Young Adult Genre: A History (1800s)

During a time when Beethoven was composing his latest masterpiece, Van Gogh was brushing his final stroke on an impressionist painting, and Harriet Wilson was the first African-American of either gender publishing a novel in North America, what was the status of the young adult reading genre?

According to Wikipedia, the YA genre is targeted at youth ages 12-18. However, during the 1800’s, the genre was not at all defined as it is today—there was no existing one being marketed (crazy to think about because I basically live in that section now). This meant that its target audience was left to read anything they liked, without really having a genre designated for them.

Some novels you could find young adults poring over included:

Pride and Prejudice; and Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

Pride and Prejudice


Dracula by Bram Stoker; and Frankenstein by Mary Shelley:


Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll; and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking-GlassThe Adventures of Tom Sawyer

Some conclusions that I drew from the novels I found were that many of them could be categorized as either Romance, Gothic Fiction, Fairy Tale, or Adventure. Although young adults did not have their designated genre, the long list of popular novels from the 19th century include a plethora of what we would call in today’s world, ‘The Classics’. The 1800’s was no where near the pinnacle of young adult literature, but it set the stage for the genre to emerge as these novels remain near and dear to the hearts of many over one hundred years later.

I have always wondered what the status of my favourite genre was throughout the course of time, and to be honest it is not surprising that it was virtually non-existent as its own separate one during the 1800’s. It’s amazing that still a lot of these titles are cherished by so many people and it got me wondering about how young adult as a fraction of literature continued to develop into what we know it as today.



17 thoughts on “Young Adult Genre: A History (1800s)

  1. I like the idea of classifying these classics as YA, too! I think you point out a really good point about how these books establish genres, which reminds me of issues surrounding genre.

    Genre works being so much more specific in their target audiences have traditionally been looked down upon throughout history by people who write/appreciate things that may be classified as “literary fiction.” I think it relates to how a lot of critics and gate-keepers still think about YA, and it all dates back to these nineteenth-century works.

    Thanks for this thought-provoking post ^_^

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I looked at the books you mentioned here and they definitely appeal to a wide range of ages from young teens right up to adult. That is correct for YA as it covers a spectrum of ages that are very different from a development and maturity point of view. Great post.

    Liked by 1 person

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