Literary juvenilia refers to books, poems, short stories, plays, and more that were written, and sometimes published, at the beginning of an author’s career. These literary works are usually lacking in some of the distinctive features that the author’s later creative productions exhibit. For example, as a poet matures, they may develop a specific style and subject matter of interest that was not part of their literary work when they were young. Poetry written when one is sixteen years old is going to be quite different from that written one is fifty years old.
Juvenilia pronunciation: jew-ven-ay-lee-uh
Juvenilia is a term used to describe works created in an author’s youth. These could be childhood writings, written when they were quite young, or those written at the beginning of adulthood prior to their establishing a specific style. Sometimes, juvenilia is not published until late in the author’s career when interest in their most important works is at its peak.
For example, a reader who has enjoyed the most popular poems that an author has written may find themselves interested in seeking out as much of that poet’s work as possible, even if it is different from that which they are accustomed to.
Usually, juvenilia is not as successful as an author’s later work. It is often described as unrefined or youthful. Below, readers can explore some examples from famous authors’ collections of juvenilia.
Examples of Juvenilia
Fugitive Pieces by Lord Byron
This is a famous example of juvenilia. It was printed when the author was only eighteen years old. and was Byron’s first volume of verse. There are a few examples of this volume left in circulation due to the fact that Byron burned nearly every copy. Soon after it was destroyed, he began preparing a second volume to replace it. This was published the next year and titled Poems on Various Occasions. It corrected much of what he saw as the faults of the previous volume. Many of the previous poems were reprinted in the second edition. All, except for a few that he found lacking.
Nineteen of these were then published and Byron’s third collection, Hours of Idlness, was published in June or July of 1807. Here are the first two stanzas of one of the poems that only appears in Fugitive Pieces, and was never reprinted, ‘To Caroline:’
You say you love, and yet your eye
No symptom of that love conveys,
You say you love, yet know not why,
Your cheek no sign of love betrays.
Ah! did that breast with ardour glow,
With me alone it joy could know,
Or feel with me the listless woe,
Which racks my heart when far from thee.
Lovers of Byron’s verse can compare these two youthful stanzas to the more complex work of his later career. For example, ‘She Walks in Beauty.’ Today, there are only four known original copies of Fugitive Pieces.
Read more Lord Byron poems.
Lady Susan by Jane Austen
Lady Susan is another well-known example of juvenilia. This time, written by Jane Austen. Later known for her wonderful novels of manners, such as Pride and Prejudice, Austen wrote Lady Susan around 1794, when the author was around eighteen or nineteen years old. The novel is a short epistolary work that was never submitted for publication. Here is a quote from the book:
I am tired of submitting my will to the caprices of others—of resigning my own judgement in deference to those to whom I owe no duty, and for whom I feel no respect.
The story features Lady Susan Vernon a widow who begins the novel visiting her brother and sister-in-law. The main character is thirty-five or thirty-six years old at the time of the events of the novel and her husband has recently died. She was left financially vulnerable after the death of her first husband and throughout the novel attempts to regain some wealth by marrying off her daughter and finding a good match for herself. She’s an initially unlikeable main character who, at the time the book was written, was unmatched in English literature.
Juvenilia by Alfred, Lord Tennyson
Tennyson is one author who used the term juvenilia as the title of a collection of his youthful works. Although the poems included and Tennyson’s Juvenilia are not always his best, several have become quite commonly read and study. For example, ‘The Kraken’ and ‘Claribel.’ The former, ‘The Kraken,’ begins with these lines:
Below the thunders of the upper deep;
Far, far beneath in the abysmal sea,
His ancient, dreamless, uninvaded sleep
The Kraken sleepeth: faintest sunlights flee
About his shadowy sides: above him swell
Huge sponges of millennial growth and height;
This poem is a fifteen-line variant of an Italian or Petrarchan sonnet. It describes the slumbering bulk of the Kraken, its eventual rise to the surface of the sea, and resulting death.
Discover more Alfred Lord Tennyson poems.
Depending on the author, their juvenilia can be more or less important. Studying the juvenilia of the most important poets of all time can reveal a great deal about the early influences and how the writing developed over time. Often, delving into a poet’s juvenilia can reveal more about their writing style and development than reading later, perfected works.
Every author throughout time has written juvenilia. That is work that was written prior to the best-known examples of their perfected style. Most juvenilia is related to childhood, the teenage years, or early adulthood. But, it’s also possible to frame later works as juvenilia as well.
Jane Austen’s juvenilia was published in 1790. It includes short novels, stories, letters, and more that were written before she turned eighteen.
Related Literary Terms
- Novel: a long, written, fictional narrative that includes some amount of realism.
- Short Story: a piece of writing with a narrative that’s shorter than a novel. These stories usually only take one sitting to read.
- Characterization: a literary device that is used to detail and explain the aspects of a specifically crafted character in a novel, play, or poem.
- Novella: prose, fiction work that’s shorter than a novel and longer than a short story.
- Read: Fugitive Pieces by Lord Byron
- Read: Lady Susan by Jane Austen
- Read: Juvenilia by Alfred Lord Tennyson
- Read: Jane Austen’s Juvenilia