Juvenilia, or Musical Orphans at Boarding School

I think it sounds a bit pretentious to refer to my own juvenilia, but it’s a strangely compelling word (I can’t decide if it sounds more like a disease or a flower one would find in a conservatory). And the fact is I have hung on to a lot of my old writing, whether in the form of notebooks or files floating on my computer. Sometimes, for fun, I go back and reread these stories. Recently, I discovered a document on my computer entitled Miscellaneous Writing. Apparently the summer before I left for college, while undertaking a massive cleaning of my bedroom, I typed up a number of handwritten story fragments so I could recycle the paper but still preserve what I called testaments “to the imagination and eccentricity of my younger selves.” Sifting through this material, as well as the abandoned novel beginnings cluttering my computer, I noticed the following motifs (representative of my writing between the ages of 9 and 14 or so):

Orphans
Boarding school
Princesses
Magic
Best friends
Music

These often appear in combinations like Orphan Goes to Magic Boarding School (ahem), Princess Goes to Magic Boarding School, Orphan Best Friends Study Magic, and Best Friends Go to Music Boarding School. There are fairly obvious reasons for some of these preoccupations. It’s often necessary, or at least convenient, to get parents out of the way in children’s stories, and orphanhood and boarding school are obvious (and time-honored) ways of accomplishing this. When I was younger, the idea of boarding school was incredibly romantic to me. Harry Potter probably had a lot to do with that, but so did other books, like the Charlie Bone series.

The fixation on music is something I haven’t shed. If anything, it’s grown more pronounced. In my college fiction workshop, I was known as the person whose stories always involved music somehow.

All the princesses are a bit more mystifying to me. Actually, maybe there weren’t so many of them; out of quite a few works, I counted just two novel beginnings with princess protagonists and two stories featuring princesses as secondary characters. And interestingly, all the princesses get out of their palaces pretty fast. One heads off to boarding school (obviously), one is sent to live with farmers for her own protection during a time of unrest, one flees with her maidservant when invaders attack, and two more escape their tyrant father’s castle and join the merry band of commoner heroes. So maybe I wasn’t actually that interested in the royal life after all.

In closing, here are a few amusing sentences from a couple of the oldest stories:

“Clarence sat with the one friend he could find.…They talked about how unfair math was.” [This scene takes place at Helantonworth Orphanage. Seriously.]

“And through all twelve years of my life, I had been slightly different from my five elder siblings. They were all ridiculously obedient and calm.” [This was one of my princesses.]

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2 thoughts on “Juvenilia, or Musical Orphans at Boarding School

  1. Interesting that you keep everything that you write online. I suppose for me it’s like going back to read very old blog entries, some of which were creative endeavors (angst-ridden poetry). Also, you’re right in that getting parents out of the picture seems to be common in YA literature, although when you send your characters off to boarding school, that also allows you to conjure up the most eccentric and/or horrible of pseudo-parents in the form of the teachers/headmasters/schoolmarms.

    • Oh, I don’t keep it online, just on my computer.

      Hmm, but if boarding school teachers are antagonists, then they’re not really canonical parent figures, right? In fact, if a character’s parents are the antagonists, there’s no need to get rid of them because the character can’t go to his or her parents for help. Also, I just remembered another great way of getting rid of parents: sending children off to live with a distant, often elderly, often eccentric relative, who often lives in the isolated countryside…

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