Gillian Elise Avery (1926-2016) wrote children’s books which were set in late nineteenth century England, adult fiction and published books on the history of children’s literature. The Archive, which contains material relating principally to her non-fiction writing as a historian of children’s literature, was donated by her family in January 2018.
Gillian Avery was an award-winning children’s novelist and historian of childhood literature and childhood education. She was born in Reigate, Surrey, and attended Dunottar School and started her writing career as a journalist on the Surrey Mirror in Redhill before moving on to work fo a number of publishing firms when she realised Journalism was not her calling. Avery then worked on reference books, starting with Chamber’s Encyclopaedia and then the Oxford Children’s Encyclopaedia for Oxford University Press.
In 1952, she married the literary scholar A. O. J. Cockshut, with whom she moved to Manchester with. She wrote her first novel, The Warden’s Niece, in this period before eventually returning to Oxford in 1964.
Over two decades, she wrote children books set almost exclusively in late 19th Century England, creating a realistic atmosphere of the times, whilst simultaneously emphasising her feelings of weakness as a child, and reflecting her growth and light-heartedness as she grows wiser. This can be seen throughout her books The Elephant War (1960) and The Italian Spring (1964).
Her first novel, The Warden’s Niece, told the story of a boarding school girl, named Maria, who ran away to live with her great-uncle, the head of an Oxford college. It is there that Maria becomes interested in historical research, and decides to be a professor in Greek whilst forming three lively friendships. This story is interlinked with Avery’s childhood, and demonstrates her passion for Greek when she was younger . Avery manages to give the period flavour and creates an engaging setting due to description of the period and the various artefacts within it.
Gillian Avery has a total of 40 books to her name, ranging from non-fiction to fiction, and was the winner of the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize in 1972 and runner-up for the Carnegie medal for the best children’s book of the year for The Warden’s Niece. Avery was also a member of the American Antiquarian Society as well as Chairman of the Children’s Book History Society from 1987-90.
Avery started to develop an interest in American childhood literature, after noticing it’s under representation in the literature. This led to the publication of Behold the Child: American Children and their Books, 1621-1922. This book deals specifically on childhood literature from colonial times to the early twentieth century. It explores the cultural, social and practical forces of childhood literature, and how it has influenced new literature.
The American Antiquarian Society is a national research library and a learned society of American history and culture through the 1870s.
All of these books mentioned, and the Gillian Avery Archive are accessible through the University of Worcester and the Research Collections. The archives include material such as notes relating to her publications, draft manuscripts, photographs, pamphlets and book reviews. All of this is accessible, to the public and university students interested in her life and her works.
The University and the Research Collections also offersA variety of her work is available in the Hive both in the Research Collections and the Lending Collections.
A Likely Lady, one of her most well-known works.
The Italian Spring (1964)
The Echoing Green: Memories of Regency and Victorian Youth (1974)
The Hole in the Wall: And Other Stories (1968)
Behold the Child: American Children and their Books, 1621-1922, (1995)
Strange and Odd (1975)
Victorian People: In Life and Literature (1970)
Nineteenth-Century Children: Heroes and Heroines in English Children’s Stories, 1780-1900, (1965)