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Juliana Horatia Ewing. Borgo, Mary Elizabeth. Reynolds, Evelyn.
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Juliana Horatia Ewing

By Mary Borgo and Evelyn Reynolds

Juliana Horatia Ewing was born 3 August 1841 in Ecclesfield, England. Her father, Alfred Gatty, was the local vicar, and her mother, Margaret, wrote children’s stories to bolster her husband's income and support their large family. Ecclesfield, a large agricultural village located in Yorkshire in northern England, was four-and-a-half miles from Sheffield, a major industrial center. As was common practice in the Victorian era, she and her sisters were taught at home by their mother, but their home education was much better than most, and the intimate family circle of the vicarage influenced Ewing powerfully. Margaret Gatty had a flair for storytelling, and Ewing's own proclivity for imaginative narratives was nurtured from childhood. Gillian Avery, a critic and children's author herself, states that Ewing's pieces in many cases contain just the same sort of families as the one at Ecclesfield Vicarage, where the children were left largely unsupervised, the elder sisters looking after the younger children, and all of them devoted to dogs, private theatricals, gardening, and playing endless imaginative games. (Avery 18) As an older sibling in a large family, Ewing told stories to keep the younger children entertained. She rapidly developed a narrative voice that in her mature work glorifies household peace and encourages loving interactions between children and parents. She shied away from the popular convention of presenting grotesque consequences for unruly behavior. Instead, her stories display strong incentives (and delightful rewards) for upstanding character and conduct. Each of the publications which featured Ewing's work also reflected her commitment to a well-rounded education, including not only scholarly pursuits but moral instruction. The wide range of genres which are evoked in her stories contribute to their enduring mass appeal.

The boom in children's publishing in the 19th century resulted in a proliferation of genres: cautionary tales, translated from the German (of which Straw Peter is now the most well known collection), nursery rhymes, fairy tales (both traditional tales retold and such new and innovative stories as those of George MacDonald), stories enforcing particular religious or social viewpoints (such as the necessity of temperance), animal stories (such as those of Beatrix Potter), Christmas tales, school boy stories, and what the critic Joe Bristow has called learning material for "empire boys." The wide range of genres appealed to a broad audience, not only increasing the marketability of children's magazines but also fostering a conscious sense of the literary form of children's literature. The magazines in which Ewing's stories were first printed provide a rich historical, literary, and social context for her tales.

“Jackanapes” (1872), one of Ewing's most famous stories, was first published in the Gatty's periodical—Aunt Judy's Magazine for Young People, named for her own childhood nickname ("Aunt Judy"). Aunt Judy’s became a distinctly family affair (Avery 12-13). Edited by Margaret Gatty until her death in 1873, then successively until 1885 by Ewing and her sister Horatia Katherine Gatty, it was "one of the most important British publications for children" (Blom 172). The magazine's emphasis on morality, scholarship, and wholesome entertainment was well received by vicarage and university families. At sixpence a copy, it was intended for a middle-class readership. Its non-sensationalist content, however, also made it less marketable to a wider audience seeking light entertainment. Unfortunately, this resulted in the magazine turning a profit for only one year out of fifteen. But despite its financial difficulties, it was able to attract prominent figures in children's literature and illustrations. Randolph Caldecott (namesake of the Caldecott Award for excellence in picture book illustrations), George Cruikshank (of Punch magazine fame), Hans Christian Andersen, and Lewis Carroll.

Like Andersen and Carroll, Ewing also published in The Monthly Packet of Evening Readings for Younger Members of the English Church (1851-1899). Like Aunt Judy's, the Packet sought to inculcate moral values, modesty, and temperance in a middle-class audience and to supplement the reading of "graver and deeper" books through light literature keyed to female readers and "times of recreation" (Miss Charlotte M. Yonge, “Introductory Letter” , vol 1, no. 1, The Monthly Packet). “The Brownies,” published in the Packet in December 1865, and “Snapdragons,” Christmas tale for 1870, are both examples of stories which employ multiple genres, the fairy tale, moral tale, and Christmas story, to both delight and instruct.

Some of Ewing's stories were published serially. “Old Father Christmas,” for example, first appeared under the title “My Godmother’s Picture Book” in four installments of Little Folks during 1872. Begun in 1871, Little Folks enjoyed immense popularity over the course of its long publication. (It did not cease production until 1933.) Part of its enduring success was its eagerness to feature contributions from its young readers. It appealed to a wide audience, encompassing a broad range of ages, classes, and hobbies. Science projects, for instance, were featured alongside Christmas stories.

Ewing's writing was not only shaped by her familiarity with a wide range of children's literature but was also influenced by her marriage to Alexander Ewing, an officer in the British Army (Demers 93). Married in 1867 and immediately stationed in New Brunswick, Canada, Ewing and her husband "were admirably suited to each other" (Avery 24). Indeed, this marriage only "made Mrs. Ewing more productive as a writer," and part of this productivity was a new love for life in the armed forces (Avery 24). Before her marriage, Ewing had gained a deep sense of patriotism from her family's culture: her mother was "the daughter of Alexander Scott, chaplain to Nelson, in whose arms Nelson died," a connection "proudly preserved" in family tradition (Avery 9, Laski 50). First-hand observation of encampment events was quickly incorporated military imagery into Ewing’s writing, “Jackanapes” being a prime example. Despite the rapid transitions of military life, she also maintained a love for animals, including several dogs owned by herself and her husband, and a "passionate fondness for gardens" (Avery 23). When the couple returned to Aldershot, England in 1869, Ewing began to garden and to write with new vigor, delighted by relief from the homesickness which had plagued her in Canada (Avery 25, Demers 98).

Though Ewing's stories paint the armed forces in glowing terms, toward the end of her life she suffered severely from the "years of wandering" (Avery 31). Her husband’s numerous posts included Malta (1879) and Ceylon (1881), where she was unable to join him because of an undiagnosable and apparently incurable ailment, possible cancer of the spine. She experienced a persistent sense of "loneliness and isolation" during this long separation (Avery 31, 37, Demers 97). Her health rapidly declined after Major Ewing's long-anticipated return to England in 1883, and she died on 13 May 1885.

Ewing had no children of her own, yet her narrative voice adopts us into her family circle. Emphasizing the importance of good character, close familial ties, and a well rounded education, her tales reflect the influence of her family upon her works. Her distinct storytelling style makes her tales appealing to children and adults alike. Even today, these delightful stories retain their charm and magic.

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