces her to the Oriental Institute and to a prominent Israeli archaeologist, and helps her secure a summer apprenticeship with the archaeologist. A serious-minded girl, Dinny refuses to date boys she doesn’t find interesting, holding out for both emotional and intellectual connection. It’s implied that she will find this with Brad, though she dates several other young men first.

As part of a larger project on post-World War II girls’ intellectual culture, including work I am doing with fellow Journal of the History of Childhood and Youth author Rebecca Stiles Onion on the postwar era national Science Talent Search program, my current project focuses on intellectual content in Seventeen magazine, particularly on book reviews written by its readers.

As Kelly Schrum and Kelley Massoni have noted, in its earliest years Seventeen focused on educating girls in world affairs and politics as well as on dating, beauty, and fashion advice. After 1950, with the departure of founder Helen Valentine, emphasis on domesticity, romance, and fashion increased.  Carley Moore’s work on girls’ writing in Seventeen, suggests that, especially during the 1960s and 1970s, readers’ writing, covered more challenging turf. The “Curl Up and Read” book-review column, written by girl readers (and several boys) from 1963 into the late 1960s, offers representations of girls’ intellectual voices in Seventeen.

Each “Curl Up and Read” column included short reviews, sometimes thematically linked. Teen reviewers included poet Debora Greger, author Corinne Demas, and, remarkably, thirteen-year-old Eve Kosofsky, who became pioneering queer theorist Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick. Reviews ranged from classics to new works, nonfiction and fiction, songbooks, and children’s books. Most columns included serious, challenging texts: for example, in September 1963, future actress Maeve Kinkead reviewed James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time, Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique, and Gunther Grass’ The Tin Drum.

And Dinny Gordon’s birthday present, The King Must Die, is reviewed by Natalie Janusz in November 1965’s “Curl Up and Read” column, which focused on books about archaeology. Clearly this book—and archaeology in general—appealed to at least one real-life girl, enough that she would recommend it to Seventeen’s wider readership.

Where the Society for the History of Chidren and Youth meets online Follow us RSS